5 Reasons Why Whitey Matters

September 14, 2007

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Why such a big fuss over mobster Whitey Bulger and the hunt for him? We asked Dick Lehr, a journalism professor at Boston University and a coauthor of "Black Mass: The True Story of an Unholy Alliance Between the FBI and the Irish Mob.'' Here are his reasons:

1. JUSTICE MUST BE SERVED: He needs to be brought to justice. As far as criminal horrors and legacies, it doesn't get any worse than this guy. He and his corrupt FBI crew did an enormous amount of damage to this city for several decades, and not only because of the body count.

2. CORRUPTION INSIDE THE FBI: Whitey was at the center of the FBI's worst informant scandal in its history. There's been nothing like it, at least as far as the FBI is concerned. He and his crew undermined law enforcement to the point where other people cooperating with authorities were identified and killed.

3. BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER: If Whitey were brought to justice, maybe some of these questions hanging over this town could be answered regarding the rest of the family. One of his brothers, John, a former Suffolk County court official, was convicted for lying about his interactions with Whitey. There's no question that then-Governor [Mitt] Romney went after Bill Bulger when Bulger was president of the University of Massachusetts in connection with the whole Whitey horror show. There's no question, benign or otherwise, that there was a perception that Bill's power as state Senate president helped provide a wink and nod and cover for Whitey.

4. THE DEPARTED: He and Stephen "The Rifleman'' Flemmi left behind a couple of dozen victims we know of. It's evil in its fullest glory. They pulled teeth. They cut off fingertips. The families of the victims want to see this end.

5. RESTORING THE FBI'S PRESTIGE: As long as Whitey is out there, there will always be a cloud of doubt about the FBI and its commitment in this town.


Q. Dick, do you think it's Whitey in the FBI photos released Friday?

Lehr: The body language looks the same, the tightness. But if the feds and people like Kevin Weeks [a former associate] can't confirm this, I can't.

Q. As a professional Whitey watcher, how much do you think Jack Nicholson modeled his performance in "The Departed'' after the Southie gangster?

Lehr: I think that in terms of evil, it was right on. In terms of the acting, physical portrayal, it was almost the anti-Whitey. On screen, Nicholson was a reflection of his inner evil -- slovenly, disgusting. Whitey, meanwhile, always took great pride in his appearance and his fitness and his manner.