Some Ramblings - Spotlight (2015) by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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Faith is a very powerful tool to enrich the spirit and the soul...the problem is, it can cut both ways. While personal faith is one thing, institutional faith is an even greater bonding agent that offers the individual the necessary bearings to become a vital member of the society. An example of institutional faith is religion. Religion, though on a philosophical level is merely a gateway to spirituality (personal faith), with its rules, traditions and orders, identifies and brings together a group of people. Religion is a social custom, a community belief, a way of life to a certain sect of people. It is inviolable, unquestionable, and for most parts, immutable. Now imagine someone swinging a wrecking ball at it, or taking a sledgehammer and slamming hard at the foundations of such institutions of faith causing some serious damage and exposing the fault lines of what is wrongly presumed to be virtually indestructible. The reactions, when such shattering acts happen, range from disbelief and disillusionment on one end and blind offense and illogical defense on the other. Both these reactions are equally valid. When the most revered agents of faith - the godmen, the healers, the swamis - are caught in affairs that should have been far beneath their intellectual level and better judgment, like money, sex, power and politics, they not just dent and damage the trust at an individual level. The ultimate victim would be the society itself.

Now, replace the word 'religion' from all the occurrences above with 'media', another institution that deals with faith (in this case, its twin, trust). One look around at the current landscape, when the media has transformed itself into the mouthpieces of a brand of thought and an agenda, spouting nothing but propaganda, there's another pillar of trust (of the society) that has shaken up, another rock solid dam holding a reservoir of public confidence breached. And here's the funny part, when sometimes these conflicting institutions of faith collide with one another, with the media suddenly becoming 'holier than thou' exposing religion, and (agents of) religion returning the favor, training the guns on the media's duality and duplicity. As the Pink Floyd song goes, 'that's just another brick in the wall...'...which has come undone, goes without saying.

'Spotlight' is about that intersection of these institutions of faith during the late 90's between the Roman Catholic Church and The Boston Globe newspaper that ended up with the defrocking of clergy on one side and exaltation of journalistic standards on the other (earning the pinnacle prize, 'The Pulitzer', in the process), when they came face to face in what was probably the single most damning incident relating to the Catholic Church (after the Spanish Inquisition, of course) - the sexual abuse of minor by certain men of collar.

First, the scandal. Certain priests (around 90 within the city of Boston alone) were accused of using their power and position within their communities as ear pieces of God and hands of His benevolence, to prey upon the young and the impressionable indulging them in acts of unspeakable depravity. These are the people that mothers and fathers trusted to impart their little ones with the wisdom, knowledge and faith and all that the kids got a lesson in over and over again, year after year, was the one about the carnal sin, tainting the innocence of their adolescences once and for all, turning them into delinquents, depressed, suicidal and homicidal as adults. Since most of these kids came from impoverished broken and troubled homes and neighborhoods, it became that much easy for the false fathers to carry on with their abhorrent behavior unabated, unchecked and unquestioned. Just what could that had done to the psyches of the abused children was simply too horrific to even surmise. And here's the kicker. This was not just relegated to one town, one city, one country and on continent alone. At the end of the investigation, the count tallied up over 100 countries on pretty much all the inhabited continents dating back to quite a few decades. Talk about institutional injustice.

Second, the coverup. There is no other equivalent to organizational coverup of nefarious activities than what had happened during the Watergate scandal, which ended up ending a Presidential reign, career and legacy. Running a close second was this equally scandalous and even more serious cover up by the Roman Catholic Church of the sexual abuse scandal of the late 90's that costed the Church its credibility, reputation and most importantly, the trust of its congregants. None can speak better (or worse) about it than the statistic (once compiled by the Playboy magazine post the scandal) that clergy jokes are second only to the lawyer jokes in terms of the society's repugnance, revulsion and repudiation of the trade. Instead of quickly culling away the black sheep from the herd, the Church tried to sweep the scandal under the carpet with the help of the local community leaders and in a shocking move, rotated the damaged goods within the circuit, moving them around cities and countries in the hope that the allegations (not the behavior, but the allegations) would subside, if not entirely stop. And the victims tally just kept on rising where ever the pederasts moved. And the ones who refused to go along with the Church were silenced with hush money funneled through the community lawyers, who, true to their reputations, earned 30% of every settlement made. The victims were made to sign binding non-disclosure agreements for receiving paltry settlement amounts (state mandated $20,000 per victim. yes, there was a state mandated maximum for such 'inappropriate' liabilities) forcing them to never speak of or testify about in a court of law.

And then, the exposé. This is where 'Spotlight' truly shines. The movie, though underlines the heinous case, is more about the journalistic excellence that brought the scandal to the front pages of the national conscience. There is no drama here, no lucky breaks or divine coincidences. It is all about 4 journalists putting their heads down, piecing the story together one quote, one source, one confirmation (well, technically, for any news, there should be 2 confirmations), and one report at a time. This is a cold, calculating and professional team at work, one that has been hardened by the rigors of the reportage, walking the beat, knocking the doors, dialing the phones, and at the end of it, connecting all the dots, all this with the only tools of trade known to journalists - a pen, a flip book and a persistent spirit. There are definite parallels (homage) to the depiction of Woodward and Bernstein's breakthrough work during the Watergate story in 'All The Presidents Men' where most of the action happens in bright-lit newsrooms and in front of typewriters and on phones uneasily cradled on shoulders. 'Spotlight' is an important movie particularly in this day and age where major news organizations choose their word of the day and target of the day and constantly go about hammering their association throughout the 24-hour news cycle, in a bid to advance their political or corporate agenda. Though only 15 years have passed since The Boston Globe news story, the movie feels as though it has been set back in the ages, when journalists fought with the news editors for their right to get the right stories published at the right times, when the news editors jousted with the managing editors pleading for more slack and time for their journalists, when the managing editors butted heads with the owners of the newspaper over autonomy and interference, and finally, when the owners stood by their entire staff, even if it meant antagonizing the community, particularly when administering the bitter pill.

Tailpiece: A recent news item that journalists at the biggest paper in Las Vegas have, upon months of secret investigation, unearthed the fact that their organization has been acquired by a local billionnaire casino owner in a very roundabout way, and who, as his first order of duty, arranged for a couple of stringers to tail three judges of the local court, known to have passed judgments against his casino in the past, round the clock for digging up dirt on them. In this present context, 'Spotlight' also works as a fantasy.


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