Film Shines A 'Spotlight' On Boston's Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal A new movie chronicles the team of journalists who uncovered the clergy sex abuse scandal in Boston. Director Tom McCarthy and former Globe editor Walter Robinson join Fresh Air to discuss Spotlight.

Film Shines A 'Spotlight' On Boston's Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal

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This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. The new movie "Spotlight" tells the story of a group of Boston Globe journalists who in 2002 published a groundbreaking investigation about Catholic priests who abused children. The reporters found that for decades, the church had protected priests and covered up their crimes. Our guests today are one of the Globe reporters and Tom McCarthy, who directed and co-wrote the film. McCarthy also directed the films "The Station Agent," "The Visitor" and "Win Win." You may also know him from the final season of the HBO series "The Wire," in which he played a cynical, dishonest reporter. Walter Robinson is a veteran reporter and editor who headed the investigative unit at the Globe, which was known as the Spotlight team. He's portrayed in the film by Michael Keaton. Robinson, who's also known to some in the business as Robby, spent more than four decades at the Globe. The paper's work on the clergy sex abuse scandal won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. Robinson and McCarthy spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. They started with a scene from "Spotlight," in which the Globe's new editor, Marty Baron, played by Liev Schreiber, is talking with the investigative team about what the focus of the story should be. You'll hear reporters Sacha Pfeiffer, played by Rachel McAdams, and Mike Rezendes, played by Mark Ruffalo. The clip starts with Walter "Robby" Robinson, played by Michael Keaton, who says that Boston's cardinal, Bernard Law, must've known about the abuse and cover-up.


MICHAEL KEATON: (As Walter Robinson) Law had to know. That's why had the reaction because he knew there were others.

LIEV SCHREIBER: (As Marty Baron) I think that's the bigger story.

RACHEL MCADAMS: (As Sacha Pfeiffer) But the numbers clearly indicate that there were senior clergy involved.

SCHREIBER: (As Marty Baron ) That's all they do - indicate.

MARK RUFFALO: (As Mike Rezendes) Are you telling me that if we run a story with 50 pedophile priests in Boston...

SCHREIBER: (As Marty Baron) Mike, we'll get into the same catfight you got into on Porter, which made a lot of noise but changed things not one bit. We need to focus on the institution, not the individual priests. Practice and policy - show me the church manipulated the system so that these guys wouldn't have to face charges. Show me they put those same priests back into parishes time and time again. Show me this was systemic, that it came from the top down.


Tom McCarthy, Walter Robinson, welcome to FRESH AIR. Walter, I want to begin with you and talk about this remarkable story. How did it get started?

WALTER ROBINSON: It got started at the very end of July 2001. The Globe got a new editor, Marty Baron, who came to us from the Miami Herald. And that's important because in Florida, virtually everything is public. And Marty got to Boston, and he read a column by Eileen McNamara about a case - lawsuits against a priest allegedly involved in sexual abuse in which the court records had been sealed by a judge. So the personnel records of the priest were not available publicly. And in her column, Eileen had written the truth may never be known. And to Marty Baron, that's like waving a red flag. And so in his very first news meeting in his first day at The Globe, he asked, has The Globe considered going to court to get these records? And of course, nobody had. And he immediately launched an effort to do that. And later that same day, he called myself and Ben Bradlee Jr., my superior, into his office and asked me as editor of the Spotlight team, to have our team begin investigating the case of this one priest, Father John Goeghan. And we set out to do that, and very quickly discovered that Father Goeghan was the tip of a quite-large iceberg, that there were many, many other priests - we thought perhaps 15 or 20 at the time - who had done the same thing, yet the archdiocese had covered up their crimes by making secret settlements. Eventually, as we learned, we got it up to 70 priests and then 90 priests. And in the end, it turned out to be almost 250 priests in Boston who had molested children over several decades.

DAVIES: Now, this was a huge story, and it unfolded under over many months. I know, Walter Robinson, that you grew up Catholic, had 12 years of Catholic education I believe. And I wanted to ask, as you got into this, did you feel any particular emotional commitment to pursuing the story because of your background or any resistance?

