Oscar Hangover Special: Why "Spotlight" Is a Terrible Film
Date Written: 29/02/2016
Year Published: 2016
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX18831
I am astonished (though I suppose I shouldn't be) that, across the past few months, ever since Spotlight hit theatres, otherwise serious left-of-centre people have peppered their party conversation with effusions that the film reflects a heroic journalism, the kind we all need more of. I was in Boston in the Spring of 2002 reporting on the priest scandal, and because I know some of what is untrue, I don't believe the personal injury lawyers or the Boston Globe's "Spotlight" team or the Catholic "faithful" who became harpies outside Boston churches, carrying signs with images of Satan.
I don't believe the claims of all who say they are victims - or who prefer the more tough-minded label 'survivor' - because ready belief is not part of a journalists mental kit, but also because what happened in 2002 makes it difficult to distinguish real claims from fraudulent or opportunistic ones without independent research. What editor Marty Baron and the Globe sparked with their 600 stories and their confidential tip line for grievances was not laudatory journalism but a moral panic, and unfortunately for those who are telling the truth, truth was its casualty.
By their nature, moral panics are hysterical. They jettison reason for emotion, transform accusation into proof, spur more accusation and create a climate that demands not deliberation or evidence or resistance to prejudice but mindless faith.
They are the enemy of skepticism, which those on the left and near-left, liberals, progressives, regard as the sword and shield of journalism when it's convenient or ideologically appealing. The Globe did not so much practice journalism as it constructed a courtroom of panic, one that reversed the presumption of innocence and spilled over into real courtrooms where real defendants didn't stand a chance.
Claims of sexual abuse based on recovered memory - or repressed memory of trauma, dissociative amnesia, the names are many - were not uncommon in 1994, when MacRae faced trial, but they had been virtually eliminated in courts by 2005, when Shanley was at the bar. Research psychologists had produced a formidable and damning body of literature on the subject. Therapists who once rode high on the spurious diagnosis had been disgraced, stripped of their licenses and revealed as dangerous frauds in successful malpractice suits. And scientific-legal teams had established precedent that this was 'junk science', hence inadmissible in prosecutions.
"But wait!" it will be argued. "None of that is in Spotlight! It's just a good old movie about the press versus the big bad power structure."
This is exactly the film's toxicity, and the Globe's: what they obscure.
Liberals who cheer this sort of thing ought to ponder whether they have any principles at all, or whether those are contingent, jelly-like and poisoned by prejudice. The CCR brief failed, but its unchallenged acceptance of accusations, anonymous complaints, prosecution arguments, grand jury reports, commission findings with no benefit of cross examination and no recognized rights of the accused is breathtaking.