Editor Walter Robinson Reflects on Impact of ‘Spotlight’

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

By Priscilla Liguori 2/11/2016

Editor Walter Robinson led the investigative team that exposed how the Catholic Church covered up widespread sexual abuse.

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

Robinson thinks the film Spotlight strengthens the impact of the Boston Globe’s original articles revealing the scandal in 2002.

“You realize that the power that a film can have that maybe the printed word cannot, to change public consciousness on really important issues, like the plague of thousands and thousands of children who were abused, many of whom still remain in the shadows, many of whom are actually coming forward because of the film,” Robinson said.

Robinson believes the Catholic Church still has a long way to go and needs to take action more quickly.

Cardinal Sean O’Malley became the Archbishop of Boston after the scandal was exposed and Cardinal Bernard Francis Law resigned. Cardinal Archbishop O’Malley leads the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors started by Pope Francis in 2014.

Last week, members of the commission watched Spotlight together.

“That to me is a hopeful sign that the Church because of the film may start to take the issue more seriously,” Robinson said.

While Robinson admitted, it was challenging to relive some of the emotional moments of the investigation to make the film, Spotlight’s positive effect on society was worth it.

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

“It’s extraordinarily accurate as it portrays what happened, what we did, the reporting steps we took, even the personalities involved here at the newspaper in bringing this from a request from the new editor to a story that had such a great impact,” Robinson explained.

Robinson originally thought a film about the tedious work of investigative journalists would be boring.

“Why would anyone be interested in how reporters make a sausage?” Robinson joked.

He was surprised that Spotlight became a drama that has viewers on the edge of their seats.

Robinson explained that taking 20 years of the Church’s directories to create his team’s own database of suspect priests took almost a month.

“In the film, Tom McCarthy [Director] managed to compress that into 3 minutes, and he actually made it very dramatic by shifting the scene from one reporter to another reporter and going back again,” Robinson said.

Mark Ruffalo was the first to sign onto the film, followed by Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams. Robinson considered the entire cast to be terrific. He was impressed with how Michael Keaton picked up on his accent, voice inflections, and mannerisms.

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

“I learned that in real life I should have dressed better,” Robinson joked. “He actually had a crease in his trousers, and I haven’t had a crease in my trousers since the Clinton administration.”

Spotlight’s six Academy Award nominations include Best Film Editing, Best Supporting Actor: Mark Ruffalo, Best Supporting Actress: Rachel McAdams, Best Original Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Picture.

The original Spotlight team won the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for revealing the epidemic had previously been ignored, covered up, and unheard of in Boston.

The sexual abuse cover up changed how the team looked for stories.

“We look much more now for stories where there are victimized populations in society for whom no body speaks out,” Robinson explained. “People who are voiceless and powerless and sort of being run over and there’s no one to help them but us.”

Robinson believes everyone is responsible for protecting children from evil, and that Spotlight shows how our society failed in doing that. He said citizens must be more vigilant.

“One place where none of us look is right in front of us,” Robinson said. “Every day in different ways each of us stumbles upon or passes by some injustice or another. We have to hold all powerful institutions accountable, even those that are the most iconic in our society.”

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

Priscilla Liguori/ WEBN-TV

Robinson spoke fondly of Cardinal Archbishop O’Malley’s efforts to end clergy sexual abuse and support for the film.

“He’s [Cardinal Archbishop O’Malley] shown in Boston that he really cares about this so we have great hope,” Robinson said. “I think Boston is doing better in dealing with this issue than other archdioceses.”

Robinson admitted that some journalists see the film as a farewell to investigative reporting.

“There’s a lot of people in the business who don’t think investigative reporting is going to make a comeback and that there’s not the money to support it,” Robinson said.

However, he also shared that he had an emotional conversation with a student from a Boston University who said this investigation inspired her to be a journalist.

“If young people seeing this film understand that good journalism can really result in some profound change for the bettering of society, then maybe more young people will get into journalism. So that’s a good thing.” Robinson said.

Robinson is currently an Editor at Large at the Globe.

More Spotlight Coverage:

“Spotlight” Won, But the Debate About the Catholic Church Continues

Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivor Reacts to “Spotlight” Win, Existing Epidemic

Michael Rezendes Discusses Spotlight Portrayal, Changes in the Church

Mitchell Garabedian Says Clergy Sexual Abuse Remains a Rampant Issue