ROBINSON: No, I felt no resistance and nor did any of my colleagues, all of whom had also grown up Catholic. I mean, the benefit to that was that we understood the Catholic Church and how it worked and how much an important part of our lives it was when we were children and how trusting we were of the institution and the priests. But when we found out about these crimes and particularly that it was widespread, these crimes were unimaginable. And that they could've been countenanced and enabled by such an iconic institution gave us so much energy to pursue the story and get the story and make it public. So it really energized us to an extent no other story ever has.

DAVIES: And as you pursued it, how did the church push back? What kind of pressure did you feel?

ROBINSON: Well, we felt no pressure. I mean, the period covered by the film is the five months in 2001, which led to the publication of our first story in January of 2002. There was always a pressure in Boston on The Globe and every other institution by the church. The church was the most important and politically powerful institution in Boston. As you may know, Boston is the most Catholic of the major archdioceses in the country. And the church had such power that if legislation it didn't like was before the Massachusetts legislature, they could get it killed. And so there was always that sense that when you approach the church, you had to be very, very careful because of its power. And in this case, it meant for us getting documents.

DAVIES: And one of the cases about a priest involved your former school, the Boston College, which is a high school, right?

ROBINSON: Boston College High School...

DAVIES: Yeah...

ROBINSON: ...That's correct.

DAVIES: Was that particularly touchy for you? I mean, you had people that you knew trying to affect...

ROBINSON: It was...

DAVIES: ...Your thinking on this.

TOM MCCARTHY: It was - first of all, the school is right across the street from The Boston Globe. I'm quite active as an alumnus, and I knew all the principals in 2001. I mean, the president, Bill Kemeza, the first late president, and we had to go and interview him about a former priest who had been there in the '60s and the 70 's and how he had molested and raped some fairly large number of students.

DAVIES: I want to play a scene from the film. And this is one in which Walter Robinson in the film, who is played by Michael Keaton, is having a drink with a guy named Peter Conley, who is played by the actor Paul Guilfoyle. And Tom McCarthy, maybe you can kind of set this scene up and tell us what's happening before we listen to it.

MCCARTHY: Yes, thank you. This is rather late in the movie. And Robbie, as played by Michael Keaton, is summoned to this bar for a little sit-down. What is put forth is a sort of friendly chat about where the investigation is headed. And he sort of gently leaned on to consider what the implications may be. In our mind, this was sort of yet another example of the obstacles these reporters faced from the community and city that they love very much and that they were involved in. And they're telling this story about, as Robby put it, a very iconic institution in Boston, the Catholic Church.

DAVIES: And the character who he's having a drink, what is his role here?

MCCARTHY: He's sort of a powerbroker in town, sits on a lot of boards, sat on the board of BC High, I believe. Is that right, Robby?

ROBINSON: Not BC High specifically, but on the board of Catholic charities...


ROBINSON: ...And was also an influential adviser to the cardinal.

MCCARTHY: Right, very close to the Cardinal - you know, someone who reached out as suggested in the scene, possibly on the behalf of the archdiocese.

DAVIES: Right. OK, and Cardinal Law is the head of the archdiocese. And we'll also hear them refer to Marty Baron, who is the new editor at The Globe who had pushed this investigation. OK, so let's listen to this scene. This is from the movie "Spotlight," directed by our guest Tom McCarthy, who you just heard. And we're going to hear Michael Keaton, who plays our other guest, the newspaper editor and investigative reporter Walter Robinson. Let's listen.


PAUL GUILFOYLE: (As Peter Conley) You know, you got a lot of people here who respect you, Robby, the work you do.

KEATON: (As Walter Robinson) That's good to know.

GUILFOYLE: (As Peter Conley) You know, it's because you care about this place.

KEATON: (As Walter Robinson) Yeah.

GUILFOYLE: (As Peter Conley) That's why you do what you do. It's who you are. You know, people need the church more than ever right now. You know, you can feel it. And the cardinal - you know, the cardinal, he might not be perfect. But we can't throw out all the good he's doing over a few bad apples. Now, you know, I'm bringing this up to you because I know this is Baron's idea, his agenda. I've got to tell you, I mean, honest to God, I mean, he doesn't care about this city the way we do. I mean, how could he?

