I was interested in seeing “Spotlight” because I’d heard it was the best newspaper movie since “All the President’s Men.”
That’s a high bar. I recently watched it again and was surprised how well it held up. I went to see it at the time because it was topical, and because Woodward and Bernstein were heroes to my generation of journalists. I was really startled at how good it was, independent of all that, going on 40 years later.
And I’ve seen Michael Keaton in a good newspaper movie before. I really identified with his character in “The Paper.” Of course, that was largely played for laughs, making it nothing like this film, which I’m anticipating being rather grim.
So, wanting to see it anyway, I was pleased to get an invitation to come watch it at the Nickelodeon tonight, and then participate in a panel discussion with Charles Bierbauer and Sammy Fretwell.
Y’all should come. The movie starts at 6:30 p.m., and the discussion follows.
The folks at the Nick asked me how I wanted to be billed on the website. I said, “Given the subject, I guess you could call me a 35-year veteran newspaper editor who is also a Catholic.” Which they did.
I have to smile thinking back to “The Paper.” I loved it, while my former boss, Gil Thelen, hated it. He didn’t like the… undignified… impression it gave of newspapers.
Gil wanted the public to see journalism like some embodiment of a Journalism 101 textbook, full of high-minded ideals and, above all, seriousness in all things.
“The Paper” was a caricature, but a wonderful one. It was set at a New York tabloid, so all the less seemly aspects of the profession were on display.
I particularly loved it because I identified so strongly with the Michael Keaton character. He reminded me of myself a few years earlier. He was a young guy with a position of responsibility at a newspaper who was starting a family, as I had been. Never mind that I never worked at a New York tabloid. When I was news editor of the small paper in Jackson, TN, my daily life FELT LIKE the day-in-a-life of Keaton’s character portrayed on screen.
And it wasn’t just that he chain-drank Cokes while doing it, as I had done before I had to cut back on the caffeine. There was a certain experience that was common for me in those days — trying to edit a story on deadline while holding my phone to my ear with my shoulder, with someone else on hold on another line, another person standing over me demanding my attention and someone else calling to me from across the newsroom — and Ron Howard managed to evoke what that was like perfectly. And Keaton was the perfect actor for it.
AND they managed to show what fun it was…
And as I said, I don’t expect ANYTHING about this movie tonight to be “fun.”
I hope that I come away seeing it as a fine bit of film-making, but I don’t expect to ENJOY it even as much as I did “All the President’s Men.” That was a movie for a young journalist to cheer for — the press bringing down an administration that definitely needed to be brought down. It had a clean result — Nixon resigned, and the nation moved on.
There’s nothing as clean or as resolved or satisfying about this topic, which is tragic on so many levels. Even the people who went to jail as a result of Watergate were able to move on afterwards. But a victim of child sexual abuse? That’s a horror that stays with you…
Now see “Nightcrawler.”
I’ll tell you something about the real Spotlight team that impressed me. I heard Walter Robinson, the team leader played by Keaton, on Fresh Air recently, and he said that not only does the team still exist, but it’s bigger than it was — six reporters instead of just four.
All hail The Globe — and The New York Times Company, which owns it — for that…
During the interview, Robinson spoke of how impressed HE was by how conscientious Keaton was in learning all about him so that his portrayal was accurate.
Reminds me of something I read about the making of “All the President’s Men” in Rolling Stone, back when it first came out…
Either Dustin Hoffman or Carl Bernstein (whom Hoffman portrayed) told a story about Hoffman’s research for the role. Apparently he was insatiable, and was driving Bernstein crazy with questions. At one point, he called the reporter on the phone and was just asking one pesky question after another, and Bernstein said he had to go. Hoffman said, just one more question. OK, said Bernstein, just one. Hoffman asked it; Bernstein answered it. Then Hoffman said, just let me ask one more question. Bernstein said, “You f___er, you’re becoming a journalist!”
Anyway, Robinson told a similar, if less edgy, story about Keaton:
I am waiting on the big Movie about the ipinvestigative reporting of Lois Lerner and the IRS scandal.
Will be waiting,,,,,,,,,
I’ve seen plenty of reporting on that. It wasn’t very interesting, though.
You raise a very interesting point, however. Things that happen in Washington that interest political partisans — such as the IRS thing — get loads of coverage. They get covered to death, and people go on and on and on and on about them.
The sex-abuse scandal, however, was happening right in the community of Boston but might as well have been on the dark side of the moon. It was everywhere, and it was invisible, for a number of reasons (not least of which being that lawsuits charging abuse were never actually filed in court, but mediated privately).
It took titanic efforts by a talented and determined team to uncover.