The Need For A More Responsible Media

Far Out On A Limb
Far Out On A Limb

The copy-cat nature of the news media, the questionable reliance of its sources, and the truthfulness of its reporting was on full display for all to see yesterday.

This copy-cat nature I’ve noted before. I’ve shown how once something is stated it becomes accepted as fact by those who follow without critical examination. The suggestion that Whitey and John Connolly knew each other from Old Harbor Project, the idea that Whitey became an informant back in 1965, or 1971 or before Steve Flemmi. These were all put out early and have been rubber stamped continually since even though they are false.

Yesterday, a little before two o’clock CNN’s John King, a Dorchester lad, was first up to tell us his unnamed sources told him the fiend who caused the Marathon Terrorist Attack had been arrested. He had earlier suggested “a dark skinned male” had been identified. In truth, no one had been identified or arrested.

Shortly after CNN’s report, Fox News, AP and the Boston Globe likewise reported their sources had reported the arrest. The Globe pushing the envelope said the suspect was in custody and being taken to the US district court in South Boston. That set off a mad rush to that location.

I can understand CNN getting it wrong. John King’s source had bad information and it wasn’t properly vetted. I have no problem if the other media reported that CNN said the suspect is in custody. But they didn’t.

They claimed to have their own sources. Yet it’s hard to believe there were all these other unnamed sources out there with equally false information. The only way to explain this is that what some media outlets report as being sources are the reports they listen to from other media outlets but feel diminished if they give that other outlet credit. They’d rather lie.

CNN later reported that it had “three credible sources on both local and federal levels. Based on this information we reported our findings.” It is amazing that CNN suggested it relied on “three credible sources.” Their sources were not credible. They gave them false information. That is not being credible. Nor is CNN when it says three people got something so obviously wrong.

Yesterday, the Globe’ Shelley Murphy reported in the lead-in line to the story about the misstatement, “Public confusion engulfed the investigation.” It’d seem the better lead-in to be, “Media lies have confused the public.”

Yesterday the Globe explained its erroneous reporting telling us the information that the suspect was in custody (and was on his way to the federal court) ”was attributed to an official with knowledge of the case.” How vague can something be.

It seems if that official exists his knowledge isn’t too good. Yet, the Globe went on in the same article to write about other things this same official had told it. These things had also been reported in other news media which made one feel the Globe is doing lots of cribbing..

Today the Globe mentioned yesterday’s error saying it was “relying on information provided by an official familiar with the investigation. . . . After further reporting, the Globe is no longer convinced its previously reliable source had accurate information.”

What is surprising is that in one of the most significant cases in the city’s history the Globe had only one source; the source it had did not have the correct information; and the Globe recklessly reported what that source told it. It did no checking. None. It didn’t even call to verify it. The Guardian in London when it heard the report picked up the telephone. It reported “In a series of phone calls to the FBI’s national office, a spokeswoman confirmed “no arrests had been made.””

Not all the media followed blindly. Pete Williams of NBC News pushed back against the media frenzy and said his sources told him not only no arrest was made but a suspect had not been identified. CNN’s own law enforcement expert Tom Fuentes appeared on air at 2:25 pm debunking the CNN claim by saying he has three sources stating no arrests. The New York Times held off.

Most of the stories written about Whitey and the events surrounding him have either no named sources or suspect sources such as Steve Flemmi and John Martorano whose information is as accurate as the Globe’s “official.” It should be considered in that light as being suspect.

There is a greater lesson to be drawn here. Have you noticed how many stories of importance rely upon unnamed officials or authorities not authorized to speak? It has become almost routine for American media reporting on a major stories to have all these unnamed characters filling in the gaps. Yesterday we’ve seen that reports based on many of these sources are plainly wrong.

Here because the lie was so blatant it was discovered and exposed quickly. That is not always the case.  We’ve seen the media’s reckless reliance on unworthy sources; we’ve seen the copy-cat nature of its reporting. A lie not easily exposed like most lies will soon become a truth when we have the media reporting the lie over and over again.

28 thoughts on “The Need For A More Responsible Media

    1. Hopalong:
      Yeah, I agree. But we have to expect things like this in a free society. When I think when I’m walking down a crowded street in any city of how many people there are with their multitudes of troubles that it doesn’t happen more often I recognize there’s good in almost all of us.

