A Tale of Two Columnists: One Can’t Be on the Level

justice cries

It isn’t often you have two columnists writing about the same subject on the same day who claim to have roots in South Boston. Both hold Whitey Bulger and the wrongfully incarcerated FBI Agent John Connolly in high disdain. One, Peter Gelzinis of the Boston Herald, has the luxury of being able to tell things straight upthe other, Kevin Cullen is fettered to the Boston Globe’s intimate relationship to the matter and spouts the company line.

What prompted their columns was the decision by Judge F. Dennis Saylor, IV to recuse himself from handling the criminal trial of the probation officer John O’Brien and his two assistants. You know the background of the case – the Globe does a Spotlight Report and the U.S. Attorney in Boston dutifully follows up with an indictment. Once that happens the Globe becomes a cheer leader for the U.S. attorneys office.

Judge Saylor’s decision to step down was based on his relation with Judge Timothy Hillman and possibly others who may be called to appear as witnesses for the defense. Defense counsel have listed him and other judges and legislators as witnesses they will call to show that it was a routine practice in Massachusetts (and I suggest everywhere else in the United States) for people to write letters or make calls on behalf of friends, relatives or others who they feel would make good candidates for probation positions.

This was never a crime in the past until AUSA Fred Wyshak decided to make it into one. The strange thing about his actions is none of the judges or legislators who made the recommendations are charged. You’d think that those whose instigated an act, which is deemed criminal, would also be charged. But as we see, that would have wiped out most of the judiciary and legislature so that was not feasible.

Nevertheless, the Globe had demanded charges and the U.S. Attorney felt an obligation to please it. Thus it became only the people who relied upon their recommendations and made the hires based on their judgment that a judge or legislator would not recommend someone who would turn out to be unqualified. There’s a book written by Albert A. Seedman called Chief. Seedman was the first Jewish chief of police in New York City. He tells how he got his detective badge through the influence of what he called his “godfather.” He suggested the system of having people speak for you to get a position or a promotion was much better than civil service examinations because no one would recommend someone who might turn out to be a dud nor would a person recommended want to embarrass the “godfather” whose help got him the position.

Wyshak’s novel idea was to charge that O’Brien and his two co-defendants were engaged in a criminal enterprise running the probation system. He said their crime was mail fraud; that is, they sent out letters of rejection to people who were better candidates than those they hired. This made it into a racketeering case where the defendants faced 20 years; he’d then, as is the U.S. Attorney in Boston’s want, increased the penalty with a superseding indictment of new charges with increased penalties when it appeared the defendants would not cave in like it did in the Aaron Swartz case. He did not allege that the defendants hired or promoted candidates who were not qualified but there were in his judgment better candidates they could have hired.

Gelzinis is straight forward. He labels O’Brien’s trial for what it is: “the patronage trial.”  He tells how Judge Saylor  “ran into a buzz saw of defense lawyers who raised numerous body-blow questions that connected him to the same goo of patronage that allegedly tars their clients.” That, of course, is their job; and, the best way to defend their clients is to show that what they were doing was participating in a system-wide free for all where no one thought twice about making recommendations for jobs. The thrust of their defense is that if judges were participating how then is it criminal.

Cullen on the other hand has to give the Globe’s version. He distorts what is happening and wrongfully writes: “O’Brien used a fraudulent system to ensure unqualified people got those jobs.”  No one, except Cullen and possibly others in theGlobe, has accused O’Brien of hiring unqualified people nor did he. Even Wyshak in his attempt to please only asserts he did not hire the most qualified.

Cullen summary of the case is: “Was [O’Brien] actually corrupt in doling out jobs to the politically connected, or does it just appear that way?” Can you figure out what that means? Isn’t the correct equation: “was O’Brien corrupt or was he not?” You see how the Globe can’t let go. It wants people to believe that if O’Brien is acquitted he still must be corrupt since he appears that way.

Cullen points out defense counsel used various tactics attempting to get judge Saylor off the case and points to his statement that “defense could have raised the Hillman issue two years ago.” This parrots the Boston U.S. attorney who noted her disappointment in the delay “caused by the defense’s untimely recusal motion”. Cullen said Judge Saylor felt “bullied” by defense counsel. He mocks the list of defense witnesses saying it is like an “invitation list to a “time” . . . at Pier 4.”  

On and on unlike telling it straight like Gelzinis, Cullen presents the negativeGlobe view of O’Brien and his lawyers. I’d suggest you not look to Cullen for any objective coverage of the matter. He, too, has too eat and that means sticking to the company line.

