Spotlight Movie and Ethics


By Shondell Babb

November 25, 2016

Blog Challenge 8:

Write a response to the following question:

Journalists often defend their practices by saying they were acting in the public interest (the ‘end justifies the means’ argument). Were there any moments in the film where one of the journalists acted beyond the bounds of ethical behavior? If so, what do you think about this, and what should they have done instead? In the case of a major story like the one the Spotlight reporters were chasing, could there be such a thing as ‘going too far’ to shine a light on the truth?

In the movie Spotlight, the following are instances where one of the journalists acted beyond the bounds of ethical behavior.

  1. Spotlight Investigator, Mike Grezendes had a conversation with the original case prosecutor, Mitch Garabedean, on the condition that their conversation be ‘Off the record’.

Garabedean then notified the investigator that he could file a Protective Order Challenge, and move a motion to lift the seal on the 14 court documents, proving that there were child molestation cases settled and a subsequent cover-up of these cases.

Grezendes should have asked if there is any information the source can be on record about, or end the conversation. He could have also found another source like Erik McLeash, the defense lawyer for the priests, who also confirmed the sealed documents could be publicly accessed.

Journalists should avoid going “Off the record” with sources, because the risk of liability could potentially ruin their reputation and credibility in the future. Since people sometimes change their minds once they’ve revealed confidential information, obtaining permission to use or quote reliable sources is critical.

  1. Grezendes had to fly to Florida for an assignment. But he requested that the lawyer, Garabedean, delay filing the Protective Order Challenge until he returned to Boston.

Legal proceedings often take long, so Grezendes should not try to interfere with the due process, for his own self-interest.

  1. When Grezendes got access to the 14 sealed court documents, the photocopier office was closed, but he couldn’t leave the courthouse with them. So he threw $83.00 on the counter, bribing the clerk to photocopy the documents on the staff copier.

Grezendes could have returned to the courthouse first thing the next day to copy the documents.

Sources need to be respected and not bribed, threatened or bullied. Exposing the truth is important, however, the personal ethics and integrity of the reporter needs to be maintained.

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