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Rupert Murdoch?s Reality News: Get It While It?s Hot!

“Leper Rapes Virgin, Gives Birth To Monster Baby” -early Murdoch headline

By Greg O'Brien, Codfish Press

murdoch_w_wife1_303_01The button down collars at the Wall Street Journal are popping with news that an Aussie who earlier in his career earned the nickname, “Thanks-for-the-mammary Murdoch,” might be holding the conch at one of the nation’s m0st respected papers. Years ago with Rupert Murdoch’s first issue of The (London) Sun, the paper began running photos of young women nude to the waist on page three. Within a year, circulation had swelled from 800,000 to 2 million. In 1960, as reported 24 years ago in a Boston Magazine profile, Murdoch (shown on right with his wife) commenced his publishing empire with the purchase of the Sydney Daily and Sunday Mirror, and turned the paper into a money maker, using hard-sell pictures of sexy women, and headlines like: “Leper Rapes Virgin, Gives Birth To Monster Baby.”

All fair and balanced, of course.

Today the more mainstream Murdoch and his News Corp, owners of a range of media from Fox News to the New York Post, are making a $5 billion pitch for Dow Jones & Company—a bid, some say, designed to earn a glaze of media respectability. But over James W. Ottaway’s stiff corpse. The minority owner in Dow Jones and a member of the Ottaway Newspaper family (parent of The Cape Cod Times), declared recently of the potential takeover,  “As an investor, I would be very concerned to live in an era of making investment decisions based on the Murdoch-filtered business information.” He told The New York Times, “As a citizen, I would be afraid to live in a world where news is solely entertainment, and there is an agenda behind every story I read, watch or hear.”

Reality News ; It’s all about control, profit, titillation

And that’s just the point. As the media falls into the hands of a select few, daily and weekly newspapers, magazines and television stations—once the first draft of history—are now just commodities for ad revenue, entertainment and personal agendas. Welcome to Reality News. It’s all about control, profit and titillation. Sadly, with other mega media mergers on the horizon, more venerable institutional memories will likely fade in time, and today’s often-junk entrée of news will be seen as fine dining.

“There’s a market out there for papers that are not ashamed to include some human interest, that are not ashamed to entertain people,” Murdoch told me years ago in a Boston Magazine interview.

Murdoch probably never met the late Henry Beetle Hough, author of the classic work, Country Editor, who guided the august Martha’s Vineyard Gazette for a half century. “Instead of being qualified in a profession, it seems to me that I have taken root in a place,” Hough once wrote.

Murdoch is still looking for his. Many hope he doesn’t find it at the Wall Street Journal, although some media observers are now declaring, “it’s a done deal,” according to a recent Walter Brooks report in Cape Cod Today. Money talks—screams, in fact, like a Murdoch front-page headline—and conventional Wall Street wisdom is bracing for the bottom line, both financially and in poor taste. Writing in Saturday’s The New York Times, columnist Joe Nocera notes that the overall neglect of the Bancroft family, which owns 52 percent of the Dow Jones company voting shares, “has hurt the company they all profess to love and made Rupert Murdoch’s bid possible.”

From the start, Keith Rupert Murdoch seemed destined to fight. Gleaned from a Boston Magazine piece I wrote years ago, some background on the potential new owner of Dow Jones might be enlightening. Least we forget.

Born March 11, 1931, in Melbourne, Australia, he inherited from his father a tradition of winning against fierce competition. His father. Sir Keith, was a celebrated World War I correspondent who later became head of Australia’s largest newspaper chain. His mother, Dame Elizabeth, was honored through the British Empire for her work in welfare.

One of four children, Rupert spent his early years at the family’s comfortable Melbourne estate, Cruden Farm, an imposing stone building with Colonial-style pillars at the end of a long drive of gum trees.  According to Current Biography, a prime source on Murdoch’s life, Rupert at 10 was sent off to the elite Geelong Grammar School, the Australian counterpart of Eton. He then went on to Oxford where he studied economics and politics. His father died in 1952 while Rupert was at Oxford. After Oxford Murdoch stayed on in England to work with Lord Beaverbrook, (a close friend of his father’s) as an assistant editor on the London Daily Express. Two years later, Murdoch returned to Australia to take charge of the moribund, marginally profitable Aledaide News, an afternoon paper his father had left to the family. The young editor had indeed learned some pizzazz on Fleet Street, and soon the paper was a financial success. In the early days Murdoch himself wrote the headlines, usually large, lurid blocks of black print blaring of murder, horror and sex. In 1956, Murdoch expanded, and an empire was born. He bought a Sunday newspaper in Perth for $400,000 and four years later entered the competitive daily newspaper world of Sydney—purchasing the Sydney Daily and Sunday Mirror for $4 million. Everyone thought Murdoch would fall on his derriere (a recurring expectation), but he never did, and probably never will in financial terms. Instead, he turned the Sunday paper into a money-maker and the daily into Sydney’s top-selling afternoon paper—using hard sell, pictures of sexy women and racy headlines.