Of course, Cullen could not just let his animosity toward O’Brien rest there. For some weird reason he took the opportunity to take a shot at Billy Bulger. He notes Fred Wyshak who is prosecuting O’Brien also was involved in Whitey’s trial. Then, totally out of the blue, he sleazily writes: “Just for the record, let’s stipulate that Whitey Bulger’s brother Billy practiced patronage on a scale that makes O’Brien and everybody else look like amateurs. They don’t call the MBTA Mr. Bulger’s Transit Authority for nothin’.” (Note the dropping of the ‘g’ from the word ‘nothing’. It is the high brow Cullen and the Globe’s way of suggesting that South Boston’s blue collar class are beneath its readership.)

As I’ve long noted it is the Globe’s policy to tarnish Billy Bulger at every opportunity. They know he can’t  fight back. So like any bully it takes cheap shots at him. Cullen and the Globe know no shame.


8 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Columnists: One Can’t Be on the Level

  1. Matt …. Thoughtful… Yes, it was a character builder and did not hurt me in retrospect though at the time it felt like a somewhat silly constraint. It does indicate a personality type leaning towards the autocratic perhaps. This quality you denote as evidenced by your suspecting he was not the type to take marching orders seems to militate in favor of the idea that he was not an eager to please probation hiring boss, but rather was somewhat Napoleonic when it came to running his own Empire. 🙂 … We shall see which side of the wall he is standing on and to just whose detriment it will actually be in either case when this Fed Trial shakes out. Or as St.Patrick himself may have wittily paraphrased … When this Fed Trial snakes out !!! … I like the guy … whether standup guy or a real bastard as you put it, the Prosecution of him is rankly unjust and a raw abuse of Federal powers, and we can only hope that the fierce advocacy of Burke’s lawyer, Counselor Amabile, carries the bloodied Standard for the defending Host and wins the field. I pay not much attention to a person’s ego quirks or oddnesses of personality. I search them much deeper than that as an Old Soul must to see who they are. John O’Brien passed my muster. He is on the Rolls if not presently exactly on a roll and when Defense starts calling out the Honor Roll of judicial and political leading lights who marched warmly recommended hiring candidates to his door … Well … That should be a directed verdict for ALL of … Not Guilty …. YOUR ” HONORS !!! ” 🙂

  2. Matt … perspicacious … forgive the typo. I iterate that I am a stickler for detail * I got a genuine tickle as I read you on John O’Brien reading me on John O’Brien. You are very shrewd analyst of human nature and its vain foibles. I realize now that your construction chronologically speaking of our roles and relations as Probation Officer and Probationer a year younger at a Catholic High School both attended was the correct one. Yes, ” Jackie” 🙂 did take himself a wee bit seriously. The irony of being required to address my contemporary as Mr. O’Brien was a real killer. Who knew from whom or whence he got his marching orders from regarding our Probation together one might say, but they were probably to the effect of be strict, but kind with Our Boy ….. Johnny 🙂 … AND HE WAS !!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 …. It was an anomalous pairing when you think about it. My memory of his basic kindness to me is written on the tabula of my mind in ink though and not easily erased pencil…. Was schadenfreude and a bittersweet sense of lifes absurdly comical caprices my reaction when Mr. O’Brien, since risen to the Career Pinnacle in his Profession of Massachusetts Commissioner Of Probation, was led shackled like a Press Gang unfortunate into the dock at Worcester Federal Court ??? … NO …. Sadness … and the pathos of the Johnny Did It culture that is the moral echo chamber of a World and Society that always looks for that black goat .. that Sin Goat .. that they can tar with their own iniquities and then drive off a cliff…. as if its destruction is their expiation and cleansing. The thing is though that sometimes … very very rarely in fact .. that Sin Goat is too wily,tough and surefooted as befits its goat’s nature…. for them. By an almost Supernatural Agency it survives, horns intact and got All the goods on the moral hypocrites who tried to destroy it. U trust John O’Brien proves to be such a tough and wily One. And I do suspect he is !!!!!!!! :-

    1. John:
      Maybe he didn’t get marching orders from anyone which would tell a lot about the guy. If he had you calling him Mr. O’Brien that perhaps was the first indication the man may have a problem in the future. You just don’t treat guys you go to school with like that no matter what the relationship is; at least that is my take on the matter. Did he feel he could not do the job if he didn’t put up that false wall or badge of authority? That you remember him as being kind may suggest my take is wrong and he perceived that letting any wall down between you would be detrimental to you. Who really knows what goes on in another’s mind. Anyway it is strange to have fallen into a relationship like that but it didn’t seem to hurt you.

