Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Hits Just Keep Coming: "Spotlight," New Movie on Sex Scandal

    Remember that you heard it here first: a new movie about the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal is sure to get the story wrong. How can I say this when the movie isn't even in the can? Because I know the story behind the story, which is more about the church than it is about sex abuse. I was on the ground floor when this scandal broke. Actually, it was the fifth floor of the Fox Plaza building in San Francisco where the Associated Press bureau was located.
     The movie has big league names, including director Tom McCarthy and actors Stanley Tucci, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams. It's entitled "Spotlight" and focuses on the Boston Globe's alleged breaking of the sex abuse in the church. I suppose there will be comparisons to Watergate and the Washington Post but don't expect the Pope to resign.
      The movie isn't at a theater near you and it might not make it if there are some second thoughts - and there should be. For one thing, the National Catholic Reporter was pretty well exclusive on it long before the Globe and so was the San Jose Mercury News. The NCR was reporting on predator priests as early as 1983. The Mercury's Carl Cannon won honors for his 1985 story. Cannon wondered in the American Journalism Review why his stories didn't get the attention received by the later ones, asking if  "there are lessons to be learned for investigative reporters and journalism as a whole?" You bet there are lessons. For one, that the Boston Globe has more clout with the rest of the media than the Merc. Another lesson is that pack journalism rules with reporters following the leader.
      The church scandal is a prime example of Oz reporting in which you pay no attention to the man behind the curtain even though you know something is wrong. I knew something was wrong a few weeks after the AP picked up the Mercury story. An education group met in San Francisco and one of its papers had to do with sex abuse in public schools. I can't remember all the details and wished I had saved the handout given to the AP. I figured it would be as well covered as the church story. It wasn't, so I don't have any clips. Later Education Week did a series on school sex abuse in a series called "Passing the Trash," which was about offending teachers being moved from one school to another. It wasn't until 2010 that the AP got around to doing a series on sex abuse in schools. Few newspapers ran it. Ashamed? They should be.