Lifting the Lid on Whitey’s Deal — Black Mass — O’Neill and Lehr

Black Mass tops the list of well written book about these events.  The authors Gerard O’Neill and Dick Lehr are highly skilled writers as they should be since their profession is to write.  They have done a thoroughly researched book touching on every facet of the matters surrounding Whitey.  This is the bible of the books that accurately and fairly presents most issues.  In certain areas their understanding of the issues is compelling.   I will discuss some of these in future posts.

I’ve said I thought Deadly Alliance was the best book.  For me it concentrated more on the issue of Top Echelon informants which I believe plays a crucial role in this saga.  But even with that, I must admit that at times I think Black Mass deserves that honor for its knowledgeable writing and in depth coverage.   For the average person, Black Mass may edge out Deadly Alliance but even saying that I have to admit both are neck and neck for me.

I know both authors of Black Mass having talked to them over the years.  O’Neill I have met on occasion.  I like them.  They have always been true to their word, upfront in their purpose and seekers of the truth.  They are dedicated newsmen and adept at telling a story.  Their purpose in Black Mass was to tell the most accurate story to explain how Whitey Bulger was able to exist for so long and to explain the effects it had on the people of Boston and beyond.

There are some things that may have leaned the book in one direction more than it should.  Both men worked for the Boston Globe that was always perceived as being at sixes and sevens with Southie as you’d expect with a more liberal newspaper dealing with a traditionally conservative group of people.

The Globe offices and print facilities are built on a filled-in salt water marsh. Despite its environmentally correct position over these many years, when it came to itself it found exceptions to the rule as most people do, the not in my back yard state of mind.  I mention that to point out its location is at the edge of Southie within a mile of the Old Harbor Village.  Before I was ten years old I’d walk to that location and set traps to catch minnows or to look for abandoned bullets left over from WWII.  When we found one, we’d start a fire, put it in and wait for it to explode oblivious of the danger.

Its proximity to South Boston aside from its liberal bent may also account for its hostility to its people.  The admonition that we should like our neighbor probably was meant literally because the greatest hatreds often exist between people placed in close proximity to each other.

Though the authors do well to extricate themselves from the anti-Southie thinking, (even though the Globe never felt overly fondly about Billy, O’Neill, Lehr and its Spotlight Team treated him well in a 1988 expose.) it’s important to remember they did work in a business with a strong animus toward Southie.  They also had good reason starting in 1996 to look upon Billy Bulger with unkind eyes.

When I previously wrote of Billy I used the Latin expression, one thing Billy is fond of doing, O quam cito transit gloria mundi, which means you can be king of the hill today but not so tomorrow.  Billy’s autobiography, While the Music Lasts,  was written when he was at the peak of his powers. He believed his grip on it was untouchable, it’d remain like that forever and the music would never stop.   His hubris moved his pen sparing no one he perceived as an enemy.  It was published four years before Black Mass,

He described a meeting he had with O’Neill and Lehr, then members of the Globe’s Spotlight Team.  Billy wrote that they were part of “an amorphous team” at the Globe who “trafficked for the most part in rumor and suspicion.”  Bulger said a “palpably inane impulse” made him agree to meet them adding, “What possessed me at that moment to ignore almost three decades of experience avoiding such people, I do not know.” 

After noting his agreement to meet was “dumb” he writes,  ”So in came the Spotlight Team.  O’Neill: an air of surly virtue; tall, fat, fortyish, soft-looking, shaggy; dressed like a mannequin at a flea market.  Lehr, said to be a lawyer; dark, brooding; the charisma of a vacant lot. . . . O’Neill seemed uncomfortable.  He sweated and kept running his hand through his thick black hair.  He never looked at me as he spoke.”

I bring this up for background information.  After reading that it I’d suggest it would take a saint not to want to seek some sort of pay back.  O’Neill and Lehr are great guys, honest journalists, and intent on fairness but they are not saints.  Their years at the Globe and the ad hominem attack on them may have played a little into their view of these events.  Keep that in mind.

Also, there is another factor that tips the book in one direction over another.  I will write about that the next time I talk of Black Mass.