Tag Archives: investigative journalism

Kenosha native Mark Ruffalo delivers Oscar-worthy performance in acclaimed ‘Spotlight’

Is there any better team player in movies than Mark Ruffalo?

Whether running in a pack of superheroes, wrestlers or journalists, Ruffalo has a rare ability to slide seamlessly into an ensemble while nevertheless standing out for his talent in doing so. A year after the Kenosha, Wisconsin, native received an Academy Award nomination for his supporting performance as Olympic wrestler David Schutlz in Foxcatcher, the actor is again expected to be Oscar nominated for his key role as a dogged Boston Globe reporter in the newspaper procedural Spotlight.

“I’ve been at the right place at the right time for these two movies, and been able to disappear into the beauty of an ensemble, to serve something that’s bigger than any one particularly individual,” says Ruffalo. “They say something at a moment when the culture’s ready to hear it. A movie, if it speaks to people, it bubbles out of the culture and lands at a moment when we’re ready to have a discussion.”

Ruffalo, one of the movie industry’s most outspoken advocates for environmental (and other) causes, rarely turns down a conversation. (He began a recent interview eagerly imploring a reporter: “Talk to me!”) He has regularly poured his considerable energy into both political activism (most notably hydraulic fracturing) and passionate, striving characters, from the bipolar but exuberant father of Infinitely Polar Bear to his redemption-seeking music executive in Begin Again. He does enthusiasm well, on screen and off.

“I see a lot of light on the horizon. I call it ‘the sunlight revolution’ and it isn’t just about renewable energy,” says Ruffalo. “It’s about enlightening and bringing to light the wrongs of the past. Everywhere I look, I see this inquiry happening. I think people are conscious. I think people are sick of it. They want righteousness. They want to know that’s there’s justice in the world, and they tend to move toward that when given the choice.”

Spotlight, which expanded to theaters nationwide this weekend, dovetails with that mission. The film, directed by Tom McCarthy, is about the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting by the Boston Globe’s team of investigative reporters — named Spotlight — that uncovered the widespread sex abuse of Catholic Church priests and subsequent efforts to cover up abuse cases.

The cast, including Michael Keaton, Liev Schreiber, Rachel McAdams and Stanley Tucci, is uniformly excellent. And the film, one of the year’s most acclaimed, has been hailed for its verisimilitude in depicting the step-by-step digging of investigative journalism. Ruffalo, 47, plays Spotlight reporter Mike Rezendes.

“These are the people we want to celebrate. These are the people that deserve our admiration,” says Ruffalo. “You can’t have a free world without journalism, and it takes resources.”

To prepare for the role, Ruffalo spent time with Rezendes, observing him at work in the Globe newsroom and getting to know him at his home.

“As I told him, I said, ‘You found out things about me I didn’t want to know,’ says Rezendes. “He worked very hard and he got it.”

Rezendes, whom Ruffalo calls “a master” at his craft, continues to report on sex abuse and the church.

“The Catholic Church has taken some steps in the right direction, which I don’t think it would have taken were it not for us. But it has a ways to go,” says Rezendes.

Ruffalo, his movie-star counterpart, is more emphatic.

“I hope it’s a chance for the church to put people like Cardinal Law in jail,” says Ruffalo, who was raised Catholic. “That guy shouldn’t be living in a palace in the Vatican. He should just be in jail.”

Ruffalo, of course, is continuing his duties as a member (Bruce Banner/The Hulk) of the The Avengers, the last of which was the summer’s box-office behemoth Age of Ultron. He’ll be a part of a planned Thor sequel, and co-stars in next year’s magic caper Now You See Me 2.

But Ruffalo, who’s married with three children, is often busiest off-set. Earlier this month, he gathered other stars in Beverly Hills to protest Gov. Jerry Brown’s use of fracking in California.

“We live in this special time where you can’t hide anything anymore,” says Ruffalo. “All of the past wrongs are going to come to light.”

Did judge fail to report outside income? | Money & Politics

Each year more than 2,000 state public officials, from the governor to members of the Chiropractic Examining Board, must file annual statements of economic Interests. (Forms for 2014 are due April 30.) These list employers, other sources of income, creditors and more. This disclosure allows the media and public to check for possible conflicts of interest.

Paul Adamski, a state prison inmate, thinks he’s found one such conflict — involving Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge Mark McGinnis. But he didn’t find it on the judge’s disclosure forms.

In 2009 McGinnis presided over a jury trial in which Adamski, 44, was convicted of multiple charges including the repeated sexual assault of a child and incest. McGinnis sentenced him to 45 years in prison, followed by 25 years of extended supervision.

Adamski reasserts his not-guilty plea but says his main issue is accountability. McGinnis’ statements of economic interests do not appear to list police training session income from the city of Appleton, for years in which other records show he was receiving substantial sums. Appleton police were involved in the case against Adamski.

McGinnis, in a telephone interview and email exchange, said he believed his income from the city of Appleton was disclosed on the forms, but did not explain where this information appears. “I believe I reported it accurately and I’ll take it up with the appropriate authority at the appropriate time,” he said. “You can draw whatever conclusions you want based on the limited information and knowledge you have.”

Violations of the state law regarding Statements of Economic Interests can bring civil and criminal penalties. In 2001, the state Ethics Board imposed a $3,000 forfeiture on former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson for failing to report a stock holding. In 2003, it sought criminal charges against Democratic state Sen. Gary George for omitting some income sources. No such charges were filed, but George was later convicted of federal crimes.