KEATON: (As Walter Robinson) This is how it happens, isn't it, Pete?

GUILFOYLE: (As Peter Conley) What's that?

KEATON: (As Walter Robinson) Guy leans on a guy and suddenly, the whole town just looks the other way.

DAVIES: And that's Michael Keaton and Paul Guilfoyle in a scene from "Spotlight." You want to say anything about that scene, Tom McCarthy?

MCCARTHY: Well, only that, you know, I think - look, Josh and I went back to Boston time and time again and sat with as many people as we could - not just the reporters...

DAVIES: That's Josh Singer, your co-writer on the story...

MCCARTHY: Yes, Josh Singer, my co-writer and I. And, you know, in some of these cases, like this particular scene, it is a composite of a number of conversations that we had with the reporters about conversations I had with people in the community. And we felt like we used Paul Guilfoyle's character specifically to symbolize that. And I think, you know, it's tricky with films like this, right, because you don't have really - although the church - the institution of the church was seen as the bad actor in this story, they weren't an active antagonist throughout the story. In fact, they're rather passive, they're quiet. But they have a lot of people. They have a lot of presence. Their power from the pulpit was very, very palpable (laughter) in Boston at the time. And they had a lot of friends of the church. So I think that's what that scene was about - finding a way to dramatize that and give it a face.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Tom McCarthy and Walter Robinson. Tom McCarthy directed the film "Spotlight" about the Boston Globe investigation into child abuse. Walter Robinson directed the investigative unit that conducted that investigation and wrote those stories. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're joining us, we're discussing the movie "Spotlight," which is about a Boston Globe investigation into child abuse and its cover-up by the Catholic Church back in the early 2000s. Our guests are Tom McCarthy, who directed and co-wrote the film, and Walter Robinson, who directed the investigation that led to those stories.

The film really captures the business of journalism. It's remarkable to me that so much of it is really about how reporters do their work. And I spent 20 years as a reporter for a daily paper, so I particularly appreciated this. And, Walter Robinson, one of the interesting things here is that this was before the age when everything was online. I mean, the Internet was around, but it wasn't like reporters could hit a few keys and get a lot of public records. And there's a fascinating part here where you guys had to go to old books, manuals, catalogs of the Catholic Church to find who the priests were who had been moved around. You want to just talk about that a bit?

ROBINSON: Sure. How quaint that seems nowadays. You know, we were dealing with an institution that had no public records. You couldn't send them a public records request. They operated in secret, and they were protected by the law. They didn't have to file tax returns. One thing they did do is they published an annual directory that was like a phone book. And it listed every parish in the archdiocese, and it listed every priest - about 1,500 priests. And each year, they published this. And we knew of several priests who we had done research on - that they had been put in categories like sick leave, awaiting assignment, things like that in an archdiocese, like all others, that had so few priests that they couldn't afford to let anybody languish on the sidelines. So we finally said, you know what? Let's take these directories, and let's find every priest who's ever been in one of these categories. And for every one who's ever been in that category, we're going to create - we're going to create a record of every assignment he has ever had. And it took us three weeks of really hard work to do that. And in the end, we came up with records on 87 priests whose assignment patterns and such things as the sick-leave designation made us very suspicious that they had, in fact, molested children. And when the records finally came out in the following year, there was an amazing number of priests on that list, the vast majority who matched up with those who had actually abused children. One of the things that I'm amused about by that - when we were doing that, we had a reporter, Matt Carroll, who was our computer-assisted reporter, who was entering information in his computer. And, you know, I'm a 20th-century guy, and I wandered over to his screen. And on his screen was something with vertical lines and horizontal lines, and I said, well, what is that? And he said, it's a spreadsheet. That was my - or our very first spreadsheet. And we built it ourselves.

DAVIES: Well, so then, that was a very effective tool for identifying possible abusers. And eventually, unsealed court records documented how a lot of personnel information inside the church showed a pattern of hiding their abuse and moving them around. But then, you had to go talk to so many of them and to the victims. And I have to say, in my years in the newspaper business, the stories that have most disturbed me have been those that have involved child abuse and neglect. And I'm wondering what kind of emotional toll that took on both of you. Walter Robinson?

