In January of 2002 the Boston Globe released the first of several stories uncovering the truth about a Catholic priest who had molested more than 100 children. These molestations occurred in a 34-year span with the Church knowing what was happening. The Catholic Church had been paying off victims to keep this a secret from the public.
The Globe’s Spotlight Team compiled the series of articles. This specific team was made up of four members by the names of Matt Carroll, Sacha Pfeiffer, Michael Rezendes and Walter Robinson.
These four people made up a special unit that was allowed to spend an indefinite amount of time reporting and researching for one specific story. This is a very unique job in journalism that most journalists never get the chance to do. This is largely because most newspapers cannot afford to pay such a team.
The Boston Globe Spotlight Team was created in 1970 by Tim Leland and has been producing outstanding investigative journalism stories ever since. It has investigated 102 stories in 45 years. It is the longest running full-time investigative team in America.
“We find people who are victimized by society and by institutions that are supposed to protect them,” said Robinson in a video released by the Globe. This is very true. The Spotlight Team is a very powerful entity that uses its power for good.
The interest in this particular story was re-sparked when Martin “Marty” Baron became the news editor in late July of 2001. He referenced a Sunday column about 84 lawsuits against one priest by the name of John Geoghan. The personnel records of Geoghan were under court seal. This led the team to believe there was a story waiting to be uncovered. This is where the team’s newsgathering process truly started.
Investigating the Roman Catholic Church was uncharted territory for the team, but they were willing to take the risk. Accuracy is important in all journalism, but especially in spotlight stories because the news could be detrimental to those being exposed. The team was thorough in fact checking and newsgathering. They knew this story would change the way many people viewed the Catholic Church.
The team found directories of priests created by the Archdiocese of Boston. This listed the name of the priests, where they had been assigned to work and their status. Pfeiffer realized that when a priest received a molestation complaint, his status would be changed to sick leave. This was a solid form of newsgathering.
They created a database showing where the priests had been reassigned over the years. This put into perspective how serious of a problem this was. Almost 100 other priests had been doing the same thing, but the church was making hush payments to the victims to keep things quiet. Creating a database was a very efficient way to organize and keep information.
The first story went to print on January 6, 2002. Hundreds of victims began to call the Globe and tell their story. Many of these victims had made allegations against priests in the past. They told the Globe when they made these allegations and everything lined up. A lot of the new was gathered through interviews, which is always a good practice. They interviewed victims, a psychotherapist, lawyers, and others involved in the ordeal.
Some records were still sealed. The Globe motioned for these to be released and were eventually granted access. This is another from of thorough newsgathering. They were tenacious in getting the facts.
“It became a daily beat, essentially,” said Pfeiffer in a video interview. More than 600 stories were written on this subject in a year. The team continued to find more evidence and facts.
Their impeccable news gathering practices eventually saved thousands of children who would have inevitably become victims of these priests.