MEETING THE MOB: A PARTY FOR THE GANGSTERS OF MEDIA – Garry Armstrong

MEETING THE MOB AT FLORIAN HALL

Once a year, we gather to catch up.  It’s time for the getting together and annual partaking of the M.O.B. party. It’s the Media Of Boston where everyone who used to be someone and more than a few people who still are someone, get together and remember news — the funny, the weird, the crazy, and the scary stuff they covered during Boston’s news history.

Garry and Harvey Leonard, famed meteorologist sharing old Dodger baseball memories

I usually don’t go to these things. Part of it is that we are out in the boonies and all these events are in Boston or Dorchester. It’s a long drive through heavy traffic. As a general rule, I can’t find my way anywhere anymore. I never really could, but now that we don’t live in or near the city, it’s worse.

Lots of pictures of “the old days”

Marilyn promised to come with me this year, acting as my ears (she just went around telling everyone to yell in my left ear and oddly, that worked), and as my navigator which mostly meant yelling out the directions from the GPS. It’s not loud enough. Almost nothing is loud enough.

Andy announced dinner about to be served!

In past years,  most of us were competitors at Boston’s major TV News Departments, radio stations, and newspapers. Unlike media elsewhere, we always had a sense of respect, camaraderie between us — even though we all chased the scoops in one of the most  competitive major news markets in the country.

Three guys hanging out!

Careers overlap the end of radio news dominance, the transition from film to electronic news gathering. Some of us began working with elders from the Murrow Boys’ days. Our careers included covering the assassinations of political and social legends,  the Vietnam War, volatile court ordered school busing and integration,  Anti-Nuclear Power demonstrations, Watergate, Three Mile Island and the AIDS epidemic. The end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st saw an explosion of news coverage to match events like 9/11 and beyond.

Birth twins! Garry with Delores Handy (Brown) – both born April 7th!

Many of those at our newsies gathering have put their lives on the line —  multiple times — in pursuit of the truth which is often ridiculed by some public officials.

Charlie and Irene Ballantine – caught off-guard at the table!

The faces are probably familiar to those who have turned to the Boston media for news coverage for the past half a century.  Critics who have questioned their ethics have faded from public view as new crises demand instant and intensive coverage 24/7.

Something to drink?

Some of these careers began with Dwight Eisenhower in the Oval House,  John F.Kennedy as the Junior Massachusetts Senator and Mayor Kevin Hagen White overseeing the transformation of Boston into a world-class city that would host celebrated Tall Ships festivals,  court ordered school integration and a mega-expensive architectural “do” known as “The Big Dig”.

Garry, Lester, and Harvey. Someone is really tall!

Those of a certain age will remember some of these faces as young reporters and photographers who spent the best years of their lives covering stories that are now archive material.

You may not know some of the faces.  Many are behind the cameras that bring you haunting images of the news that never stops. They are reporters who never get their due respect. They’re part of the reason that Boston News coverage is highly respected around the world.

Many of us were bright-eyed idealists when we began our Boston careers. The city and New England region are journalistic gold mines and have been well paved over the years by those seeking journalistic treasure.

You’re looking at many ink-stained wretches who’ve been recognized for their diligent work.  Pulitzer, Emmy and other prestigious awards dot the homes of many of these folks who have devoted their lives to finding the truth, a job that is harder than ever in today’s political climate.

Our stories get bigger with each passing year.  We remember the facts but, in many cases,  prefer to “print the legend”.  We tend to remember our gaffes, the “egg in our faces” stories that go with any lengthy career. We smile at the recollection of our youthful energy and pursuit of stories that would top the likes of Watergate.

Garry and Fred Ward sharing stories

Amid the laughter of shared adventures, we remember those colleagues we’ve lost in the past year. Their images linger in our collective and personal sense memories.

Most of all, we agree, bad times aside,  we’ve been lucky to have spent years pursuing one of the best jobs on the face of the earth.


NOTE: Marilyn took pictures. Not enough and not as good as they should be — but she says she had the wrong camera. And it was hard to get people to stay put long enough to get a good shot. Also, there were so many cameras everywhere (what a surprise! with all those camera people and there were a lot of cameras!), she figured there would plenty of pictures getting taken, even if she personally didn’t take them.

WTF IS GOING ON? – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I’m so confused. I used to think I had some handle on what was going on in the news. Pretty much all bad, all crazy, all the time. But I had definite opinions on how I thought things would play out.

