Set in the midst of ruffling papers, frantic phone calls, and rapid scribbling under the flickering fluorescent lights of the Boston Globe office, Spotlight reiterates the integrity and ethics of professional journalism in exposing institutional corruption as well as comments on the cycle of compliance and denial that perpetuates unspoken crime.
Although the reinvestigation of the Gheghan case began as a seemingly repetitive and frankly futile assignment from the new out of town editor, the members of the Spotlight team grew to realize the extent of the issue they were dealing with and its massive implications on their community. Ultimately, what drove the four reporters to be so diligent and thorough at their jobs was not monetary compensation or the potential increase in readership, but rather because they genuinely cared about their society. As the alleged number of pedophile priests in Boston rose exponentially from one to thirteen to a nerve-racking eighty-seven, the story became more than just an attention grabber for a “friendly local paper”: it was a gateway to expose systematic crime within the world’s most venerable institution. While many films often portray the press as irritatingly prying idealists or cynics, the extensive process of news and evidence collection that constitutes most of Spotlight captures the professional essence of journalism. Through maintaining a strict standard of integrity, impartiality, and non-alignment in reporting, all journalists are proponents of free speech and serve as indispensable constraints on corruption and power. In an initial meeting with editor Marty Baron, the cardinal suggested that “the city flourishes when its great institutions work together.”, to which Baron politely refused. He understood clearly that without an adherence to journalistic fundamentals, the profession can easily disintegrate into public relations. The ability for The Boston Globe to serve its role of illumination in society rests primarily upon its ability to stay independent.
The film also highlights an integral value of reporting: humanity. At the end of the day, the elementary goal of all news agencies is to represent an unabridged version of society and embody the whole audience regardless of race, religion, political affiliation and social status. It serves as a liaison between people by speaking up for victims who might not be able to do so themselves. One of the main reasons why the extent of the rape problem was not uncovered in previous years in Boston despite the sheer number of cases was because the victims were too scared and ashamed to relay their experiences. In fact, the priests mainly preyed upon adolescent boys because they knew that the trauma and shame would keep the boys silent. Throughout the film, we often saw journalist Sacha Pfeiffer encouraging the rape victims to share their stories through patient conversations. The team understood the importance of the stories they were telling in destigmatizing rape victims and reminding them that they were not alone in their ordeals. Therefore, they didn’t rush the process until they could write the article “right.”
Through the point of view of an investigation team, Spotlight offers forthright social commentary on bystander apathy. As Mitchell Garabedian put it, “if it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one. ” When a systematic crime on such an immense scale is allowed to happen for an extensive period of time, it shows that it is more than a crime on the institutional level. The blame rests not only upon the corruption of the church, but also the unquestioning compliance and denial of an entire community for perpetuating this unspoken crime. Lawyers covered the truth; mothers dismissed their children’s claims; even The Boston Globe buried the story that should have been on the front page years ago. Because no one had the courage denounce a system that is so deeply entrenched and respected in our society, the sex offenses were allowed to continue jeopardizing the lives of hundreds of children. Despite the frequent occurrences of bystander apathy as a direct cause to uncurtailed crime in history, most prominently the rise of Nazis in Germany after WWI, this social phenomenon still occurs today in various shapes and forms. This makes journalism all that more important. To prevent corruption in power, it is the duty of the press to excavate and disseminate the truth by challenging the authority.