It’s a word; it’s a noun. It’s also the serendipitous choice for the title of the investigative journalism segment of a provincial newspaper – the Boston Globe. You couldn’t get a better title than this except maybe ‘Five Find-outers and Dog’ (once an Enid Blyton fan, always an Enid Blyton fan)!!
But this is serious, responsible and accountable find-outing. They smell a story that should be in the public domain and follow their noses to put the facts out there, to set the record straight, to right a wrong, despite seemingly insurmountable barricades. They are a small team but a dedicated one, working in tight-knit coordination to uncover the information that starts with a small niggle and ends with a burst of incredulity. Could this be true?
The lives and work of the journalists by themselves makes a good story but not an exceptional one – most investigative teams work this way, taking in the highs and lows, the sleepless nights and fractured personal relationships, the door to door trudge, the meticulous sifting of information and the courtroom attendances. What does make this particular film news is the scandal that it is linked to – the scandal that rocked that unshakeable behemoth, the Catholic Church. A Church that in Boston, in particular, was an institution that underpinned all of public, social and political life. Incidentally, it still does today but perhaps not with the same self-assurance.
The Boston Globe was where the story broke, leading to the coming out of thousands of victims not just in America but in other parts of the world too, an indication of systemic failure to address a problem that was real and that had traumatic consequences for its victims and ultimately for the Church. Lawsuits and settlements have drained finances, parish churches have shut down, priests at the ground level have had to rebuild on the debris left behind. Thanks to the digital medium, the news had global ramifications in real time. And the biggest victim was, so very regrettably, ‘trust’.
That men betrayed the cloth was not new. That the betrayal was covered up was not new. In earlier times, the victim would be considered the one accountable and the Church was considered above scandal. A few whispers here and there perhaps. A collective clerical shrug for an unfortunate lapse, but nothing in the public domain. But times change and truth will out – the longer it is suppressed, the more explosive it proves to be.
Time has passed, there has been compensation, there has been healing and there is now a watchful gaze with a hair-trigger response. Never again.
So how is ‘Spotlight’ the fantastic experience that critics cite it to be? Because it resurrects a scandal from the past? Because it holds the audience in rapt attention from frame to frame? Or, because it confronts us with the uncomfortable truth that but for one man’s dogged conviction, the facts may never have been told?