EDITORIAL: Journalism sleeper deserved win

York Dispatch

“Spotlight,” the movie about the Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston globe investigative reporting team who made public the systematic worldwide cover up of child sexual abuse by the Catholic Church, wasn’t expected to win the Academy Award.

This photo provided by courtesy of Open Road Films shows, Rachel McAdams, from left, as Sacha Pfeiffer, Mark Ruffalo as Michael Rezendes and Brian d’Arcy James as Matt Carroll, in a scene from the film, "Spotlight." The 73rd annual Golden Globe nominations in film and television categories will be announced Thursday morning, Dec. 10, 2015, in Beverly Hills, Calif.  (Kerry Hayes/Open Road Films via AP)

But it did.

And because it did, it helps to validate the suffering that survivors of sexual abuse by clergy have endured.

Although the award is bestowed by Hollywood, which gives it a patina of glitz, that doesn’t negate the worldwide acceptance that a systematic abuse and injustice took place — and must be atoned for.

Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston attorney portrayed by Stanley Tucci in the film, told The Boston Globe that Monday morning, following the Oscar win, he heard from a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest — a survivor who had not previously come forward.

“Because of ‘Spotlight,’” Garabedian said, “that survivor has regained lost dignity that was stolen by clergy sexual abuse.”

This is a monumental statement. It shows the importance of listening to those who have been abused and fighting for them in every way possible — even if that fight means going up against a powerful system like the Catholic Church.

And the fight, sadly, is far from over — including right here at home. On Tuesday, the state Attorney General’s Office released findings alleging widespread sexual abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona-Johnston by priests and church officials.

Grand jury: Central Pa. bishops hid abuse of hundreds of children

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences also highlighted the importance of rape survivors by nominating “Til It Happens to You,” the song produced and performed by singer Lady Gaga.

The song, co-written by Gaga and Oscar-winning composer Diane Warren, is from the film “The Hunting Ground,” which deals with campus rape in the U.S.

It is indeed a new day when the issue of sexual abuse and such criminal and life-changing abuse of power can permeate popular culture and resonate in the mainstream American consciousness.

It is also a new day when a quiet movie about the often tedious business of investigative journalism can hold and sway an audience and convince its viewers of the importance of holding the power accountable.

On both counts, we believe that this new dynamic is long overdue. The systematic dismissal of survivors’ claims and the equally systematic lack of transparency and illegal cover-up on behalf of those in power should never be tolerated or swept under the rug.

The Fourth Estate ensures these things don't happen, if it is healthy and thriving.

However, journalism has always been under attack by those in power who seek to abuse or hoard that power. And if reporters are blocked in small ways — if local governments won’t hand over documents deemed public by the Open Records law, for instance — then an insidious acceptance of cover-ups becomes acceptable.

And in the case of the Catholic Church, that kind of cover-up can ruin countless lives — lives of children and all of our most vulnerable citizens.

That's why reporters can also use this very public and widespread recognition as a validation that the work they do; often thankless and even, at times, outright reviled, watchdog journalism is worth every long hour and every roadblock to be overcome.

Now that the country is seeing this important, quiet but powerful film — and recognizing it as a vital statement on the power of journalism and the importance of hearing and protecting survivors of sexual abuse — we can only hope we are entering a new era.