In 2001, Spotlight, the investigative journalism team of The Boston Globe newspaper, began working on uncovering incidents of sex abuse by priests of the Catholic Church and the conspiracy of silence surrounding them.
What began with digging deeper into one incident of child abuse by a clergyman expanded into an investigation covering almost 90 priests and scores of victims in Boston. The upper echelons of the church appeared to have known about these shocking events but remained silent. Boston, a city richly forged by its Catholic heritage, appeared, at best, unknowing of this scandal, and, at worst, unwilling to uncover it until it was broken open by the Globe’s trailblazing work of journalism.
Once the story broke in early 2002, abuse was reported in multiple other parishes, and more and more victims started coming forward. The pressure gradually built up and forced the church to take a harder look at itself. In 2003, the Globe’s team of journalists won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for its investigation.
The film Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy, focuses on the 2001-02 period and tells the story behind the story by following the Globe’s team and the scandal they unearthed. The film starring Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Liev Schreiber has been nominated for six Academy Awards this year, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Keaton plays Walter Robinson, The Boston Globe editor who led the four-member team of journalists in investigating the clergymen in 2001-02. He had previously served as foreign correspondent and city editor for the newspaper before heading the Spotlight team for seven years. He later became Distinguished Professor of Journalism at Northeastern University in Boston. He returned to the Globe in 2014 as editor-at-large.
Ahead of the film’s February 19 release in India, Forbes India spoke to Robinson, 70, about journalism and what it felt like to be played by Keaton on screen. Excerpts:
Q. What were your anxieties before being a part of Spotlight and your response after watching it?
Our original anxiety was that Hollywood would sensationalise the subject, and not do justice to what really happened and the impact that the abuse had upon so many thousands of children. But we knew from the extraordinary amount of research done by screenwriter Josh Singer, and director and co-writer Tom McCarthy, that they were intent on getting the story right. I think it’s fair to say that we [Globe’s journalists] were all emotionally affected when we saw the depiction of our work. At the end of the film, we were all a bit teary-eyed. But we were surprised to see that many people in the audience were too.
Q. What did Michael Keaton have to do to get to know how to play you?
Before we first met, Michael spent quite a bit of time watching videotapes of appearances I had made on television news networks over the years. He wanted to learn how I spoke, what my mannerisms were. He is a great actor, but even great actors seldom have a chance to play real people. So as we got to know one another, he asked lots of questions about how I did things, how I thought about life and how I approached journalism.