|Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton, and Mark Ruffalo
Was the win for Spotlight, and its story of the Boston Globe's efforts to uncover child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, a victory for hard-nosed reporting on important subjects? It might be seen as such; several presenters and award recipients said last night that the film largely is about the power of journalism to expose corruption and affect change.
But amidst the joy felt in many quarters from Spotlight's win, the public should not ignore grim signs that the kind of reporting that inspired the film might soon become a thing of the past.
In an age of hemorrhaging budgets, many newspapers are cutting staffs to the bare bones--and beyond. Harried reporters must focus on the simplest stories of the moment--fires, car crashes, police chases--with no time to research stories that might take months (or years) to unravel. With many print editions either disappearing or being cut back, newsroom excellence often is measured in digital terms--on the number of "clicks" certain "trending" stories receive.
The Catholic Church scandal in Boston began to unfold in the early 1990s, and most of the stories at the heart of Spotlight were published in 2002. Would such stories be published today, as a weakened mainstream press seems more interested in protecting establishment interests than in unmasking them? I would say it's unlikely.
If the mainstream press won't do it, that leaves the heavy lifting to non-traditional, Web-based reporters, who often have limited funding (if they have funding at all) and face life-altering blow back from powerful forces who do not appreciate being exposed.
Consider my own experience here at Legal Schnauzer, reporting on legal, judicial, and political corruption--in Alabama and beyond. And keep in mind that I have an unusual dual role--as both a victim of, and reporter about, corruption.
Why did Mrs. Schnauzer and I feel we could not stand and cheer Spotlight's victory last night? For one, I was so convinced that The Revenant, with the help of Leonardo DiCaprio's star power, would win that I was only semi paying attention as Morgan Freeman opened the envelope and made the announcement. But even when it registered that our favorite movie of the year had pulled off a shocker, we felt compelled to remain quiet.
Why? Thanks to attacks from the legal and political conservatives who rule Alabama, we lost our home of 25 years in Birmingham to a dubious foreclosure. That came just as I was being released from a five-month stay in jail because of an unlawful contempt-of-court order that lawyer Rob Riley (son of former GOP governor Bob Riley) sought.
Before that, Carol and I had been cheated out of our jobs--her at Infinity Insurance, me at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), where I had worked for almost 20 years. Tape-recorded evidence shows conclusively that I was targeted at work because of my reporting on the political prosecution of former Alabama Democratic Governor Don Siegelman. Evidence strongly suggests that Carol was targeted because she is married to me.
When we challenged our bogus firings in federal court, we got cheated there, too. (See here and here.)
With our home in Alabama being swiped from underneath us, we were forced to move to Springfield, Missouri, where I grew up. Last September 9, we were subjected to an unlawful eviction at the apartment we were renting. In the course of throwing us and our possessions to the street, a Greene County deputy grabbed Carol, slammed her to the ground, and yanked on her arms in a vicious upward and backward motion. That broke her left arm so severely that it required trauma surgery for repair--and even then, she is expected to regain no more than 75 percent usage of her arm.
|The real-world cost
of practicing investigative journalism:
An X-ray of my wife's shattered arm
In the eviction's wake, we wound up living at a pay-by-the-week motel--the kind of establishment some might charitably call a "fleabag motel." Carol and I have come to calling it "The Shiftless Drifters' Motel." That's why we had a subdued reaction to Spotlight's win. We didn't want our whooping and hollering to disturb our neighbors. After all, we no longer live in a stand-alone house.
What price have I paid for reporting accurately on court-related corruption in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri, and several other states? What price has Carol paid for supporting my efforts in investigative journalist?
Well, we've lost our jobs, our careers, our life savings, our reputations, and our once-stellar credit rating, During the eviction, the landlord's crew was seen stealing many of our possessions--including almost all of my shoes, pants, shirts, coats, underwear, hats, and much more. Our wedding rings were stolen, and many irreplaceable items of sentimental value were lost or pilfered.
Because of a bogus resisting-arrest conviction in Alabama, I now have a criminal record that makes me virtually unemployable.
What is the cost of investigative journalism for one reporter and his wife? Well, we are almost homeless--and public records indicate even my own family members (and maybe one friend of long standing) have been working against us. Why? My best guess is that it's because one of my brothers is a lawyer, which makes him part of the establishment that doesn't much appreciate my reporting--no matter how accurate it is.
Spotlight is a wonderful movie, and it got two thumbs up here at Legal Schnauzer. If you haven't seen it--and it's not the kind of blockbuster that draws huge crowds--we strongly recommend
a trip to your local cinema to catch it.
But the movie does not touch on the many modern threats to investigative journalism--and the dangers reporters can face when they take on powerful interests.
Do we want to see movies like Spotlight in the future? Do we want to see the kind of journalism that can inspire such a movie?
We are in danger of losing both.