  3. Matt … I am reminded of W.B. Yeats’ quote ” In truth, the Irish never threw Parnell to the wolves, We chose to eat him ourselves ” , when I think about the maltreatment of Billy Bulger in the press. Cullen does carry a chip on his shoulder. Another globe … lower case intended … columnist Shelley Murphy has also greatly professionally benefitted hugely from the inky scribe cottage industry at the globe of excoriating all things Bulger and not acceding to an older lawful and virtuous and unstained by any criminality brother the decent human right of being judged on his own merits, not the legendary lawless demerits of an errant sibling. Yes, there is no doubt Billy is hurt , but he is not vanquished. The famous father of modern hypnotherapy Milton Erickson keenly noted that though human beings affect a disinterest and insularity from other humans around them in any particular environment, that the truth is that we are always almost excruciatingly aware of each other. In a certain sense then the Cullen self-styled Southie Tough Guy persona or the Shelley Murphy gum chewing tough broad who made it out of the mean streets of patriarchal, misogynistic, racist Southie … We all know the Party Lines on Morris-sey Blvd about South Boston …. are as chimerical as Howie’s picturesque inventions of the blueblood ” bowtied bumkissers” at the globe. They are all illusions. They are hypnotic literary devices that mask this single omnipresent all powerful and omniscient Reality : We are all human, we live and we all die and we all have a pretty good idea of each other in the game of Life we play !!!!!!!!!…. Thus, do not give more weight to what any columnist writes at whatever anachronistic broadsheet , for whatever their professed or suspected reasons, than it realistically merits. 🙂 … Yes, Boeri is very good. Yes, I have a stock of gold plated Lith Club stories for you Matt. No, Jack O’Brien a year my senior not junior. I stand on the rest and a Very Good and Happy St. Pat’s to you as well my well written, very perspicatious and sagacious Counselor… Matt Connolly !!!

  4. its contemporary equivalent etcetera … Matt I am taking the time now to type this out rather than relying on my fickle editor Mr.Voice Recognition 🙂 … Your Rashomon take on those respective columns puzzling and delightful at once. That epic film illuminates the human capacity for rendering different accounts of a singular event based upon the person’s stake in the telling. Where is the truth? … I based my reactions above to what I gleaned from your telling of the readings of these two Sons of South Boston . And each has legitimate claim to this designation. I was a little harsh on Peter Gelzinis as I do know him to be a long suffering salt of that storied neighborhood, but still suspect him of being somewhat of a cultural fashionista. But … When in Rome …. 🙂 … So can he really be blamed for a personal style. Probably not !!! … I know John O’Brien quite well … He was a year ahead of me at Catholic Memorial and as a fledgling probation officer in very early eighties was assigned the thankless mission of closely supervising me in a two year probation for some mischief or another of mine. This required weekly visits by him to my Waterfront enploy and the gracious reciprocity of my regularly sitting deskside at the old Superior Court regaling him with earnest accounts of my reformed ways. So yes, I know the Guy very well. Unlike Kevin Cullen who gets to call him Jackie he always insisted I call him Mr.O’Brien. But really he treated me as an older brother might treat his rambunctious younger sibling. He was always firm but never condescending to me. He never denigrated me and he encouraged me at the right pivotal points shall we say. I cannot speak to the blatant hypocrisy and very questionable legality of his politically driven prosecution. I am not a lawyer or politician tirelessly plying the favorcraft that is the arterial blood of those professional animals. I can only speak to my own unique experience of John O’Brien as a complete Stand Up Guy in his dealings with me and numerous exchanges that I witnessed with many, many, many others !!!!!!!! .. This is his nature ; A Noble Nature. This is his personal style with people; affable, approachable and always the gentleman. Cullen knows this. I found his column, read between the lines, actually quite knowledgeably sympathetic. Gelzinis fawned a bit over Judge Saylor and he also invoked the highbrow and lowbrow stuff. Ohhhhh … Peter !!!!!!! 🙂 …. Time to put aside the cudgels and drum this Global patronage nonsense right out of Federal Court ….. I assure you there is no shortage of pallbearers !!!!!!!! 🙂

    1. John:

      Gelzinis might not be considered “true Southie” because of the common idea that one has to have an Irish name like Cullen to be from Southie. But those with a better understanding of the area would know that the Lithuanians had a large presence in the neighborhood and there was a Lithuanian Club in a prominent building on West Broadway.