No more. I’m clueless now. I have no idea what’s going to happen. I was sure that no matter what Trump did or what Mueller found, the Republicans in control of Congress would not do anything to censure, let alone impeach him. I thought we would have to wait for Democrats to regain control of both houses in Congress before impeachment could even be considered. And even then, I didn’t believe that there would be enough votes in the Senate to actually convict Trump and remove him from office. So any impeachment by the House would end up being a toothless gesture.

At that point, my brain would freeze over. I had no idea what would happen next in my own scenario.

Now I’m less certain about this whole theory. I’m really not sure what will happen in the future or even later today. So much happens so quickly these days. Often out of the blue, or so it seems. Trump makes spontaneous, off the cuff policy announcements that no one in his own White House knows about or is prepared for. He often backtracks the next day. Or not! Headline news stories blare out constantly with revelations from various investigations, law suits and ethics probes involving the president and his merry band of unethical misfits.

I worry that Trump will bomb a random country and start another pointless war. I live in fear that Trump will fire Robert Mueller or Rod Rosenstein, which would have the same effect. One minute I’m sure he’ll do it and throw the country into a major constitutional crisis with no satisfactory resolution in Republican controlled Washington. The next minute I’m sure he won’t risk the major political explosion he would trigger if he interfered with the Mueller investigation.

This perpetual uncertainty makes me very uncomfortable. I pride myself on staying informed enough to understand what’s going on in the news at any given time. I’m shaky on Mid Eastern and Far Eastern policy and economics. But I usually have a handle on domestic news and policies. I have to narrow my focus since I don’t want to spend even more time than I already do consuming news every day. I’m a slow reader so I can only cover so much territory.

Things are happening so quickly and so randomly that I can’t keep up any more. Even though I do try.

I have to admit that sometimes all the national drama can be exciting and energizing. But the crazy and the unpredictable are going into warp drive. Trump seems to be devolving and dragging us all under with him. It’s getting less and less exciting and more and more scary and insane.

I wish I could turn away from this slow motion train wreck, but I can’t. So I’ll keep reading and watching MSNBC and hope that my sanity survives longer than Trump’s does.

ME AND CHAPPAQUIDDICK – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I wrote a blog about famous people that I have had connections with throughout my life. People like Gil Scott Heron, Chevy Chases’ father and brother, Celeste Holm, Erica Jong.

I was reading a review of the new movie about the tragedy involving Ted Kennedy at Chappaquiddick in 1969. I suddenly realized that I had worked with someone intimately involved with that story!

From the fall of 1971 to March of 1972, I worked at the New York State campaign headquarters for Edmund Muskie For President. The office was in midtown Manhattan and was run by a dynamic woman named Esther Newberg. She was a tough cookie. Very decisive, effective, organized and politically savvy. She had previously worked for the equally tough New York politician and women’s movement spokesperson, Bella Abzug.

Edmund Muskie

Esther had the responsibility of meeting with all the county leaders in the state and lining up commitments for Ed Muskie. She also ran the PR operations and supervised her New York Volunteer Coordinator, which was me.

I recruited eager local democratic volunteers and came up with things for them to do. We helped with frequent mass mailings (no computers) and with phone calls mobilizing other volunteers and politically active young people. I organized political events, usually involving a speaker, refreshments and lots of socializing. I think I may have done more to promote dating in New York City than Muskie’s political ambitions there.

Esther, on the right, in the late 1960’s

I have remembered Esther all these years. She was a person who made an impression. So when I read the review of “Chappaquiddick”, I was surprised to learn that a woman who had worked in Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign alongside Mary Jo Kopechne (who died in the Chappaquiddick accident), was no other than Esther Newberg. I googled her to make sure she was in fact the Esther Newberg I had worked for in the early 1970’s. She was.

Esther and Mary Jo were two of the six infamous ‘boiler room girls’ who worked for Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1967-1968. They worked in a windowless room, affectionately called ‘the boiler room’. Each woman was assigned a regional desk and was tasked with coordinating all of the state campaign directors in that region, with the Washington campaign headquarters. They dealt with the key campaign issues of the day and reported directly to Bobby and his campaign manager and brother-in-law, Stephen Smith.

RFK and the ‘Boiler Room Girls’

Ethel Kennedy (Bobby’s wife) once said that “Only the great ones worked in that boiler room.” The ‘girls’ were known to be “frighteningly intelligent, politically astute, capable as all get out.” But they were just ‘girls’, which in those days was a stigma that was hard to overcome. The boiler room girls were often portrayed in the press as ‘party girls’ (not true) and of no significance to the campaign (also not true).

After Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June of 1968, the ‘girls’ dispersed to other jobs in politics. But they stayed in touch and got together for reunions. One of these reunions, which Ted Kennedy and Stephen Smith attended, was in July of 1969 in Chappaquiddick, near the Kennedy compound in Martha’s Vineyard.

Esther was at the party that night and watched her friend, Mary Jo, leave the party in a car with Ted Kennedy. The car inexplicably drove off a small bridge into the water. Kennedy got out of the submerged car but Mary Jo did not. Kennedy took 10 hours to report the incident. Many people feel he didn’t make enough of an effort to rescue Mary Jo. Others believe that if he had reported the accident immediately, there would have been enough time to save Mary Jo’s life. No one knows for sure.

Esther apparently had her name removed from the movie because she felt that too much had been made up and sensationalized.

The Chappaquiddick tragedy that ended Ted Kennedy’s presidential ambitions, as well as the ‘boiler room girls’, were part of my early political memories. So I was thrilled to learn that I had actually known someone who was part of that history. It’s not really a big deal. But I’m excited that I had two degrees of separation from Bobby and Ted Kennedy and this historical event.

A PORN STAR, A PLAYMATE, A PLAINTIFF AND A GUY NAMED PECKER WALK INTO A BAR – BY TOM CURLEY

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stormy Daniels has a 1-hour interview scheduled on CBS this evening — 60 Minutes with Anderson Cooper — at 7 PM. It’s the real deal show! Trump wanted his own show, and now, he’s getting it! Maybe not exactly how he planned it. 

And the bartender says “What is this? Some kind of joke?”

The answer is, yes and no. It’s not a joke. It’s reality. In so far as reality has become a bigger and bigger joke these days, it is a joke. And the bar they walked into wasn’t a ‘bar’ bar. It was a legal bar.

So, what’s the joke? The president is suing a porn star, Stormy Daniels, because she broke a Non-Disclosure Agreement for talking about an affair the President insists never happened.

I’ve never met this woman!

He’s basically saying: “I did not have an affair with that person to whom I paid $130,000 to not talk about the affair we had.”

What’s the other joke? A former Playboy Playmate, Karen McDougal, is suing The National Enquirer because they bought an interview from her detailing the affair she had with the President.

I’ve never met this woman either!

They silenced her by simply not running the story. The punchline here? The guy who killed the story is named Pecker.

The jokes are the news.

There’s also a plaintiff, Summer Zervos, who is suing the President for defamation of character.

But that’s not funny. Not all news is funny.

I don’t think the news is supposed to be funny. These days, more and more of the news is funny. Absurdly funny. Or possibly ridiculous. Is there a difference? “You can’t make this shit up.”

How many times have we heard that phrase recently?News and comedy are becoming one.

Where do you get your news? The CBS Evening News or Stephen Colbert? The ABC Evening News or Jimmy Kimmel? CNN or The Daily Show?

I usually choose the latter because I get the same raw information, just with jokes. These days you get the jokes more and more just from reading the news.

When I worked on network news shows at CBS, we would have monitors showing the other networks. As you’d expect, all the shows did all the same stories in roughly the same order. Makes sense. These days, I notice the same stories on all the late night comedy shows too. The comedians all tell pretty much the same jokes in pretty much the same order. The thing is, they all thought the jokes up separately. But since the story is the same, they come up with the same jokes.

It’s just the news.

Comedy and news are becoming one.

I know I’m going to laugh when I watch The Daily Show. I expect to laugh. I’m getting the same laughs from CNN and MSNBC. Who are not trying to be funny! They are merely reading the news!

“Hey, did you see Wolf Blitzer last night? He killed!” I didn’t make up the title of this blog. I saw it on TV. Which late night show? None of them. It was a pundit on CNN, Ana Navarro, who said it.

I’m here through Thursday. Try the veal!
Comedy-and-news-are-becoming-one.

That’s not what’s really worrying me. What happens when they separate? When comedy and news split and become two separate things? What happens when the news isn’t funny anymore?

Our current clown show reality has a shelf life. It can’t go on forever. It will just seem like forever. 

What happens after a sane, boring President is elected — and there are no more daily scandals, screw-ups, and shit-storms? No more crazy tweets? No more porn stars, playmates, plaintiffs, and guys named Pecker? The news will continue, but what about all the poor comedians, comedy writers, bloggers, and columnists? They will have to go back to writing jokes again.

