For nearly two decades, CBS Evening News anchorman Walter Cronkite signed off his broadcasts with five simple words: “That’s the way it is.” The statement expressed what he believed should be journalists’ guiding principle, which is to report the facts “without regard for the consequences or controversy that may ensue.”
Much has changed since the iconic newsman gave up his desk, but often, the truth still shines through and shows its enduring power to effect change. That’s the message of Spotlight, the new film starring Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, and Rachel McAdams about the team of Boston Globe reporters who broke the Catholic Church’s sex-abuse scandal through a series of stories beginning in January 2002.
Prior to the Globe’s investigation, the sexual abuse of minors by priests was one of the Church’s worst-kept secrets. Cases had been widely reported in newspapers from Louisiana to Massachusetts since at least the 1980s. But these stories ran prior to the advent of the Internet, which limited their impact beyond the communities in which they took place.
Additionally, the Boston Globe team documented that Church leaders knew what was happening, failed to act appropriately, and in some cases deliberately covered up abuse. Rather than removing abusive priests, the church would place them in ineffective treatment programs or put them on “sick leave” before shuffling them around to other parishes where they would again harm children. The Globe even published letters from mothers of abused kids pleading for justice that were never sufficiently addressed.