      1. Right on Matt! I am equally amazed that with all the pissed off people out there, many rightfully so, our wiring is such that we don’t follow through on the intense desire to cause harm to those persons. There has to be over a million bosses who have ruined peoples careers and lives because they just didn’t like them and they’re a-holes. Amazing more low level and middle managers and others like abusive cops aren’t targeted by someone with such intense hate for a person that they snap.

        Organized violence like real terrorism and war are different beast.

        1. Ernie:
          Don’t be so sure. Had Timothy McVeigh not been well guarded the mobs that surrounded the jail house in Oklahoma were ready to string him up. He asked for a bullet proof vest before being taken outside. The cops told him no. Take your chances.

          I hope we learn with close to certainty the identity of the fiend who perpetuated this. If so, he should be shipped down to Guantanamo. It’s an act of war. It should be treated like one. The President has reserved the right to do that. Why spend time and money on the person. I wouldn’t hold him at Guantanamo forever, just until the war on terror is declared over and all the terrorists sign an unconditional surrender.

    1. Hey, I believe that, gore must have because he’s an environmentalist and the internet conserves paper and trees….it’s logical, it must be true!

  1. Matt (Do I have that right?),

    Interesting post. I have my own thoughts on what I’m inclined to view mainly as laziness or rush to judgment by the media in a fast, competitive, news-crazed environment, but this is a nice review of the coverage.

    But I have a question. When was Whitey officially signed on as an informant? I’m aware
    of the September 1975 meeting, as well as a report I seem to recall that Rico recruited him or tried to recruit him in the 50s. Can you shed some light on that backstory?

    1. Jon:
      Whitey was arrested by FBI agents in 1956. Among those who arrested him at a nightclub in Revere was Agent Rico. Some media types have written that Whitey became an informant back then. He didn’t. What happened was one of the guys who pulled the bank robbery with him in Indiana ratted him out. The FBI after arresting him put the squeeze on him — “admit you did it or we’ll go after your girl friend.” The girl friend had served as a lookout. Whitey told the girlfriend to cooperate and he confessed. He go 20 years. Informants don’t get 20 years.

      IN 1971 after the Mullen/Killeen dust up was ongoing in South Boston, Agent Dennis Condon approached him. He knew Whitey’s life was in danger because Billy O’Sullivan, the other gun man for the Killeen gang, had just been murdered. Condon told Whitey his life was in danger and the only one who can help him is the FBI. Condon wrote a report to FBI headquarters telling them this and that he expected Whitey to join the team. Whitey never bit. Condon stopped his efforts after four months. Whitey would eventually go to Winter Hill for protection.

      Sometime after Flemmi was brought back by Condon of the FBI who arranged for the murder and car bombing charges to go away Flemmi was connected with Connolly as an informant. Sometime between the middle of 1974 and the date in 1975, Flemmi who had been an informant since 1965 told Whitey he was snitching and bought Whitey, who had become his new buddy, into the scheme.

      1. Thanks. This helps refresh my memory. I seem to recall from Black Mass the story that Connolly asked to talk to Whitey in order to recruit him. Whitey then asked Flemmi if he should talk to Connolly, maybe having recalled Flemmi had experience as an informant. Flemmi said he should do it. They talked and Connolly brought him on board as if it were a significant coup. Of course, the point you often bring up is a good one. Whitey had no real ins with LCN so this just doesn’t make a lot of sense.

        Thoughts?

        1. Jon:
          Black Mass conveniently omits that Flemmi was an informant before Whitey. It had to have been Flemmi who brought Whitey into the fold. Black Mass doesn’t go that route because it wants Whitey to be the big bad guy. You notice that Black Mass after talking about the waterside meeting that probably never hapenedd where Connolly recruited Whitey to fight against the Mafia even though he had no connection to it. They never explains how Whitey would have brought Flemmi in.

          That two top gangsters who were partners were informants begs the question how did one tell the other of his status. It’s not easy to tell a fellow top gangster that you are a rat and want him to join you in betraying your buddies.

  2. Why would you acknowledge some erroneous media reports yet precisely state that it did not matter so much to you to focus on the widely expressed belief regarding the potentially erroneous nature of the media’s account of Anna Bjorn, the whitey tipster from Iceland. Like the Bjorn account, the false media report regarding the marathon suspect(s) came from CNN together with the FBI.