They will be forced to think up funny stuff on their own! Our comedic muscles are atrophying! I can feel it. What can we do about it? Are there special comedic exercises? Should we fill in Mad Libs? Improv?

Sure, we could, but why bother? We can’t top reality. We can’t make this shit up.

When that time comes, we’ll all just have to buckle up and get back to work — making up jokes. When that time comes, I think I’ve got a good one.

Picture of Mr. Pecker not included.

A porn-star, a plaintiff,  a playmate and a guy named Pecker walk into bar …

Too soon?

WHEN THE SWORD COULD BE MIGHTIER THAN THE TRUTH

In theory, we applaud “whistle blowers.” We are grateful that they have brought forth an important story. An issue with which we should all be concerned.

In the real world, whistle blowers fare poorly. They don’t get a lot of congratulations. They are distrusted by everyone in their industry and elsewhere. They are frequently prosecuted for failing to come forward sooner by outside authorities and always fired by their employers — regardless of what “the law” says.

Within the organization on whom they are lowering the boom, they are ostracized. Typically they are prevented from earning a living in that profession again. Scorned. Hated by many whose careers are ruined.  A lot of people will go down when that whistle blows.

The other day, I told the story of Bernard Cardinal Law and our Somali cat, Big Guy. It was a true story. Cute and friendly.

The story gets a lot less friendly a few years later. That was when Garry and others in his age-group were being forced out of television by virtue of having gotten “too mature” or just “not the right type” to roll with the “new kids” on the TV block. It was the same time that the huge story of the pedophile priests of Boston was breaking. Garry didn’t cover the story (though he followed it closely) because by then, he was not working.

Cardinal Law had been one of his friends in Boston’s power structure. He was one of the people Garry would have turned to when his own fortunes needed a lift. Instead, the Cardinal was coming down. He went back to Rome where he passed away in December 2017.

The demise of the reign of Bernard Cardinal Law was tragic on many levels. He was in charge of moving the pedophile priests from parish to parish, year after year. More than 20 years that we know of. He had to know it was wrong. He was a bright man. A Jesuit. Well-educated. Intelligent in a worldly way, not just as a churchman.

But, he had his orders. Discipline in the Church is no different than in the military or police. Strict. You do not fight with your superiors … not if you intend to remain in the Church.

While this was going on, William (Billy) Bulger — an important Massachusetts political figure for many years and who was another friend of Garry’s — was grabbing his golden parachute and drifting away. He had been promoted from head of the Massachusetts’ Senate to President of the University of Massachusetts. A genuine intellectual, he was political, funny, and rivetingly smart.

But. He had a brother and that brother was a criminal. Not just any criminal. Whitey Bulger was one of the FBI’s most wanted criminals. A very big deal on the criminal scene. Whitey had been in hiding for decades. Despite this, no one had closely questioned Dr. William Bulger about his brother’s location.

You’d think that would be on the tip of everyone’s tongue, but it wasn’t. Or, maybe it was, but it never made it past the ears of those who heard or knew.

How many people — other than brother Billy — knew where Whitey was hiding? Politicians, reporters, policemen, and more than a handful of FBI agents knew, not to mention the entire Bulger family. But no one was publicly saying anything.  Supposedly, Whitey was also an informant and protected by the FBI. It got extremely tangled and in the end, at least one agent ended up in prison.

Note: John Connolly, the former FBI agent, was convicted of racketeering, obstruction of justice and murder — charges stemming from his relationship with James “Whitey” Bulger, Steve Flemmi, and the Winter Hill Gang. He was convicted on racketeering charges in 2002 and sentenced to ten years in federal prison. In 2008, he was convicted on state charges of second-degree murder in Florida and sentenced to 40 years in prison. 

Everything wound up in court. Movies were made.

The issue always arises — when does conscience force you to tell the whole truth? When does  being on the right side exceed your need to survive, have a career, get your pension, protect your family? Protect your life? At what point are you obligated to question orders and do the right thing? This is no simple question. While we acknowledge good and evil, in our real lives, there is more going on than that. There are other people to protect. Family. Friends, Co-workers. That can add up to an awful lot of people and if you bring them down, they aren’t going to thank you because you “did the right thing.” How hated are you ready to be?

This is the question. Whether you march with the church, a political machine, are a police officer, or in the military — the truth can get you and yours killed. As in literally (not figuratively) dead. Or locked in a prison from which you will never again see the light.