Murdoch's “T&A” approach to the news

In 1964 Murdoch established his country’s first national paper, the Australian—a curious cross between the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Unlike his tabloids and other sensational newspaper, it featured national and international news, investigative reporting, and local information of a serious nature. By 1968 his holdings were estimated at $50 million. Year after year, Murdoch brought papers back from the grave, usually with a dark regimen of sex, crime and scandal. It was to become a trademark.

sunmirrorchiskeeler_311Looking for a new challenge, Murdoch in 1969 turned to London where the News of the World was up for sale. He gained control of the paper, something of a British institution, and shored up its 6 million circulation with such features as the candid memoirs of a political call girl named Christine Keeler (see Sunday Mirror of the era on right). With News in the black, Murdoch then began shopping around for a daily in London. The Sun, a stuffy broadsheet that was losing $5 million a year, was up for sale. Murdoch bought it for a $120,000 down payment and a month later converted it to a tabloid with loud headlines, a spate of hard news, and serials like “The Sensuous Woman” and “The Love Machine.” With its first issue, the Sun began running photos of young women nude to the waste. Murdoch was roundly denounced in more established centers of journalism for his “T&A” approach to the news. But like a young male in heat, there was no stopping him.

“Uncle Tortures Tots with Hot Forks”

In 1973 Murdoch expanded his empire to the United States with the $18 million purchase of the San Antonio Express and the San Antonio News. He made few changes in the Express, but concentrated, instead, on the afternoon News, which competed head-on with the Hearst-owned tabloid, the San Antonio Light. Yet again, applying his old formula, Murdoch eliminated most of the serious news and emphasized sports and stories of sex. Splashing up his front page, he began running headlines like “Uncle Tortures Tots with Hot Forks.”

Next, Murdoch launched a supermarket tabloid to compete with the National Enquirer. The National Star was filled with gossip, self-help, and bizarre stories—such as the one about killer bees, which led with: “Ferocious swarms of man-killing bees are buzzing their way toward North America.”

Motivated by power, money, and the desire to run a publishing conglomerate that stretched, slithered in some places, over three continents, Murdoch surprised New Yorkers in November 1976 by announcing that he had purchased the New York Post, the oldest continuously published daily in the United States. He paid then-owner Dorothy Schiff $32 million for the liberal, gray tabloid that Alexander Hamilton had founded in 1801.

“The format will stay the same, and the political policies will stay unchanged,” Murdoch promised at the time. He vowed that the Post would continue to be a “serious newspaper.”

“We will be very competitive…There will be nothing startling about the Post. It won’t be that different,” he said.

Murdoch was at least right on the competitive part. Give people what they want—an editorial field of dreams: if you build it, they will come.

Asked years ago in a Boston Magazine interview to respond to critics who say that some of his papers have been little more than a collection of sex, crime and scandal,” Murdoch told me, “I think it’s unfair stereotyping. There’s a tendency today to judge tabloids by more traditional standards of journalism. There’s an elitist attitude out there. One problem is that journalism students today are taught that papers like The New York Times and The Washington Post are the models, that what those papers do is responsible and what someone else does is irresponsible. By the time those kids are on the street (looking for work), they have a cynical approach to anything that is not traditional.”

Murdoch, no doubt, is a catalyst for change. “You can't be an outsider and be successful… without leaving a certain amount of scar tissue around the place,” one on-line biography quotes Murdoch as saying.

If the Dow Jones deal is ultimately consummated, there will likely in time—in spite of all of Murdoch’s reassurances to the contrary—be enough scar tissue at the Wall Street Journal to create another Mary Shelley thriller.

obrien80_99Greg O’Brien is a former senior writer at Boston Magazine, the author/editor of several books, and a contributor to regional and national publications. Part of this column was excerpted from a Boston Magazine piece written by O’Brien when Murdoch acquired the old Boston Herald American. O’Brien had been a political and investigative reporter at the paper.

On Marriage And Divorce: Living For The Moment!