In other cases, said Jonathan Becker, ethics division administrator of the state Government Accountability Board (which replaced the Ethics Board), the agency has been satisfied with the filing of corrected forms.

From 2007 through 2011, records show, Appleton paid McGinnis $18,450 for 41 half-day “Legal Update” sessions. The city’s finance director, Tony Saucerman, said the payments were made directly to McGinnis.

“The fact that a judge instructed officers and then ruled on those officers’ performance is an obvious conflict of interest” that his attorneys did not know about, Adamski said. An explanatory comment in the state Code of Judicial Ethics says parties should be told of any potential grounds for recusal, “even if the judge believes there is no real basis for recusal.”

McGinnis’ Statements of Economic Interests do list outside income for training sessions at Fox Valley Technical College and the federal Amber Alert program run through FVTC. The college says these payments totaled more than $150,000 for the six-year period between 2009 and 2014.

In 2008, controversy arose over a $2.7 million, 15-year lease McGinnis signed with the state Department of Corrections for a building he owned. A DOC lawyer called this “problematic,” since DOC employees might appear in McGinnis’ court, but the state Judicial Commission okayed the deal.

Adamski sued McGinnis and others in federal court, alleging conspiracy. On March 30, a federal judge dismissed the case as frivolous, saying McGinnis’ alleged failure to report money from Appleton for teaching legal updates “caused no harm” to Adamski.

Adamski is also seeking post-conviction relief in state court, before Judge McGinnis. The case has stalled because Adamski says he can’t afford a $147 bill for records he is seeking from McGinnis under the open records law. This includes $125 for two hours of McGinnis’ time, spent locating the records.

McGinnis declined comment on this case, saying it would be unethical for him to do so.

Bill Lueders is the Money and Politics Project director at the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (www.WisconsinWatch.org). The Center produces the project in partnership with MapLight. The Center collaborates with Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television, other news media and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication. All works created, published, posted or disseminated by the Center do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of UW-Madison or any of its affiliates.

Group wants probe of whether Fla. banned climate-change talk

Did Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s administration ban state environmental scientists from using the terms “climate change” and “global warming” in their work?

Scott says no, but some former employees say supervisors forbade them from using the terms — a striking charge in a U.S. state considered by climate scientists to be one of the most at risk of damage due to sea rise and stronger storms in a warming climate.

Now, an environmental group is asking for a state investigation to get to the bottom of it.

Florida members of the group Forecast the Facts filed a complaint with the Department of Environmental Protection’s inspector-general, asking for the investigative arm of the agency to find the truth.

The confusion started after a report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting on the Scott administration’s ban on use of the terms. The report quoted former employees and contractors saying they were told not to use the words in official reports and speeches.

Since then Scott — who famously claimed he wasn’t a scientist when asked about global-warming predictions — has denied the allegations.

“Well, first off, that’s not true,” Scott told reporters in Tallahassee. “At our Department of Environmental Protection, there’s lots of conversation about this issue. From my standpoint, like every issue, my goal is: Instead of talking about it, let’s do something about it.”

But Chris Byrd, a former Florida Department of Environmental Protection attorney who said he was forced out of the agency in 2013, told The Associated Press that he was told by superiors at a staff meeting not to use those terms.

While there was no written policy banning the terms, Byrd said supervisors made it clear verbally. Byrd, who worked on the state’s coral conservation program, said he went along with the request over fear of losing his job.

“We decided it was important for us to maintain jobs and continue projects and just keep our head down and stay out of the attention of the governor’s office,” Byrd said. “We didn’t want to do anything to create waves; we had a fear that our entire program would be shut down.”

Forecast the Facts Campaign director Brant Olson said an investigation is needed to know who’s telling the truth: Was there a ban on using the terms or not?

“Removing climate change from Florida’s vocabulary won’t remove the real threat it poses to coastal communities,” Olson said. “We urge Governor Scott to support an investigation by the inspector-general into the origins of this misguided policy immediately.”

Evidence suggests there hasn’t been a total blackout of the terms in state literature, but they can be hard to find.

For example, the DEP’s website for the coral program still includes information about man-made climate change.

“Both natural and anthropogenic (man-made) processes contribute to changes in global weather patterns such as temperature, rainfall, snowfall and wind,” the website reads.

“These changes have been observed throughout Earth’s history, but with the onset of the industrial revolution and the human population explosion, increases in the intensity of climate changes associated with human activities have been reported with growing frequency.”

That website was updated after Scott took office in November 2011.

In response to questions about a supposed ban on speech about climate change, Lauren Engel, a spokeswoman for DEP, said “It’s not true.” She did not elaborate.

Jim Harper, a former DEP contractor who says a report he worked on had a reference to climate change expunged, is now the president of the South Florida chapter of the climate advocacy organization 350.org.

Harper said there was no hard ban at DEP, but workplace culture discouraged using terms that didn’t fall in line with the administration’s biases.

“There’s a culture of silence. When people have lost their jobs, you learn to play by the rules,” Harper said.

Jerry Phillips, a former DEP lawyer who now works for the Florida Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, says reports of unofficial bans on language jibed with the agency’s culture even before Scott took office.

Still, Phillips said, it is getting worse for employees, and he worries that DEP scientists are under pressure to release inaccurate information.

“As a public employee you have an obligation to put the truth in documents,” he said. “If you’re falsifying what’s in a document, you’ve got some problems on your hands.”

Associated Press writer William March in Tallahassee contributed to this report.