Speaking Truth to Power Puts Journalism in the ‘spotlight’
March 4, 2016
There’s a vision of heroism in the movie “Spotlight” that brings a knowing nod to those in the profession of journalism. It’s about showing up every day and doing the job.
“Spotlight" is the riveting story of a Boston Globe investigation that would rock Boston and cause a crisis in one of the world's oldest and most trusted institutions. When the newspaper's tenacious 'Spotlight' team of reporters delves into allegations of abuse in the Catholic Church, their year-long investigation uncovers a decades-long cover-up at the highest levels of the city’s religious, legal and government establishment, touching off a wave of revelations around the world.
It’s a movie about speaking truth to power. In a key scene, Cardinal Bernard Law instructs Marty Baron, the newly arrived editor of The Globe (and current editor of The Washington Post), on how Boston works. “The city flourishes when its great institutions work together,” says the cardinal. The conversation sets up the film’s central conflict: the way power operates in the absence of accountability. Challenging power or respected authority can be very intimidating.
Recent events close to home remind us why we show up every day and do the job.
Our story last week about Mehdi Pahlavani, an Ashburn man who’s seeking simple notification from the state about when VDOT plans to bulldoze his property, was picked up by news outlets and citizens throughout Virginia. Next to exposing abuse by the Catholic church, Pahlavani’s story may pale by comparison. But in a small way, the disclosure of his plight holds accountable public officials in Loudoun and Virginia for actions that harm citizens and violate their rights.
Last year, the Times-Mirror investigated a Sterling church for abuses to parishioners by church leaders and spiritual warfare by the church that tears apart families in our community. The investigation is now in the hands of the state police as they were tapped to assist the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office. The story reminds us of Cardinal Law’s subtle warning to an editor about what happens when a news organization stirs things up.
We don’t spend our days in the newsroom trying to stir things up. Mostly we show up and assess the news that’s impacting our community. We follow small stories, take small steps. Sometimes they lead to bigger stories. Usually, they don’t.
Mostly we show up and do the job. That’s the ethos of journalism and the reason we’re inspired by “Spotlight.” It may be just a movie, but it is also a defense accountability in a culture that increasingly holds journalism in contempt.
We’re weary of the current crop of candidates for president who pander to “the media” just as they criticize news organizations for holding them accountable for what they say. As they campaigned for the Super Tuesday primaries this week, they may have missed the Academy Awards. The Best Picture went to “Spotlight,” a movie about showing up and doing the job.