      You tell an interesting story on O’Brien. I have a hard time imagining having a person who was a year behind me as one of my probationers. You say he wasn’t condescending nor did he denigrate you but it seems he wasn’t too friendly even though he did encourage you. He must have taken himself quite seriously.

      I don’t know the man nor had I heard of him until his indictment. As you know politicians do their best to help out their consituents and people running state departments (like the DAs) like to stay on the good side of policitians. Those who seem to kowtow to them the most were the judges when they appeared in court. I can’t count the number of times when I was sitting in court and a pol walked in and the judge told the clerk to call his case and then called the pol over for a side conference. I always knew what they were talking about – the judges were always asking about how their pay raise was coming along.
      Plucking O’Brien out of the hat and letting all those who benefited from his willingness to please get away scot free seems to me as close to an abomination as possible. Whether he is a stand up guy or a real bastard it shouldn’t make a difference; there never should have been a prosecution.
      My take on Cullen is different than yours. He calls O’Brien “Jack” or “Jackie” so as to diminish him just like he’ll subtly knock Southie whenever he gets a chance. Cullen has no chance to be sympathetic to O’Brien because his marching orders tell him otherwise. The prosecutors in O’Brien might as well be the Globe writers; I’m wondering what prosecutions they are working on now with the US attorneys in Boston.

  5. Cullen is a mixed bag. He does not have quite the pretensions to handed down globe grandeur of other columnists affirmatively spoonfed their daily ration on Morrisey Boulevard. He is not highbrow nor is he lowbrow. He is a roll up your sleeves boys equal opportunity Irish browbeater and scrapper who won’t flinch at taking any shot, cheap or not so cheap, at whom he considers his foe. Is he eager to please his masters at the globe ? In all likelihood considering his personality this means to Kevin Cullen simply pleasing Kevin Cullen. This is his reward or unremitting daily penance perhaps 🙂 Only Kevin knows. …. Gelzinis ??? … Right on this issue, irritatingly wrong on many other issues. Unlike Cullen who really does not give a flying you know what about others’ opinion, Peter cares much too much to be seen as one of the … arrivistes … the fresh new blood … the new morally superior breed of homo sapiens … in South Boston …or … SOBO… as he probably now fancies it. …. As to William Bulger on St.Patrick’s Eve ” Every knock a boost ” as James Michael Curley liked to say. He is unassailable. He is the Touchstone for thickskinned toughness and Irish indomitability that the unruly cubs like Kevin learned their rough play from. Do not worry about Billy. He will whistle Danny Boy all the way to Locke Ober’s or it’s contemporary equivalent, scally at a rakish tilt, any day of the week and …. A HAPPY SAINT PATRICK’S DAY AND HERE, HAVE A ROSE NOW MRS O’RAHILLY AND MY AREN’T YOU A BEAUTY TODAY AS EVERY DAY !!!!!!!! 🙂

    1. John:

      Cullen may be all you say. He does like to pretent he’s some kind of “Southie Tough.” He’s an odd fit at the Globe that would like its columnists to be more cultured; it’ll be interesting to see what happens under the new regime. Can’t figure out what the man with two first names who is its new editors will do other than give is wife a new dear Abby column as Tom Winship did for his wife.
      I agree about Gelzinis being “irritatingly wrong” on other issues but it’s good to have someone with another perspective in the media who’ll delve into these stories. Dave Boeri is a good source for the court cases – appears to me to be a straigth shooter.
      Billy Bulger thought that Curley was right when he said what you noted but he found out that there were some who could hurt him like those planning to run for president. His enemies worked feverishly behind his back to bring about his undoing – not the lease of his enemies were Globe writers and reporters. I do worry about Billy because he has been unfairly tarnished and even though he puts on a grand appearance and smiling face I suspect inside he is hurt by the treatment he received after all the good he did. Mostly, he is hurt by the allegation that he was involved in some wrongdoing when he had an unblemished career. He was a tough guy – took care of his friends and punished his enemies as one must do in politics.
      Happy St. Pat’s Day to you also. There ain’t much Irish where I am now so I’ll just wear my Kelly green sweater no matter how hot it is and have a brew or two to toast the good St. Patrick did when he drove all the snakes out of the old sod.

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