Originally published in Castine Patriot, August 18, 2016
Ben Bradlee recounts historic Spotlight team investigation
Former Boston Globe editor Ben Bradlee Jr. explains how his team of investigative journalists uncovered several cases of sexual misconduct in the Boston area Catholic churches.
by Monique Labbe
Emerson Hall was standing room only Tuesday, August 16, as residents of Castine and the surrounding area listened to former Boston Globe editor Ben Bradlee Jr. recount his experience as part of the “Spotlight” team that brought the sexual misconduct cases of the Catholic Church to the forefront of the Boston community.
Bradlee led the team in its investigation into several priests in the community, uncovering solid evidence that these cases of sexual misconduct had occurred and were covered up by the diocese.
“Calling it sexual misconduct seems too gentle a word,” said Bradlee during his talk. “They were rapes, is what they were, mostly to altar boys.”
After several stories made it into the Boston Globe in the 1990s, the case started coming up cold, as the reporters were unable to obtain church documents that would convict the priests of the crime. That changed in 2002, when, after a successful lawsuit against the Boston diocese, the reporters on the Spotlight team were able to comb through those church documents, finding case after case of reported sexual abuse to the children.
The priest at the forefront of the investigation was John Geoghan, who became the “poster child” of the investigation, according to Bradlee. Geoghan resigned from the priesthood; however, the Spotlight team determined that he had been involved in over 100 instances of sexual misconduct against school-aged children.
The Spotlight team’s investigation led to other newspaper investigations in other parts of the country, many of which uncovered the same types of stories with their local diocese.
Six years later, in 2008, Bradlee and other members of the Spotlight team were approached by two young, inexperienced Hollywood producers who were interested in turning the investigation into a movie.
“We largely ignored it,” said Bradlee. “We just didn’t see how there would be any way to make investigative reporting cinematically interesting.”
Bradlee said other Hollywood directors and producers approached him after that, but finally it was independent film director Tom McCarthy and writer Josh Singer who were able to convince him that the story could have reach in Hollywood.
“We gave them our notes, our emails, everything, and they went through all of it,” said Bradlee. “They interviewed people we interviewed, they made sure they were diligent in their accuracy.”
That accuracy carried over to the movie set, most of which was in a warehouse in Toronto. In that warehouse, the set crew rebuilt the newsroom at the Boston Globe at the time the Spotlight crew was conducting its investigation.
“When I walked in there my knees buckled. I thought I was back in the newsroom. It was detailed to the red pencil I would edit stories with,” said Bradlee.
The movie features an A-list-level cast, including Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci and John Slattery, who played Bradlee in the film.
The movie premiered in 2015 at the Toronto Film Festival. Bradlee and the Spotlight team were in attendance, and after the viewing, McCarthy and Singer brought up the six major actors in the cast for a curtain call. To the team’s surprise, they were called onstage and recognized for their work and story.
“That was crazy to us,” said Bradlee. “The actors were taking selfies with us, we thought it was a great movie.”
Though Bradlee praised the film for its accuracy, he also pointed out that it is important to remember the film is a movie, and not a documentary.
“There were creative freedoms taken, some characters embodying multiple people, but it mostly holds true to what really happened.”