An Investigation is Born

After the meeting, Baron asked the Globe lawyer for an analysis. Two weeks later, the lawyer told him that the Globe had a 50 percent chance of winning a suit to see the trial documents. To Baron, that seemed like pretty good odds. Before he could bring a lawsuit, however, he needed agreement from Publisher Gilman. After listening quietly as Baron made his case for going to court, Gilman agreed that it was the right thing to do. Baron hustled out of Gilman’s office before he could change his mind. On August 15, the Globe filed suit in Massachusetts Superior Court.

But a lawsuit was only one option—and there was no assurance the Globe would win. Baron had just run into Columnist McNamara in the hallway. According to Baron, McNamara (a Pulitzer prizewinner) went “on a bit of a rant,” urging him to launch an investigation. The Globe had a Spotlight Team, a celebrated unit created in 1970 to do investigative journalism. Would this make sense as a Spotlight project? Baron conferred with Special Projects Editor Ben Bradlee, Jr., who oversaw the team, and Walter Robinson, the team’s editor and lead reporter.

Bradlee, a former metro editor, had led the Globe ’s aggressive coverage of another Catholic priest convicted of pedophilia in the early 1990s. Father James Porter had been convicted in 1993 and sent to prison on 41 counts of sexual assault against children in several parishes. Church officials had shuffled him from one parish to another, and the Fall River diocese had agreed to pay more than $7 million to Porter’s victims. But Globe journalists, Bradlee says, had “hit a wall” in probing the potential complicity of the church. Now with the new investigation, he saw a chance to pick up where they had left off.

Spotlight Editor Robinson, too, liked the idea of delving into this story. He was impressed by Baron’s quick call for an investigation and believed it was a move only an outsider could have made. “It’s a great example of what a fresh pair of eyes can do at a newspaper,” he says.

This is not meant to disrespect some of the great editors we had over time, but this was a very inbred newspaper… All of our editors had come up through the system. In a city like Boston, you become acculturated to the city and its mores and its institutions, and you don’t necessarily think as much outside the box as you should. [1]

The team had recently wrapped up an investigation into the shoddy work done by a national builder of luxury homes. No other major stories were pending. But before committing to a full-scale investigation, they would do some preliminary reporting.

[1] Author’s interview with Walter Robinson in Boston, MA, on April 4, 2008. All further quotes from Robinson, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.