Married to the Mob

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Generally, I'm a 60 Minutes fan,
but the opening segment of the March 12 edition of the newsmag was a glaring
example of what happens when deals are cut for exclusive access and
long-harbored hard feelings get in the way of sound editorial judgment. When
this happens, viewers are shortchanged and a venerable franchise's image is
tarnished.

The 60 Minutes segment I'm
referring to centered on Kevin Weeks' just published Brutal: The Untold Story of My Life Inside Whitey Bulger's
Irish Mob
. I was well-versed in the Bulger saga. Virtually every
Monday for the past six years, I've been a regular on Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr's radio talk
show, which airs on Boston's WRKO and is syndicated in 12 states. It's an
unpaid gig, but our magazine and Web site are mentioned.

Carr's been dogged in his coverage of Bulger. Once a Boston gangland
kingpin, Bulger's charged with 20 murders and is No. 2 after Osama Bin Laden
on the FBI's Most Wanted List. Bulger's been on the lam for more than a
decade.

Carr has also been the nemesis of the fugitive's brother, Billy
Bulger, who, as president of the Massachusetts State Senate, was a political
kingpin for years. More than twenty years of covering the siblings culminated
in Carr's recently published The Brothers Bulger: How
They Terrorized and Corrupted Boston for a Quarter Century
, which
made the New York Times Bestseller List. Carr had told me a couple of weeks
before that he had been interviewed for the 60
Minutes
piece on Kevin Weeks' book.

Weeks, who admits to crimes ranging from kidnapping to accessory to
murder, was one of Whitey's key henchmen until he turned against his boss to
get out of jail. On 60 Minutes, he told
correspondent Ed Bradley how Whitey had called for Carr's execution; Weeks
claims he laid in wait in a graveyard near Carr's house with a high-powered
rifle but didn't pull the trigger because the columnist walked out the door
with his young daughter. Weeks says he didn't think it would be fair for the
kid to see her dad murdered before her eyes.

Carr tells Bradley on-camera that he didn't believe Weeks “had the
stones” to kill him. Bradley never asks Weeks why he gave up on his efforts
to kill Carr.

But that's not the segment's only failing. While Bradley mentions
Carr's day jobs as newspaper columnist and radio host, nowhere does he
mention Carr has just published his own Bulger book. “The producers told me
they'd cut a deal with Weeks' publisher not to mention any other book on
the subject,” says Carr. No such deal was in place, insists
60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager:
“That's bulls**t. That Howie Carr has a book out is not news. We're not
in the business of helping Howie Carr sell his f**king book.”

Obviously, there's no love lost between Fager and Carr. The animosity
dates back to 1992, when Fager was the 60
Minutes
producer behind a fawning Morley Safer profile of Billy
Bulger. Safer was sympathetic when Billy discussed how he has embraced his
brother despite the political cost. Fager remembers how Carr lambasted the
profile as a wet kiss to a corrupt politico that glossed over the pure evil of
Whitey Bulger.

I asked Fager about the most egregious omission in the segment: Nowhere
is Billy Bulger mentioned, though there have long been assumptions that the
brothers have aided and abetted each other's careers. It's Fager's belief
that Billy— driven out of his last job as president of the University of
Massachusetts amidst allegations of all sorts of improprieties—is an honest
guy whose reputation has been unfairly tarnished because of his brother.
“Billy Bulger was not relevant to the piece,” says Fager.

I disagree. Viewers would have been better-served with the whole story.

E-mail comments to
bcrobins@reedbusiness.com

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