The similarities, both in the journalistic stories and in the movies, are plentiful and probably not coincidental. The Washington Post’s investigation of the Watergate break-in and its cover-up has inspired investigative reporting ever since. The Globe editors and reporters who investigated the Catholic sexual abuse scandal walked in the footsteps of Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, Ben Bradlee and other Washington Post journalists of the Watergate era.
Parallels between the journalism stories and the movies abound (and I’m sure I’m forgetting a few):
- Both films depicted interviews with people scared to talk about what they knew.
- Both movies depicted successful working of powerful sources with inside information.
- Both depicted the value of teamwork, including conflict and different personalities, in successful reporting, both at the reporter and editor levels.
- Court records provided key information in both stories.
- Each film includes a riveting scene of a fearful reporter running in the dark.
- The two movies used similar cinematic techniques and scenes to depict the tedious use of directories and old newspaper stories to track down important details and make connections.
- Both films effectively portrayed the difficulty of persuading reluctant sources to talk and the painstaking task of tracking down sources and getting turned down by those who won’t talk.
- The movies both deal with the complicated personal connections that play into journalism, however much we strive for objectivity.
- Both stories included a Ben Bradlee as a key character: Senior as the executive editor of the Washington Post, portrayed by Jason Robards in an Oscar-winning performance and Junior as deputy managing editor of the Globe, portrayed by John Slattery.
- Both movies accurately portrayed the rumpled look of many journalists, the newsroom banter, the look of newsrooms of their times. (As much as we hate clichés in copy, we become easy clichés on the wide screen.)
- Both films accurately portrayed the tension between editors and reporters, each pushing from different perspectives to perfect the story.
The most important parallel between “All the President’s Men” and “Spotlight” is that each portrays one of its generation’s best journalism investigations, each shining a light on shameful cover-ups of criminal activity, each succeeding in bringing down powerful figures.
Companion post: In a separate post, I share advice from my own experience covering sexual abuse by priests.
— Mark Ruffalo (@MarkRuffalo) November 20, 2015