ROBINSON: It took a big toll on us emotionally. I mean, in preparing the initial stories, we interviewed maybe 30 or 40 victims of abuse. We actually interviewed one or two priests, one of whom admitted to our reporter that he had abused children. And every one of these stories was emotionally wrenching for the reporter involved in it. And once the story broke open in early 2002, we received calls, just in the Boston archdiocese, from over 300 victims in just a month or two. And many, many of these people - all adults who had, years earlier, suffered this abuse - thought they were the only ones this had ever happened to. And for many of them, we were the first people they ever told that this had happened to them. Some of them were so angry to find out how extensive this was that they wanted us to use their names in the paper the very next day, even though they had yet to tell their relatives about what had happened. Of course, we didn't in those cases. But it was a really tough reporting job, and it affected all of us emotionally. And it actually helped drive us to get deeper and deeper into the story because it was this extraordinary injustice that had been done.

DAVIES: This is a film about journalism, and I wanted to ask you both if you have particular feelings about journalism in film - you know, either films that get it right or get it wrong. Walter Robinson, what about you?

ROBINSON: Well, I guess I'd have to say that most films about journalism don't get it right. I'm just delighted, as are my colleagues, that this film just nailed it. They - what we actually did is so accurately and genuinely portrayed in this film - the reporting steps we took, how making the sausage isn't always a pleasant task to watch, how reporters disagree with one another, how we stumble around in the dark, how, sometimes, we find the most important things quite by accident. It's all there - how we make mistakes in our reporting and how we double back, but always, and certainly in this case, you know, with a mind - we have to get this story, and we have to get it out.

DAVIES: Yeah, no, I think it is remarkable how interesting you make going to a County Clerk's office to get a court document or having a lawyer explain, well, you know, the depositions are secret, but they're attached to a filing that's now public. And somehow, there's real drama to this.

MCCARTHY: Well, there is because - look, I remember the day I was sitting with Mike Rezendes. I think we were in New York, actually.

DAVIES: He's one of the reporters on the case, yeah, yeah.

MCCARTHY: Yeah, Mike Rezendes, as played by Mark Ruffalo, relayed two separate instances that were very similar, where he had gone to the courthouse to get documents and, for one reason or another, was denied and then had to - they kicked it upstairs to a judge, who was out all day, so he had to wait all day. And then, when the judge got back, he went down to the records room, and it was closed, so he had to come back the next day. And then, when he finally got the records, he had to wait all day. And then, the copy room was shut down, and then he couldn't make copies, so he couldn't leave - and all these little things that get in the way of what turned out to be the biggest break, arguably, in the investigation - getting these documents early through a tip from the lawyer involved in the case. So, you know, that, to me, is just so interesting, and it's so honest to what Mike experienced. And I thought - you know, as he was telling me, I was just thinking, oh, man, you must have been going nuts. And he was like, I was going nuts. You know, I knew what I had - I knew I was so close to the goal line on this, and I just couldn't get my hands on it for all these ridiculous practical reasons. And, you know, that was a - it was a really fun sequence to put together based on two different stories that he told us that were very similar in that regard. But we actually thought it was not only amusing, engaging and even thrilling, as you say, but it also just spoke to the support that these guys had, right, that they had the time to do this. They had the time to go back the next day and the next day and the next day. And again, it speaks to, you know, a really strong, free press, a financially supported press that enables professional reporters to do their job. And even though some of that work is, as Robby said, it's really - it's ugly. Like, making the sausages is ugly, and it's tedious, and it seems incredibly pedestrian, even, at times. It's important, and the devil is in the details. And it's those reporters that have the passion to kind of - to stick to it and stick with it and keep getting - and keep going back again and again and again. These are the people that break the big stories.

