CNN’s presentation of “Whitey – United States v. James J. Bulger” ran for two hours last night. For those who know nothing or a little bit about Whitey it gave them a decent glimpse into his life; for those who have been following the saga closely it offered a few tidbits that made the ordeal of sitting through the commercials somewhat bearable.
I was put off by the way it presented the Department of Justice (DOJ). The thrust was that there is something deeply wrong in it. The proofs offered were the actions of the FBI agents and not that of the DOJ attorneys. I know the FBI is part of the DOJ. But it operates independently in investigating matters and dealing with informants. What it did with respect to Whitey the DOJ had little knowledge about. The show blurred that distinction.
We learned about the feelings of the relatives of the victims: the ubiquitous Steve Davis, the unfortunate Steve Rakes; the unlucky Donohue family and the angry David Wheeler. It covered the details of some of the people murdered by Whitey with some gruesome photographs. It presented parts of the testimony of Kevin Weeks, John Martorano, Steven Flemmi and corrupt FBI agent John Morris. But it jumped from subject to subject, each one separated by a commercial, that would have been disconcerting to the viewers and chased many over to the football games.
It gave a good amount of time to the issue of whether Whitey was an informant. We were treated to being able to overhear conversations between Whitey and his lawyer J.W. Carney who discussed two of the major issues that come up in the Whitey saga: whether he was an informant and how did he get his alleged immunity. The highlight for me was listening to Whitey.
Whitey said when he saw his informant file that was the biggest betrayal of him ever in his life. That file was kept by FBI agent John Connolly who put in that file reports of his conversations with Whitey. Whitey’s other lawyer Hank Brennan showed us the file. He and his assistant, Daryl Zules, went through the file explaining that some of the reports contained little information. It was clear to them Whitey wasn’t an informant.
Whitey explained why he couldn’t be an informant saying he “never cracked:”when the cops beat him up in the projects as a kid, when he was arrested for robbery he kept his mouth shut, when he was involved in an escape attempt in prison and put in the hole for months he didn’t talk, and when he was at Alcatraz they couldn’t break him. He said if he didn’t talk then he certainly wasn’t going to give information to the FBI.
The show failed to explore this in depth. Maybe it couldn’t because its goal is entertainment not education. The issue whether Whitey was or was not an informant comes down to the definition of that word. I think it clear Whitey never knew Connolly was keeping an informant file on him. Stevie Flemmi, his partner, told the agents interviewing him when he began cooperating that he never knew an informant file was kept on him. The prosecutor Wyshak said Whitey is denying he was an informant because in Southie that’s the worst thing one can be. But that’s too simple of an explanation.
Whitey said his arrangement with Connolly began when Connolly told him they were both from the same project and Irish Catholics so he’d like to give him secret information. Sounded far fetched to me but then again much in this saga is like that. Whitey said he never gave Connolly anything except money for information. He said he gave as much as $25,000 or $50,000 but didn’t say to whom. He only gave cash in an envelope. I guess he forgot going on those shopping trips to Shreves that Weeks talked about where they bought all those fancy clocks and other articles for the FBI agents.
Near the end of the show Attorney Brennan would go off on sort of a rant telling how the DOJ had to make Whitey into an informant because if it didn’t all its prior prosecutions, pointing specifically to the 1981 wiretap of the Angiulos, would be overturned and civil suits demanding much money would follow. He was wrong on that but was not rebutted. Again, any show can only skim along the surface without exploring the real issues.
We heard Whitey talk about how he got immunity from federal criminal prosecutions by Jeremiah O’Sullivan the Assistant U.S. Attorney . His lawyer Carney had already told us this but would not tell us why O’Sullivan would do such a thing. Whitey said he did it in exchange for Whitey protecting his life. The prosecutors called the claim balderdash and I agree. But there so much more to say about that issue that again the time would not permit it. Anyone listening could only be confused.
We heard from the usual cast of characters who have written about this: Globe reporters Lehr, Cullen and Murphy. Dave Boeri from WBUR offered his opinions as did T.J. English two of the more informed reporters covering Whitey and organized crime. Even with them I differ on some major things. Bob Long of the State Police was informative in telling us about the Lancaster garage incident. The FBI assistant agent in charge Bob Fitzgerald who I take with a grain of salt had his 15 minutes of fame posing as the only good FBI agent of the bunch.
The most significant point made in the show was by Whitey’s former man friday Kevin Weeks. He was first heard saying that he’s been lying all his life because he’s a criminal. At the end he says, if everyone told the truth the story around Whitey would come together. But knowing that the story is based on information from criminals and that criminals lie he concluded by saying “the true story will never be known.”
If you could watch the presentation without the commercials it may seem less disjointed and tedious. It didn’t stray too far from the truth in handling the trial. I’m sure it may appeal to many who think there is something drastically wrong in the DOJ. I have to keep in mind it was a movie offered for entertainment. I do disagree with Kevin Weeks. I think it is possible to come close to the true story and that’s why I’m trekking along toward it..