      1. Now the FBI/CNN Icelandic sourced story makes sense to you again – first it did then it did not, now it does again – Sounds like…. they arrested a suspect, was bringing the suspect to the court house, now they haven’t identified any suspects yet. In any case didn’t you say the CNN/FBI account on the Bulger tip made no difference to you one way or the other? You mean the truth doesn’t matter? Is Connolly the FBI agent that visited Kathleen Eckland on behalf of Bulger cohort/brutal sexual assailant Edward MacKenzie….oh, you said Edward MacKenzie didn’t matter in the whole scheme of things Bulger, what about MacKenzie’s victims, do they matter? Ask Connolly, see what he has to say about this.

  3. John Morris gave the Globe their information. He’s their only source. How many other press reports from unnamed sources are complete fabrications? Remember the smear against Judge Murphy ” She’ll get over it” re: the rape victim. The lies are routine. 2. One bit of good news in Boston. Probation Chief O’Brien was found not guilty in his conspiracy charge in State Court. The jury was out about an hour. Wouldn’t it be nice if prosecutors ( Coakley, Whyshak and Ortiz ) tried to convict real criminals instead of political opponents. 3. As you know in law and equity there is a concept called Clean Hands. Does the DOJ have them regarding bombers? They releasd the bomber Salemme. They released the attempted bomber Morris and have the Bomber Flemmi on their team. Is the DOJ in bed with domestic terrorists? Is the DOJ in bed with white supremacists ( Martorano)? Pres. Obama has friends who are bombers ( Ayers and Dorn).4.If they catch the bombers they have to find if they were working for a larger organization. Try them and give them the ultimate sanction.

    1. n
      you forgot the bomber in training Kevin Weeks. A real up and comer in the bomb making circles. Taking it to a new level and using basketballs.
      Yet we never got to see him ply his craft. Poor Kevin, an artist without a canvass.

    2. Neal;
      1. Morris was one source. The other source was Agent Robert Fitzpatrick. Both men had vendettas against the Bulgers as did the Globe.

      2. If something doesn’t happen in the Marathon Terrorist Attack (MTA) case I might talk about O’Brien’s case tomorrow. The problem the prosecutors face is ennui. Crime’s down. To keep busy they have to go after non-criminals.

      3. I know all about clean hands from my equity days. Do they still have courts where equity is done? Or has equity gone the way of demurrers. True Flemmi and Salemme bombed Attorney Fitzgerald but that happened before the FBI had the power to investigate terrorists and before the terrorism legislation. Have you eveer heard of the ex post facto rule? What about the legal maximum, “Ad Deum Qui Laetificat

      4. I say give Jake O’Brien a couple of minutes with the fiend who murdered his grandson. He’d know what to do with the slime.

    3. Well said, N!

      You reminded me of Jack O’Brien’s federal racketeering case which is is being prosecuted by Fred Wyshak at the behest of the Globe Spotlight Team.

      O’Brien’s recent acquittal suggests the government’s main witnesses have substantial credibility problems. O’Brien is well down the road of being POOFed by the Globe and Wyshak and only now do we get some insight into the credibility problems of their “cooperating witnesses.”

      These CWs who failed in state court are the pillars of Wyshak’s racketeering case in federal. They are now damaged goods. I’m wondering out loud what Wyshak will do to prop up his case. When Wyshak swung and missed at John Connolly in Boston, he merely manufactured some more evidence by purchasing Flemmi’s testimony. Then he took his incredible witnesses to FL and took a second swing. Maybe thats what Wyshak has to do now, jam some other slob until the slob agrees to the script Wyshak hands him. I’m not wondering if the Globe will retract their accusations. They never have retracted or corrected their falsehoods no matter how damaging to people. I’m just more curious what lies ahead (no pun intended) in the racketeering case now that it has been severely damaged.

  4. Once upon a time, the media REPORTED the news; their guiding principle being to educate and inform the public. I am old enough to remember news reporters like Walter Cronkite, John Chancellor, David Brinkley, and Chet Huntley and yes, even Peter Jennings. Print media like the Washington Post, New York Times, L.A. Times, and Boston Globe were “trusted” news sources. If you heard it from any of these sources, you could rely on it being accurate. There has always been competition among the news media outlets; and generally speaking, it was “healthy competition.” I submit, however, that today’s media have become more akin to a marauding band of sharks on a feeding frenzy. Each of them focused on being the first to break the story. Somewhere along the way, educating and informing the public no longer mattered.