“Life is short. Get a divorce”

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

life_is_short_413.The windy city is howling over a large billboard that rose up recently in a section of a swank Chicago nightclub district dubbed “the Viagra triangle.” The message, to many pro-family critics, is outright impotent. The ad proclaims: “Life is short. Get a divorce.”

Sponsored by Chicago divorce lawyer, Corri Fetman, who defends it as “light-hearted way to deal with a serious subject,” the billboard features a scantily clad, full-breasted woman on the left, a Chippendale-type, varnished, bare-chested male on the right, and a phone number to call for those interested in breaking the Seventh Commandment. The ad, however, was pulled after many complaints, but only because Fetman didn't have the correct permits.Fetman told ABC7 Chicago news that the billboard was paying huge dividends in publicity, and that she’s planning on an even more racy ad next month. 

How about: “Life is short. Work it out with your spouse!”

Half of all marriages in America end in divorce, and the negative impacts on children are devastating. Research indicates the effects of divorce not only influence a child into adulthood, but affect the next generation of children, as well, according to childhood experts. Children of divorced parents “exhibit more health, behavioral and emotional problems, are involved more frequently in crime and drug abuse, and have higher rates of suicide,” warns Patrick Fagan and Robert Rector, senior research fellows in family and domestic policy studies. Children of divorced parents also “perform more poorly in reading, spelling and math. They are more likely to repeat a grade, and to have higher drop-out rates and lower rates of college graduation.”

Something to think about next time your spouse gets under your skin. The honeymoon was over for most of us years ago, and the real work of partnering has begun, but the fruits of persevering at marriage and sustaining the family are far more rewarding than a wild roll in the hay with a stranger. Fetman’s licentious billboard, which plays off our collective vulnerabilities, is nothing more than a “cheap stunt that encourages recreational sex, sports sex,” Jeffrey Leving, a prominent Chicago lawyer told the New York Times.

No doubt, the curves are always rounder and the biceps more buffed on the other side. And so we often have an inflated image of ourselves that blights our vision. I’m reminded of a talk I had years ago with my dad, the father of ten children. He asked me what type of woman I wanted to marry.

“Dad,” I said, “I want her to be a beautiful, smart, sexy, engaging, even-tempered woman who always thinks I’m the greatest in the world.”

He interrupted me. “What would she want with someone like you?” he asked.

Life is short. Have you hugged your spouse today?

The Rap On Stop Snitchin?

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Did the nuns ever warn you not to snitch in school? Or perhaps your gym teacher told you to put a sock in it. Street violence today has pushed the envelope on the admonition “stop snitchin,” which now applies to rape, robbery, and murder. We’ve come a long way from pulling pigtails. It’s verboten these days to drop a dime on violent crime. Police are being spray painted as the antichrist, and intimidated witnesses are folding like metal chairs at a high school assembly.

“Stop Snitchin’” is more than just an attitude, a hip-hop slogan, or a catchphrase on a t-shirt. It’s a cultural norm preached in the inner city. And rap stars like Cameron Giles, known as Cam’ron, a.k.a. “Killa Cam,” are high in the pulpit, spreading the word. In a recent CBS “60 Minutes” interview with Anderson Cooper, Cam’ron said he wouldn’t inform police if a serial killer were living next door to him, noting it would violate “a code of ethics.”

Last time we checked the dictionary, ethics was defined as “a system of moral principles governing appropriate conduct.”  

Issuing an apology after his offending comments, Cam’ron said he was a victim of a violent crime (“shot multiple times without provocation”), and stated, “where I come from, once word gets out that you’ve cooperated with the police that only makes you a bigger target of criminal violence.”

“I’m not saying, it’s right,” he added, “but it’s reality.”

Chilling reality is that an average of 15 young people, ages 10 to 24, are murdered every day in city streets, and scores more are treated in emergency rooms for serious injuries due to street violence, according to U.S. Department of health and Human Services statistics. And rap recordings glorifying drug peddling and gunplay and depicting women as tramps for the taking are fueling this inferno, not to mention the excrement that flows from radio shock jocks, past and present.

Hey, it’s not racist to rise up against this. It’s not bigoted to be nauseated by it. It’s not snitching to speak out against it. Gang violence crosses the color line, and it’s as much a threat, in many ways, as any border security issue or conflict in the Middle East. The war within can be far more menacing in its toll. 