GROSS: We're listening to the interview Dave Davies recorded about the film "Spotlight" with Tom McCarthy, the film's director and co-writer, and Walter Robby Robinson, one of the journalists portrayed in the film. He's played by Michael Keaton in the film. After a break, they'll talk more about the Globe's investigation into priest abuse and the film's depiction of the story. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies recorded about the new film "Spotlight," a drama based on The Boston Globe's investigation into priests who sexually abuse children and how the church protected the priests and covered up the story for decades. Our guests are Tom McCarthy, the film's director and co-writer, and Walter Robby Robinson, who headed The Boston Globe's investigative unit known as the Spotlight Team, which reported the story in 2002. The paper's work on the story won the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

DAVIES: I want to play another clip from the film. And this is a moment where there's an argument among the reporters on the Spotlight Team. Mike Rezendes, who's one of the reporters, thinks that you've got great material, you should publish now. He's played by Mark Ruffalo. And Walter Robinson, who is played by Michael Keaton, says, no, we have to keep digging. Let's listen.


RUFFALO: (As Michael Rezendes) We got law. This is it.

KEATON: (As Walter Robby Robinson) No, this is law covering for one priest. There's another 90 out there

RUFFALO: (As Michael Rezendes) Yeah, and we'll print that story when we get it, but we got to go with this now.

KEATON: (As Walter Robby Robinson) No, I'm not going to rush this story, Mike.

RUFFALO: (As Michael Rezendes) We don't have a choice, Robby. If we don't rush to print, somebody else is going to find these letters and butcher the story. Joe Quimby from the Herald was at the freaking court house.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Mike.

RUFFALO: (As Michael Rezendes) What? Why are we hesitating? Baron told us to get law. This is law.

KEATON: (As Walter Robby Robinson) Baron told us to get the system. We need the full scope. That's the only thing that will put an end to this.

RUFFALO: (As Michael Rezendes) Then let's take it up to Ben, let him decide.

KEATON: (As Walter Robby Robinson) We'll take it to Ben when I say it's time.

RUFFALO: (As Michael Rezendes) It's time, Robby. It's time. They knew and they let it happen to kids, OK? It could have been you, it could have been me, it could have been any of us. We got to nail these scumbags, we got to show people that nobody can get away with this, not a priest or a cardinal or a freaking pope.

DAVIES: And that's Mark Ruffalo - also in there, Michael Keaton from the film "Spotlight," which is directed and co-written by our guest Tom McCarthy. And the Michael Keaton character, Walter Robinson, headed that investigative team. He's also our guest. Tom McCarthy, you want to tell me a bit about writing that scene, what was happening there?

MCCARTHY: This was another dramatization that after interviewing these guys countless times, we felt like sort of depicted the struggle at this point of the investigation not just between these two men but between the whole team and the senior editors Ben Bradlee Jr. and Marty Baron. And I think it really speaks a lot to the credibility of legacy journalism when it's working at its best, which is this sort of collective decision of when to go with a story, when to hold and when to hold. And the patience that these people had here - because they really had something really amazing. This an amazing break. But still, they waited until they had it exactly right, and that's something we rarely see nowadays, isn't it? And I think, ultimately, it's why when they did print this story, it was sort of beyond reproach. It was so definitive and so just powerful and complete.

DAVIES: You put together this terrific ensemble cast, you know, Liev Schreiber and Mark Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams and Michael Keaton and Brian d'Arcy James, Stanley Tucci. How much contact did the actors have with the characters that they were playing, the reporters? And did you encourage that?

MCCARTHY: I would have encouraged them, but I barely hired them and they had reached out on their own. Look, these guys are pros. They take their job very seriously. And as soon as they were hired, they reached out. They found a way. I was usually hearing about it from the reporters themselves being like, hey, I'm sitting - Mark Ruffalo's up here, he's in my office, or Rachel McAdams is reaching out and asking me a lot of questions via email, and we're meeting. She's coming to town next weekend. And so that's what they do. They love what they do, and they're very good at it for a reason. And look, most people don't know who these reporters are. They're not public personas. But I can tell you to the one, these actors really capture the essence of each of them. It was really exciting work to watch take shape on set and ultimately end up on the screen. And, you know, these reporters stayed involved not only though the script stage and the research stage, but they were on set all the time. And, you know, they were - just had a major impact, I think, on the authenticity of the film.

