Globe Editorial

Bulger’s girlfriend: Fight crime with gossip

Catherine Greig as she appears on a poster at the FBI office in Boston. Catherine Greig as she appears on a poster at the FBI office in Boston. (Associated Press)
June 22, 2011

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The FBI’s latest tactic in the hunt for Whitey Bulger — a Times Square billboard and TV ad focused on his longtime girlfriend, Catherine Greig — proves that the agency is still hard on the hunt for the South Boston mobster, accused of 19 murders. It also demonstrates the irony that, in this age of broad concerns about privacy, it’s still possible for someone to hide for 16 years. Maybe even in plain sight.

That’s the notion behind the feds’ ad campaign, which posits that someone on the lam still needs a social life — or, at least, an occasional trip to the dentist or hair salon. The ads, which offer a $100,000 reward for information leading to Greig’s whereabouts, are aimed at Greig’s demographic: women in their early 60s, who might notice a gangster’s girlfriend getting her hair dyed blonde, or walking with a man two decades older. These women are more likely to watch “Ellen’’ than “America’s Most Wanted.’’ And they’re certain to notice the FBI’s stark ads, which are quite different in tone from the household-cleaner and weight-loss fare that’s most common on daytime TV.

Crowdsourcing, as it’s known today, has long been a law enforcement tool; it’s the idea behind the old “wanted: dead or alive’’ posters, the true-crime featurettes, and the slogans on buses and subways that warn, “If you see something, say something.’’ In recent years, the FBI has tried reaching out to dentists and plastic surgeons who might have treated Greig. The new $50,000 campaign casts a broader net, and in a hunt for a suspect wanted on serious charges, it’s worth a try. Gossip, after all, is a powerful force.