We need, as a nation, to focus internally and appropriate the apposite resources to curb street violence. A bill filed in the Massachusetts legislature is a firm step in the right direction. Supported by prosecutors, the bill would make witness intimidation a crime, and would subject offending 14-to-16-year-olds to adult penalties. It ought to be approved hands down and replicated as a national model.



Have You Hugged Your Wallet Today?

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Ouch! Pay your taxes last week on time? There goes money for that kitchen renovation, new deck, boat repair, or perhaps the college fund. If you were one of the privileged ones, you paid it out of an executive salary package, a year-end bonus or cashing in company stock. And if you had a good tax lawyer, proportionately you paid much less than the rest of us, or maybe nothing at all. Congratulations for profiting off our nickel. “A lot of taxes will go unpaid at the top of the income scale,” David Schizer, dean of the Columbia Law School and an attorney who specializes in tax law wrote in The New York Times.

Pity the poor CEOs these days. For they shall inherit the planet! The medium 2006 compensation for chief executive officers at 50 of the largest U.S. companies, according to a special USA Today report last week, is $17.7 million—more than $1.4 million in salary, $4.1 million in bonus, $426,918 in perks and other compensation, and more than $9.6 in stock and option awards. And the heads of Wall Street’s choice financial firms, the paper reports, noting new disclosure rules, got some real money: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein skipped off with $54.3 million in salary, bonus, options and restricted stock. Second place was never so sweet for Merrill Lynch’s CEO Stanley O’Neal, who was paid $46.4 million and exercised $16.7 million worth of options, the paper reports.

And how about getting paid for showing up! EMC Corp. CEO Joseph Tucci’s 2006 executive pay package cost the company $20.2 million in salary, bonus and company stock, The Boston Globe reported. While it represents a $9.6 million reduction from 2005, “Tucci’s lofty compensation didn’t sit well with corporate governance critics who say that the lackluster performance of EMC shares doesn’t justify Tucci’s income,” the Globe notes. 

So what is it about these guys that justifies the colossal pay? Last time most of us checked, none of them had cured cancer, reversed global warming, raised the quality of inner city schools, quelled terrorism, pitched a shutout or hit a home run. Hey, they don’t even take out the trash!

And yet they pine for excessive, almost to the point of dissolute, salaries and tax breaks so some of the surfeit can trickle down to us—that is, if you subscribe to the waning principles of Reaganomics. A few of these titans also get “tax gross-ups,” code for corporate reimbursements for tax liabilities. The term is appropriate, a pitiable insult to the worker bees. Think about it next time you or a friend gets stung with a pink slip.


The Evil Within: The Virginia Tech Killings

By Greg O’Brien
Boston Metro, New York Metro, Philadelphia Metro

Unimaginable horror, and yet the random, horrific violence that washed up Monday on the Virginia Tech campus—the worst shooting spree in U.S. history—is far more matter of fact to us today than it ought to be.  As numbing as Internet video clips and breaking news reports were of the slaughter, there was a chilling, nauseating sense of a persistent nightmare played out in real time.  And in the deepest recess of our souls, a place where no light enters, we expect the agony to be played out again.

Where, when and how is part of the national angst that haunt us as a society.

There will be more cries for gun control and equal pushback from the gun lobby. One of President Bush’s first comments, in misplaced reaction to the tragedy, touched on the subject, as if the National Rifle Association had issued an all-points bulletin on the massacre.  “The president believes that there is a right for people to bear arms, but that all laws must be followed,” White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino said in an early Associate Press report. Perino noted that Bush and Education Secretary Margaret Spellings had held a conference on school gun violence last October, noting, “Certainly, bringing a gun into a school dormitory and shooting…is against the law and something someone should be held accountable for.”

The aftermath of Virginia Tech ought not to be wholly dominated by a national debate on gun control, but should focus on the forbidding reality of evil in the world. We’ve seen it up close and personal at Columbine, on 9/11, in Pennsylvania’s placid Amish country, in other blameless places and now here in Blacksburg, Va.

 “Keep yourself from every evil thing,” the Old Testament warns in the Book of Deuteronomy in words that have eluded us.

We are a world awash in evil—any way you want to describe it and on any spiritual terms. Gun control laws, however appropriate in places, are not going to change everything, nor will stiffer jail terms for violent crimes, as needed as they are. We must find ways collectively as a society of turning from the darkness of life and face the light head-on—an all-consuming embrace for what is right in life. This means a change in direction for all of us.

Without such an about-face, we can expect more Columbines, more 9/11s and more campus shootings as we head down a dead-end in an abyss of evil that awaits us with even more shock.