DAVIES: They were on set a lot?

MCCARTHY: Yeah, yeah, it was great. Yeah we would have them...

DAVIES: Just because they wanted to be there or why?

MCCARTHY: They wanted to be a part of it, and we wanted them there. Specifically Robby and Mike were probably up there the most. And Sacha was up and then Ben was up a couple days, and even Marty Baron made it up - took some time out of The Washington Post to come up. But it was incredibly helpful. You know, I remember one day we were talking about one of the penultimate scenes in the film in Marty's office. And it starts with Marty correcting copy, and we're like, blue pen, red pen, blue pen, red pen, what would they use? And I was like, well, there's Ben Bradlee Jr., why don't we ask him? And Ben was like, red. So red it was. And the production designs - Steve Carter, my production designer, was emailing these guys morning, noon and night as was Wendy Chuck, my costume designer, asking every little bit. What did you wear? What did your shoes look like? What kind of ties did you wear? How did you prepare your shirt? Did you have them starched? Did you laundry wash them? And just a lot of attention to detail that is the really exciting part of this collaboration. And, you know, every little detail like that matters. We had a very special day the first day we moved into the "Spotlight" set, which we had to build. Steve Carter built this massive reproduction of the newsroom and of the Spotlight office, which is a small office where the four reporters worked tucked away in the bowels of The Globe. And the first day we went on set to see that office, the reporters were there with us. And it was just so fascinating to watch both them and the actors explore the space for the first time. And they sort of, you know, just automatically gravitated to their desk. And I don't even think they realize this, but to the one, they started rearranging the desk as they would've had it - blatant disregard for union rules, by the way. But it was really great to watch.

DAVIES: So, Walter Robinson, I want you to tell me what it was like meeting Michael Keaton when he came to talk to you 'cause he was going to be playing you in the film. And I'm interested in what you think he wanted to get from you, and were there things you wanted to make sure he got about you and about the story?

ROBINSON: Well, look, it, you know - it was a little bit of role reversal. I'm a reporter, and I'm always grilling other people and looking at their habits and, you know, their particular mannerisms to try to take stock of them whether I'm writing about them or not. And here I went to New York, met Michael and found out that he had spent several weeks watching old videotapes of appearances I had made on various cable news outlets, including a couple on NPR, and that he'd been studying my voice. And very soon into our conversation, he said to me, you know, you really don't have that much of a Boston accent. And there was almost relief in his voice. And he had my voice down. But that night, we had dinner - the two of us with Tom. And it was very odd experience because Michael spent the entire dinner studying me, and I felt like he was watching all of my movements. And then it turns out in the film, he has my mannerisms down - all my facial movements, my hand movements, he even drops his voice an octave because my voice is a little bit deeper when he delivers lines. I mean, they were - these actors were intent because they were playing real people on taking full advantage of the opportunity to get to know us and to play us as we were.

DAVIES: We're speaking with Walter Robinson and Tom McCarthy. Tom McCarthy directed and co-wrote the film "Spotlight" about The Boston Globe investigation into clergy child abuse in the early 2000s. Walter Robinson is a veteran reporter and editor who led the team that did that investigation. We'll continue our conversation in just a moment. This is FRESH AIR.


DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, we're talking about the film "Spotlight," which portrays The Boston Globe investigation of clergy child abuse in the early 2000s. Tom McCarthy directed and co-wrote the film. Also with us is Walter Robinson. He was the reporter and editor who guided that investigative team.

You know, Walter Robinson, late in the film, it emerges that, many years before, you had gotten a tip from someone - I think an attorney who represented the archdiocese - that you'd actually gotten a list of priests who may have been involved in abuse - in fact, a guide that might have led to a story like this many, many years before. Is that true?