    The public and the media have always had a classic “love-hate” relationship. We can’t live with them yet we can’t live without them. We respected, admired and encouraged-albeit begrudgingly, sometimes-their dogged determination to ferret out the truth; often times under extreme pressure by those who had the power and authority to destroy them. They opened up many festering wounds that, in time, healed and helped us to grow stronger. The media was the voice of the people. Trust, respect, and truth. Three heavy hitters that the media has lost in its search for AND as a result of ratings grabbing. They are no longer interested in being the voice of the people. The blatant misleading, inaccurate reporting of far too many media sources has, in my humble opinion, been a serious contributor to the deep distrust, division and overwhelmingly vitriolic dialogue of so many Americans. We’re angry, frustrated, hurt, and helpless with the direction we perceive our elected officials are taking us. We used to TRUST you, news media, to educate and inform us and to be OUR voice. You have belied that trust. You have shaken it to its very core. The question is; do you want it back. If so, trust needs to be earned. To that end, I shall leave you with a quote by one of your own, Edward R. Morrow: “To be persuasive, we must to believable; to be believable we must be credible; to be credible we must be truthful.” I hope and pray you are up to the task though, regrettably, I have my doubts. I urge you to prove me wrong.

    1. Reggie,
      Well said. At times it seems like “a marauding band of sharks.” The networks have cut down on their news staffs in favor of entertainment news. Serious people like those you mentioned who were household names seem to have faded away.
      There is an article today in the NY Times talking about the intrigue that goes on behind the scenes in the media with respect to the morning shows. I don’t watch them but found the article interesting.
      I’ve never blamed the media for the breakdown in dialogue in America as much as I blame the overall failure from the recent presidents to remind us we are all Americans and at times need to put aside our special interests and sacrifice. The best way that had been done in the past was with the draft. When a great proportion of the country is put into forced association with each other you quickly learn tolerance and respect for the other person. Now when most people stay in their own little circles the fear of things foreign controls their thoughts.
      I suppose the media is following the people. It’s easier to watch the nightly news covering a dog that can play the clarinet rather than listening to a story about people who are out of work. If JFK was elected president in 2012 he’d have said, “Ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you — you’re living in America and you deserve it.”

  5. If the authorities weren’t faced with mass casualties obvious and visible to the general public, they’d be denying this heinous act of terrorism with ‘CYA’ being their main priority denying justice to innocent victims. Inept intelligence seems to be an issue here, how did they not discover this plot and stop it in its tracks. No group has claimed responsibility, therefore, if it is a lone wolf perpetrator or small group of people, how sophisticated can they be that they have evaded capture – the FBI hasn’t been able to apprehend the person or persons responsible themselves yet they have delayed publishing the suspect(s) photos….next you know we’ll be told the FBI with the help of CNN got a tip from Iceland that helped them capture their guy.

    1. Jan:
      It would be good if Miss Iceland could lend a little hand again. Do you remember Ted Kaczinski. 17 years blowing up people as a lone wolf – was never caught by the FBI – his brother turned him in.

      I don’t blame anyone in this case. There is no way to stop these type things if a person acts alone or with a small band. We’re told the FBI has a picture of teh suspect but we don’t know that. I’ve read the person put down a black bag and ran away. That’s doubtful. The bombs were set off with timers. Whoever planted them did not have to run. He was probably on a train to the Big Apple when the explosions went off.

      1. Regarding Kaczinski, We didn’t have the technology all those years that we have today. Also, Kaczinski as a lone wolf would certainly be profiled differently than a lone wolf today acting on behalf of the ideologies of current international and or domestic terrorists. If you think we don’t have the ability to stop these things, at the least, if it was an unsophisticated person or small group of persons, seems the authorities should have captured any rag tag perpetrators by now.
        Miss Iceland covering up the truth is a helping hand we don’t need again.

  6. It appears to me that the news industry has gone through such consolidation , and it’s primary goals now are to manage the public’s emotions rather than figure out the “who” “what” “when” “where”and “why”of a breaking news story.

    1. Jean:
      The news media’s primary goal is to make money. It now thinks having reality shows is the way to go. Gravitas is out, fun is in. It’s a new day in America.

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