Every weekend, we pick a movie you can stream that dovetails with current events. Old, new, blockbuster, arthouse: They’re all fair game. What you can count on is a weekend watch that sheds new light on the week that was. The movie of the week for November 27 through December 2 is Spotlight (2015), which is streaming on Netflix and available to digitally rent on Amazon and iTunes.
This week, the Washington Post’s executive editor, Marty Baron, was awarded the second annual Hitchens Prize, which is named for the late Christopher Hitchens and given to a writer or journalist whose “work reflects a commitment to free expression and inquiry, a range and depth of intellect, and a willingness to pursue the truth without regard to personal or professional consequence.”
Accepting the award, Baron gave a speech in which he explored how his own history contributes to the way he thinks about journalism. The whole talk is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt, in which he’s talking about publishing the story that exposed the systemic cover-up of child sex abuse by priests:
The result of excavating the truth was a public good. Children were made more safe.
Well after our first story was published in January 2002, I received a letter from Father Thomas P. Doyle, who had waged a long and lonely battle within the Church on behalf of abuse victims. He wrote this: “This nightmare would have gone and on were it not for you and the Globe staff. As one who has been deeply involved in fighting for justice for the victims and survivors for many years, I thank you with every part of my being.
“I assure you,” he wrote, “that what you and the Globe have done for the victims, the Church and society cannot be adequately measured. It is momentous and its good effects will reverberate for decades.”
There is a lesson in Father Doyle’s letter: The truth is not meant to be hidden. It is not meant to be suppressed. It is not meant to be ignored. It is not meant to be disguised. It is not meant to be manipulated. It is not meant to be falsified. Otherwise, wrongdoing will persist.
That story was the focus of Spotlight (in which Liev Schreiber played Baron), winner of last year’s Best Picture prize at the Academy Awards. It’s deeply merited: In almost every way, Spotlight is an outstanding film, from its even-handedness of a potentially explosive subject to its clear-eyed look at the banal work of investigative reporting — labor that can sometimes feel like drudgery.
I’m not an investigative reporter myself, but I’m in awe of the good ones. Uncovering stories like the abuse scandal isn’t easy, something that Spotlight highlights. It takes its toll on reporters’ emotional and mental states, not to mention their relationships. It can be dangerous. It’s usually thankless, and it doesn’t pay well.
And yet it’s a public service to uncover the truth. The priest’s letter to Baron calls it “momentous,” and that’s exactly right. Some fear that the profession is dying, and may face a lot of obstacles in the years to come — but movies like Spotlight show that while careful reporting is never glamorous, it is, always, good.
Watch the trailer for Spotlight: