March 12th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Several items missing from list of the big spend

CANBERRA OBSERVED Greens back Coalition in Senate voting reform

ENERGY Nuclear reprocessing feasible here: SA inquiry

HISTORY OF TAIWAN Fifty-year journey from poverty to prosperity

SPEECH IN PARLIAMENT Warning: wolves in anti-bullying clothing

EDITORIAL Turnbull ignores three elephants in the room

DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE Family portrait or ideological caricature?

OPINION Goebbels revisited: the attack on Cardinal Pell

FAMILY AND SOCIETY SSCA apologists try to shrug off media furore

EUTHANASIA Legitimate denial of choice at end of life (Part II of two)

NATIONAL AFFAIRS Welcome backdown on vaccinations

ENVIRONMENT Food bowl emptied due to conservationist myopia

MUSIC Much-loved concertos clouded with melancholy

CINEMA Spotlight in the darkness: Spotlight

BOOK REVIEW Governing Middle-earth

BOOK REVIEW A land of contrasts


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Spotlight in the darkness: Spotlight

by Symeon J. Thompson

News Weekly, March 12, 2016

Spotlight is the Oscar-winning film that recounts the story of The Boston Globe’s investigation of clerical sexual abuse and the complicity of the hierarchy in the Boston archdiocese. A solid, understated production, its narrow focus means that, despite its strengths, it can say little about how this catastrophe came to be.

It’s 2001 and Martin “Marty” Baron (Liev Schreiber), an unmarried, softly spoken, workaholic Jew from Florida – an outsider in every sense of the word – is the new editor of The Boston Globe. Baron wants to make the newspaper essential to its readership, especially with the internet cutting into its revenue. He sees that Mitchell Garabedian (Stanley Tucci) has filed a civil suit alleging that the Catholic Archbishop of Boston, Bernard Cardinal Law (Len Cariou), knew about abusive priests and moved them around, thus endangering children. Baron believes this to be of crucial interest to the largely Catholic readership of The Globe and has the investigative “Spotlight” team, headed by Walter “Robbie” Robinson (Michael Keaton), investigate.

The film is well made and straight forward in its approach. There is no bravura editing or virtuosic cinematography, just the simple, and understated, depiction of the mundane realities of journalism. A large part of its emotional power comes from what the audience already knows.

Spotlight is not a film about the abuse crisis, or the cover-up. It is specifically about the investigation conducted by the Spotlight team, much like how All The President’s Men (1976) is about the Woodward-Bernstein investigation of the Watergate break-in, not Watergate itself. As such, it has a narrow scope, and for the most part seems to be accurate in what it depicts. But due to this narrow focus there is much that it does not, and cannot, explore.

Spotlight cannot answer the most important question of all: how can this have happened? It can show that it did happen, but it can only go partway in showing why. Those whose duty was the promotion of the good instead cooperated with evil. It is reprehensible, and seems incomprehensible. The most reasonable response is one of rage.

But, righteous anger, unmediated by reason, has a downside. We can be swept away by the facts of what happened, without stopping to consider seriously why. In describing the predators as “monsters” we can give them an almost-mythic status, like the Minotaur of Greek legend who feasted on the young. In so doing, we make their crimes inexplicable, but also suggest that the predators and their predations are so obvious they should be easy to see.

The reality, as Leon Podles shows in his excellent, but horrific, book Sacrilege (2008), is that these predators were highly effective con-men who knew how to manipulate, how to deceive, and how to coerce. For the most part they relied on mind games, and their privileged and trusted status, more so than overt violence, to abuse.

They chose as their targets the most vulnerable children and teenagers. The predators would gain the trust of their victims’ families by presenting themselves as angels of charity. They would build on the intimacy of the relationship, first with small, shared indiscretions that became darker and darker, slowly and steadily dragging their victims deeper and deeper into depravity. They isolated them and lied to them, alternating between cruelty and kindness, using their personal power, and the power of their office, both to overwhelm their victims and to convince them of the “rightness” of what was happening.

They developed networks and curried favour with the influential and the powerful to give themselves security. They said whatever they needed to say to get whatever they wanted. They made themselves central to their communities, building on their already privileged status, making it seem like they could do no wrong.

When discovered, they were able to trade on this status, and their ease with deceit, to escape. The “authorities” could easily find any number of “plausible” reasons to downplay the gravity of the act, and move them on to somewhere new.

But it would happen again, and again. And those in charge would be stuck. They could not admit to making a mistake, so they dug themselves in deeper, and deeper, until it was too late. This is the sordid reality of evil. Predators preyed on the innocent, and their supposed protectors allowed themselves to be duped.

The damage done is immense, not just to the victims, and the institutions exploited, but also to civil society itself. The presumption of innocence and due process, cornerstones of our legal system, are sidelined. Trust is gone, replaced by suspicion.

This iniquity afflicts every institution. Its genesis is the unthinking obedience to power, and a willingness to avoid confrontation. It is only by shining light into darkness that we can challenge it, for the price of integrity is eternal vigilance.

Symeon J. Thompson is a member of the Film Critics Circle of Australia (FCCA).

All you need to know about
the wider impact of transgenderism on society.
TRANSGENDER: one shade of grey, 353pp, $39.99

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