Billy Bulger was elected out of his senate district in South Boston to the Massachusetts Senate in 1970, ten years after he had been elected to the House of Representatives. In 1978 he became president of the Massachusetts Senate in which capacity he served until 1999, a total of over 17 years. Governor Michael Dukakis said of him: “There has never been any question about the integrity of the Senate since he has been president.”
I came upon an article in 1987 in the Boston Globe. A James Higgins from Vineyard Haven wrote to the Globe complaining about Billy being mentioned in an article about an incident between Whitey and some security people at Logan Airport. He said, “I just don’t see why it was necessary to mention Billy Bulger as Whitey’s brother in the article. I don’t see the relevancy. Sen. Bulger isn’t responsible for his brother, and in this case, his brother isn’t even charged with anything.”
The Globe Ombudsman Robert L. Kierstead responded to the letter in a column. The story was written on September 23, 1987, by Kevin Cullen, who just wrote a book about Whitey. Kierstead said: “The initial story . . . ran on the front page under the headline “Question: Just What was Whitey up to?”
On September 28, 1987 Cullen wrote a second story in the third paragraph he said, “Aside from the fact that he is the brother of Senate President William Bulger, what has distinguished James J. (Whitey) Bulger from the other local men whose first name is always preceded by the word “reputed” is his ability to avoid brushes with the law.” The Ombudsman questioned the appropriateness of repeating Billy’s name in the second story.
The Ombudsman wrote, “Checking back in Globe files, I found that stories about the Bulger brothers rarely connected them. The Senate president’s relationship was never used in the frequent references to Whitey Bulger’s association to the Angiulos during the long trial of underworld boss Gennaro Angiulo and several of his cohorts, nor should it have been.”
The Ombudman mentioned a couple of other times when Billy’s name had been mentioned in connection with Whitey’s, one being in 1979 in a long Globe magazine story where the Ombudman cited one paragraph that read: “Billy Bulger’s friends won’t talk about Whitey for the record. ‘In the first place, I don’t know anything about Whitey Bulger,’ said one close political and personal associate. ‘In the second place, I don’t see what Whitey had done or has not done has anything to do with Billy.”
The Ombudsman concluded: “Whitey Bulger has to be a cross for William Bulger and his family to bear. In addition, because of the Senate president’s disdain for the media, and his aloofness and perceived arrogance, he leaves himself open to being embarrassed by the press because of his brother, sometimes unfairly.”
“The use of their relationship must be valid. As the Globe’s in-house Glass House Views states in such cases, “We should presume the relationship is unnecessary in a story unless there is a strong reason to include it.” This includes the Bulger.”
This article by the Ombudsman is telling. Billy had been in office 27 years at the time it was written. He had been Senate president for almost 10. There’s not a hint that there is some untoward connection between him and Whitey nor the slightest suggestion he has done anything inappropriate.
I bring this up because it is nice to have a starting point. What then happened to the idea that there is no connection between Billy and Whitey to the point that in 2000 Lehr and O’Neill would title one of their chapters in their book Black Mass: Shades of Whitey and Howie Carr would write a book: The Brothers Bulger: How they Terrorized and Corrupted Boston For a Quarter Century.
The one incident that brought this about was the Globe’s attack on Billy over the involvement of his partner Thomas Finnerty in the 75 State Street matter. There would be nothing else ever mentioned that in any manner impugned his integrity. That attack, as I will show some when time permits, was malicious and unfair and told only half the story.
The 75 State Street matter brouhaha happened in 1988. It was thoroughly investigated under the glare and demand of the Globe by both state and federal prosecutors. Two US Attorneys and two state attorney generals found Billy to have done nothing corrupt. His reputation survived it. He was appointed U Mass president in 1996. He served there honorably until willful and wily reporters on the only two newspapers in town used the relationship with Whitey, which the Ombudsman deemed irrelevant and which could not be gainsaid, into a sledge hammer with which to beat Billy.
You know the rest of the story. Billy had no forum in which to defend himself. Those who should have stood up for him broke their swords and lowering crept away and left the field fearful of the press knowing that she with the pen has the last word. A Congressional Committee that set about to investigate the FBI having realized it bit off more than it could chew decided instead to investigate Billy. The man who would be president, looking to the future, decided it would be politically correct to follow the voice of the media. He forced Billy’s resignation from the presidency of the University of Massachusetts by threatening to appoint his open enemies to its board of trustees.