ROBINSON: Yes, it is. In 1993, I had just become metro editor of the Globe, and we ran a story deep inside the paper. One of the attorneys had given the Globe a release saying that he had identified 20 priests - most of them were deceased or retired - but 20 priests who had allegations against them, and he had gone to the archdiocese. And the story played inside the paper, inside the Globe. The Herald, the other paper in town, had a similar story that was not prominently displayed. And when we began researching our stories in 2001 and 2002, and we found the Herald version of the story - we didn't actually even find our own, given the difficulty of finding stories at that time or keeping track of them - we didn't actually remember that story. And, yes, it was a story that should have provoked our interests in 1993, and it just - it didn't. It was - you know, the daily newspaper business is funny, and I think you understand it. Every day, there are literally hundreds of people who are clamoring for attention of a big daily newspaper, and you've got 30 or 40 stories a day that you're publishing and decisions made on the fly and a lot of stories that get pitched don't - never get done because we don't have the resources. A lot of people call. There's another instance in the movie where - there's a scene where we meet with Phil Saviano, and he reminds us that he had been to us five years earlier, and nobody took him seriously. And we could - we could relate to that because many people call newspapers, and they've been wronged by somebody. And we - sometimes, we just don't listen, or we don't believe it's possible. And people, you know - people have conspiracy theories. Well, you know what? Every now and then, there is a real conspiracy, and we miss those things. And that's the daily news business.

DAVIES: You know, Tom McCarthy, I think the other thing that you see in this film is that it sometimes takes a big, powerful institution like a prosperous newspaper with an investigative staff to take on another institution that needs to be held to account.

MCCARTHY: Yes, absolutely. The institutional power of The Boston Globe at that time - it was at its full power, and it takes a great institution, I think, to take on a great institution. Yes, there are examples of David and Goliath, but this was Goliath versus Goliath. This was the best The Boston Globe had. The Spotlight Team was the crown jewel of that institution. And it took every one of them and all their combined talents and every bit of energy, from what I can tell, that they had. They really put their entire lives on hold for two or three years to get this right. And that's what it took to take on the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church is a massive institution. It's great at the waiting game. Look, there were other papers that picked up the story. Even in Boston, there were some smaller papers who had picked up the paper, but they didn't have the power of the Globe. They didn't have that box. They didn't have that kind of financial support. They didn't have the megaphone that The Boston Globe does, and that's an important part of this story. All over the country, there were instances - sort of isolated instances - but this story, this reporting, it connected the dots. And that is what sort of blew the roof off this - this crisis.

DAVIES: That story in January of 2002 was huge. It got a huge reaction. What followed? Where did this end up going?

ROBINSON: Well, the story built - because it relied on the church's own documents, it built a powerful foundation that the cardinal knew had covered up the crimes and reassigned this one priest, Father John Geoghan, who probably had over 400 victims in total. And once that happened, people were shocked. The cardinal came out. He apologized. He said, well, but we put him back in parish because we had two competent doctors assert that he was ready. And two days later, we came in with a story that said the doctors were his family general practitioner. The other one was a psychiatrist who is notable because he had been accused of sexually abusing his own patients. And once that story appeared, people, even the cardinal's closest supporters, started to walk away from him. And then came more stories about more priests and then, within a couple of weeks, the story saying that the archdiocese had settled cases secretly involving 71 priests that we knew of. And eventually, as you know, we did - we published 600 stories that year. The lid blew off. Many people sued. Judges ordered all these records made public. And eventually, in Boston, we discovered that close to 250 priests had molested thousands of children over a half-century.


ROBINSON: And the church had kept it all secret.

DAVIES: Spotlight was an investigative team that did this story and many other deeply reported investigative stories. Does it still exist?

ROBINSON: It does. It's actually larger now. It has six reporters instead of four - I think one of the few newspapers where the trend is not in the opposite direction. The team was created as a freestanding unit in 1970, and it's produced about 100 investigative stories at the rate of about two big series a year over all that time.

DAVIES: Tom McCarthy, Walter Robinson, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

ROBINSON: Thank you.

GROSS: FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies spoke with Tom McCarthy, the director and co-writer of the new film "Spotlight," and Walter Robinson, who headed the investigative unit at The Boston Globe that reported the priest abuse story. "Spotlight" opens November 6. Dave Davies is the senior reporter at WHYY. Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews three songs from three different performers - Elvis Costello, Lana Del Rey and Eleanor Friedberger. That's after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

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