In 2001, editor Marty Baron of The Boston Globe assigns a team of journalists to investigate allegations against John Geoghan, an unfrocked priest accused of molesting more than 80 boys. Led by editor Walter “Robby” Robinson, reporters Michael Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Matt Carroll and Sacha Pfeiffer interview victims and try to unseal sensitive documents. The reporters make it their mission to provide proof of a cover-up of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church.
Although isolated cases of sex abuse by Catholic priests had been reported by the Boston Globe prior to the Spotlight investigation, the team’s in-depth, scrupulously fact-checked expose revealed the scope of clergy-perpetrated crimes-and the Church’s involvement in protecting their clergy from the criminal justice system-with never-before-seen precision.
Producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Pagon Faust spearheaded the effort to transform the dramatic story of the Boston Globe’s sex-abuse investigation into a movie. “We thought this was the most incredible thing we’d ever heard,” says Faust. “Spotlight took on this institution that had power, money and resources, and showed people that nobody is untouchable.”
To write the script, Rocklin and Faust brought on acclaimed director, writer and actor Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent, Win Win, Up). McCarthy brought on former “West Wing” scribe Josh Singer.
McCarthy responded to the saga on multiple levels. “I thought it was fascinating to see how this outsider, Marty Baron, comes from Miami and on his first day at the Boston Globe introduces this idea of investigating a possible cover-up by the Catholic Church. A very bold move.”
Additionally, the Spotlight effort offered an opportunity to craft a cinematic love letter to long-form journalism. “I’m extremely concerned with how little high-end investigative journalism is out there right now compared to what we had 15 years ago,” McCarthy says. “I saw this movie as an opportunity to show by example: Here is the kind of impact that can happen when you have well-funded journalism done by experienced professionals. I mean, what could be more important than the fate of our children?”
McCarthy also brought a personal perspective to the story. “I was raised Catholic so I have great understanding, admiration and respect for the institution,” he explains. “This story is not about Church bashing. It’s about asking ‘How does something like this happen?’ The church performed, and in some cases continues to perform, acts of institutional evil not only as an abuser of kids but also through the cover-up of abuse. How could this abuse go on for decades without people standing up and saying something?”
In keeping with the diligence of the Spotlight team, Singer and McCarthy spent months conducting interviews with journalists, victims and others at the centre of the story.