When does obedience to the order to which you belong end and obedience to higher principles begin? Discipline is strict. If you do not obey a direct order — conscience or not — you can and will be brought up on charges. Fired. You will lose everything. Probably forever.

In theory, conscience should (must) rule but in reality — there’s a lot more to it. You don’t just disobey a command from a superior officer, whether the officer is the Pope, a Colonel, or the President. Not without paying some stupendous price. Your disobedience might easily cost you your life or the lives of those you care about. Not to mention everything you value.

The cost of obeying your conscience is only a small thing when the issue is maybe snitching on your older brother to a mom or dad. That’s probably the last time it’s no big deal. The higher up you get in the ranks of any organization, the harder you will fall.

Nor, in the end, will you got a lot of thanks for your efforts. Even those for whom you went out on a limb will probably not be thanking you.

While all this high-end drama was playing out, the people that Garry had hoped he could ask for help in repositioning himself in the market were collapsing, never to be publicly seen again. While he was going down, they were falling too.

They had better parachutes than Garry. Life can be very funny that way.

Note 2: For a real life look at the life of a prominent whistle blower, take a look at the life of Frank Serpico, the guy about whom they made the movie. 

THE PRESS DOESN’T MAKE UP STORIES

WHAT IS TRUTH? DOES IT MATTER?

I don’t have a lot of friends in the Republican camp, but there remain a few. It didn’t used to be such a gigantic divide, but it has loomed hugely since the last election.

The other night I heard from an old friend who lives down in the middle of Georgia. Not Atlanta. The less expensive part where the non-city folk live. She is a warm, sweet, kindly woman, but times they are a’changing.

I don’t know what I said — probably nothing I really thought about — and she said “But we don’t know what the truth is. The media just lies all the time.”

Pause. Longer pause.

“Garry spent his whole life in news and many of our best friends were or are in the news business. Sally, they DO NOT MAKE UP THEIR NEWS STORIES. They never did and they don’t do it now. They spend their lives searching for the facts. For proof. For truth. They do not lie.”

An even longer pause. “But what difference does it make anyway?”

If she cannot understand that there is an uncrossable gap between truth and lies, then what is there to discuss? Perhaps that is the bottom line of our current issues with truth, that so many people on both sides of the political lines don’t care about truth and don’t think truth matters.

If the truth doesn’t matter, then I am not sure what does matter. For me, the truth always matters and I can’t even imagine a time when that would no longer apply.

GUN WARS: EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE – BY TOM CURLEY

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … well, actually, it was a week or so ago and it was in Florida (which many could argue, is another world), something really different and really not normal happened. There was yet another mass shooting. This time at a high school in Broward County. 17 dead, more wounded. But that wasn’t the not normal thing. That happens all the time. That’s normal.

No, the really different thing that happened was the students who DIDN’T GET KILLED rose up and formed a rebellion. A rebellion against the Empire.  Also known as the NRA.

And as rebel fighters, these kids are good. Really good. In just a week or so they’ve knocked down or destroyed all of the Empire’s usual tricks.

EMPIRE: Our thoughts and prayers are with you.
REBELLION: Fuck your thoughts and prayers! We just got shot at! Get rid of machine guns!
EMPIRE: But now is not the time to talk about gun control.
REBELLION: Fuck you. Now is exactly the time and we’re talking about it!
EMPIRE: This is a mental health issue.
REBELLION:  No shit Sherlock! We’ve been telling you this guy is fucked up for a while now. He was voted “most likely to shoot up the school”! But that didn’t stop him from legally buying a military assault rifle and KILLING US with it!

EMPIRE: We need armed guards in schools. We need to arm teachers. The only way to beat a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun.
REBELLION: We had an armed guard! He left the building! And arming teachers? Are you kidding? A bad guy  shoots at everybody. It’s a “target rich environment”.  That’s why he’s there. The teacher can only shoot at one target and one target only.  And  all this  while we’re all running around like crazy, trying NOT TO BE KILLED !  You’d have to be Luke Skywalker  to make that shot! What the hell is wrong with you??

And the rebellion is spreading. All around the country. You  think the Russians are the best at using social media to effect politics?   You have no idea what a nation of pissed off teenagers can do.

And it’s only just begun. Business sponsors are already leaving the NRA. They’re on the defensive. Will the Rebellion win? Will the Empire Strike Back? Of course they will. But don’t count out this rebellion.


Strong the force is with these young ones.