Ex-Boston Globe Editor Marty Baron Hails 'Spotlight': Filmmakers 'Nailed' Story

The man who oversaw the landmark sex-abuse investigation — which you can read here — says he has no complaints about the resulting film, which moved him to tears and which he hopes will provoke renewed interest in investigative journalism.
Courtesy of Open Road; Alex Wong/Getty Images
Liev Schreiber as Marty Baron in 'Spotlight' (l) and Baron himself (r)

"There's something oddly incongruous about all of the events and the red-carpet interviews that surround a movie when you're dealing with a subject that's as serious as this one," says Marty Baron, the former editor of The Boston Globe, in reference to Spotlight, the acclaimed new film — in which he's played by Ray Donovan's Liev Schreiber — about the Globe's 2002 investigation that exposed a massive sex-abuse scandal in the city's Catholic Church, for which the paper was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2003. "But," he acknowledges with a laugh, "it's been fun."

Three years ago today, Baron, 61, left the Globe to become the editor of The Washington Post — another publication famous for its investigative reporting — and, in so doing, thought he was closing a chapter of his life that had been unlike any other. He'd covered important stories for decades, but the Catholic Church investigation "was the most meaningful work that I've been involved in," he says, "because it had such a direct impact on people's lives — not politicians, but ordinary people. It had such a profound impact on the Catholic Church then, and even today I think its impact endures. Its impact went way beyond the Church and went into how other major institutions deal with accusations of sexual assault."

Eight years ago, long before he left the Globe, Baron was approached by producers Nicole Rocklin and Blye Faust, who said they were working on putting together a film about the paper's coverage of the scandal. He was forewarned, however, that it might not come to fruition — "It's a difficult subject, and not everybody loves journalists," he notes. A few years later, the producers lined up Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy to pen a script, and Baron says, "When Josh and Tom really started doing their research, I had a sense that this really might be real — but I knew that they had to obtain financing, as well, and that that would be a huge challenge."

Singer and McCarthy quickly won over Baron — and his colleagues. "They did a prodigious amount of research," he says. "It was really impressive how much time they spent with us. They went through every legal document they could get their hands on and every email they could get their hands on, they interviewed seemingly everybody and they just kept coming back to us for more and more information." He adds, "When we finally saw the first version of the screenplay [two years ago], I thought, 'Well, okay, this thing really might happen." The script made The Black List, a survey of the best unproduced screenplays on the market, and soon the production did indeed come together.

Baron learned that Schreiber had been cast to play him only shortly before the general public did, and he met Schreiber for the first time, at the actor's request, on Sept. 12, 2014, in the D.C. offices used at the time by the Post. "We just sat there and he interviewed me for a little less than two hours," Baron recalls, "and I quickly realized that it wasn't really an interview; it was an observation." Schreiber, an intense actor who buries himself in his roles, regards the part of Baron as one of the "really special" ones he's ever played, right up alongside Hamlet or Iago. "That's a little hard for me to take," Baron laughs. "That's very nice, but that was perhaps an overly generous statement."

The journalist — who has been called "the best news editor of all time" by Esquire — was shown a rough cut of the film in McCarthy's Tribeca editing room, but first saw a finished version at the film's Toronto International Film Festival premiere in September, alongside 2,000 or so others. "It was an amazing and an emotional experience for me," says Baron. "I actually teared up there at the end with the scene where Sacha [Pfeiffer]'s grandmother is reading the story and asks for a glass of water. For me, that was just a highly emotional moment because it spoke to the impact of the work on the most faithful parishioners in the Catholic Church, and the power of journalism." He adds, "I was kind of overwhelmed by it."

What did Baron make of the way he was depicted by Schreiber? "I've gotta depend on what the people who know me best — my colleagues and my friends — say, and they all use the same phrase: 'He nailed you!' " He adds with a chuckle, "So I guess he nailed me."

In recent years, real-life people portrayed in movies have not infrequently taken issue with liberties taken by the filmmakers, but don't expect any kind of a takedown attempt from Baron. "I don't have any real complaints about the movie at all, to tell you the truth," he says. "It's very faithful to the broad outlines of how the investigation unfolded and it does a very good job of capturing the themes that emerged over the course of that investigation, and I think it's a very nuanced and a very powerful film and I'm very grateful for that."

He continues, "Of course there's creative license — it's a movie, not a documentary, and I think everybody understands that or should understand that. You're trying to compress an investigation that lasted about seven months and then went on for another year or year-and-a-half after that, and you're trying to bring to the surface a variety of themes and introduce a lot of different characters, and you're trying to do that in two hours. That's not an easy feat. I mean, it would have been nice if other reporters who worked on this investigation after the initial stories were able to be incorporated, but the movie only captured that particular period of time before the first story was published, so it wasn't possible."

Some who know Baron have tried to flatter him by telling him that he has more of a sense of humor than the person portrayed in Spotlight. He says he "very grateful that they say that," but thinks the film actually is closer to the truth, at least at that particular period in his life. "It was a pretty tense time," he says. "I was going to a newspaper where I really knew nobody in a town where I didn't really know anybody and there were other people at the paper who wanted the job that I had been given — and I was working with them. Today we're all good friends, but it was a tense situation at the time, so I don't think I was the most jovial character and that was certainly not the most joyful period of my life."

He's been much happier making the rounds with Spotlight, something that the filmmakers have urged the pic's subjects to do as much as possible. "I've been able to spend a lot of time with my former colleagues," Baron says, "and I think I've actually gotten to know them better, in some ways, because it's a different setting where I'm not their boss — that makes it easier! I've really enjoyed that. They're all terrific journalists, they're all terrific people and they were totally dedicated to pursuing this story in the right way." He says that they all want to use this time "to make the case that it's really important to have high-quality investigative journalism to hold powerful institutions and powerful individuals accountable," because "if the press doesn't do it then nobody is going to do it, and wrongdoing will continue."

Upon being notified that Oscar nomination voting began on Dec. 30 and asked if he would be amenable to attending the Oscars on Feb. 28, Baron lets out a big laugh. "If I get invited, I'll come because it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I would never miss it, of course. I have no idea whether we'll be invited out there — I really don't have any clue how this works." He adds, "I have a tux, but I don't have any actual tux shoes, so I guess I'll have to go out and buy those."

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