When Mike Barnicle stuck up for Whitey Bulger

Patrick Howley Political Reporter
Font Size:

Following Irish gangster James “Whitey” Bulger’s conviction Monday on 31 charges involving 11 murders, and the predictable media condemnation of Bulger and his crimes, The Daily Caller remembers a 1991 column by former Boston Globe columnist and current MSNBC contributor Mike Barnicle, whose sarcastic writings perfectly captured the city of Boston’s grinning ambivalence toward Bulger throughout his criminal career and years on the lam.

“In a blatant display of prejudice against local Irish gangsters, some narrow-minded bigots are hinting the Lottery was rigged simply because a friend of Jimmy Bulger’s won $ 14 million and split the lucky ticket four ways. Next, in a gross display of piling on, the state treasurer, Joe Malone, said he was disturbed that the guy who sold the winning numbers, my pal, Kevin Weeks, showed up at Lottery headquarters ‘with a reputed mobster,’ and I think he meant Bulger,” Barnicle wrote for the Boston Globe, referring to an alleged plot to defraud the Massachusetts lottery that later came up in Bulger’s 2013 trial.

“Hey, good things happen to good people, right? Of course, there is an army of malcontents who refuse to believe that the result of a mere game of chance is on the level when the cash cow moos at the doorstep of a man – Bulger – who, according to illegal eavesdropping by FBI agents and their cheap equipment (And I will show you how lousy their stuff is), runs a vastly overrated criminal enterprise in the area,” Barnicle wrote.

“So, lay off Jimmy Bulger. For the first time in his life, he got lucky, legitimately, and won the lottery. Knowing him, he probably already has handed out money to St. Augustine’s, figuring that when he goes – and the odds on that are better than winning Mass Millions – there will be some people left behind who will say, ‘Not a bad guy,'” Barnicle wrote.

Though Barnicle wrote about Bulger, a highly popular figure in South Boston for decades, in much the way the local public viewed the notorious gangster, he nevertheless took some heat for his work.

Barnicle’s column was too funny for earnest Salon writer and MSNBC host Steve Kornacki, who in 2011 pulled up Barnicle’s 1991 column to accuse Barnicle of “Bulger hagiography” and various other offenses. Kornacki also suggested that Barnicle’s seeming pro-Bulger sentiment was due to Barnicle’s relationship with Bulger’s politician brother Bill Bulger, the longtime president of the Massachusetts Senate.

Kornacki was forced to issue a correction.

“Dan Kennedy, a man who knows what he’s talking about when it comes to Boston media, has a blog post explaining that the July ’91 Barnicle column I cited at the top of this piece is satire…My portrayal of Barnicle’s July 1991 column is inaccurate, and I’m sorry — and embarrassed — that I screwed it up,” Kornacki wrote.

Bulger presided over Boston’s Irish mob from the early 1970s until 1995, when he went into hiding after an FBI agent tipped him off to an impending racketeering indictment.

Bulger reportedly showed no emotion when hearing his verdict Monday. And, to his credit, he didn’t rat on his associates.

A prosecution witness in Bulger’s trial was found dead in the woods last month, a victim of poisoning.

“So many peoples’ lives were so terribly harmed by the criminal actions of Bulger and his crew. And today’s conviction does not alter that harm, and it doesn’t lessen it,” U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said after Bulger’s convictions were read.

Follow Patrick on Twitter