Fighting Cancer, Battling Perceptions

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Stereotypical perceptions to the contrary, cancer is not a disease, awaiting a bolus of drugs or miraculous hope; it’s a category—a class, simply put, of malignant growths or tumors caused by abnormal and uncontrolled cell division. And categorically speaking, in spite of what you might have read recently about impressive celebrity testimonies and earnest reactions to them, the war on cancer is in full prosecution, and we’re still getting shelled. If you have a family history of cancer, if you still enjoy sitting out in the sun or scorched off layers of skin as a teenager or young adult, if you smoke or have an appetite for all the wrong foods, you better duck!

Cancer has touched most of our lives, or the lives of family or friends. My 85-year-old father, my brother and brother-in-law are all survivors, expanding their lungs every day in a symbolic gesture just to see how long they can hold their breath against this killer, as the diseases of today morph into the monsters of tomorrow. The death rate from cancer is high, accounting for at least 20 percent of deaths in this country, although on an encouraging note, says a report Sunday in the Baltimore Sun, “about 40 percent of the million Americans who are diagnosed with cancer each year get early treatment and live for many years after the diagnosis.”

But you gotta ask yourself one question, Dirty Harry would say: “Do I feel lucky?”

This punk doesn’t. As a kid, my dad—a street-wise Bronx boy—used to tell me that good offense is a strong defense: drive defensively, think before you speak, and don’t assume anything, or take your health for granted. We should listen to our parents more! I’m a dangerous driver, multi-tasking like a short order cook; I choke regularly on my ankles with both feet in my mouth; and I haven’t seen a doctor for a full physical in years.

Frankly, I don’t think I’m alone in this. The lesson of Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, and Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, however gripping their personal circumstances may be, is early detection—regular screenings for breast, prostate, colon, skin and other forms of cancers.

“Why is it that Americans speak of trying to whip cancer, show courage in the face of it, and die after a long battle against it?” David Brown wrote in yesterday’s Washington Post. “It’s because what F. Scott Fitzgerald said about the rich (‘They are different from you and me’) is true of cancer among the multitude of bodily afflictions.”

While hope springs eternal in the fight against cancer, nothing beats a basic checkup. Do you feel lucky today?


Extinction Of The Middle Class

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press

Deep impact, as they say in the movies! Millions of years ago, scientists suspect, a giant meteor hit the earth, knocking the planet off its axis and wiping out much of life (as was known then). With far less hype, but perhaps with equal impact, historians in the future might record that the “trickle down theory” of the Reagan Administration—a policy of lowering taxes on high incomes and business activity—walloped the planet more than two decades ago and slowly brought about the extinction of the middle class. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan initiated a new era of American economics by axing the top tax bracket on the theory that what’s good for business and the rich is good for the country. Or as Gordon Gekko, the Teldar Paper tycoon in “Wall Street” would put it: “Greed is right. Greed Works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

David Stockman, then Reagan’s budget director and once the essence of the evolutionary spirit (who happened to be indicted Monday on unrelated fraud charges), later termed trickle down economics “a Trojan Horse.” Stockman conceded that “when one stripped away the new rhetoric emphasizing across-the-board cuts, the supply-side theory was really new clothes for the unpopular doctrine of the old Republican orthodoxy.” And former House Speaker Jim Wright, a Democrat, asserted at the time that tax increases fell instead on low and middle-income individuals in the form of “user fees” and “revenue-enhancers.”

Earlier this month, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted in a speech posted on the web that “the American economy went from having the world’s most dynamic middle class to being on the verge of a rich-poor state in only 30 years.” Krugman, reflecting on the widening gap in the U.S. between the rich and poor, and predicting the gap would expand, wrote several years ago in a New York Times Magazine piece, “Even my liberal friends tell me not to worry, that our system has great resilience, that the center will hold. I hope they’re right, but they may be looking in the rearview mirror. Our optimism about America, our belief that in the end our nation always finds its way, comes from a past—a past in which we were a middle-class society. But that was another country.”

Krugman’s friends were wrong. The breach between the rich and poor in New England, for example, has now grown at a faster pace than any region in the country, according to a newly released University of New Hampshire study, presaging similar trends in the Northeast and beyond with the loss of manufacturing jobs and the displacement of these jobs over seas. “The changes,” the report states,” are not simply the ‘rich getting richer,’ rather they reflect the hollowing out of the middle caused by significant changes in the nation’s economy.”

Wrote Krugman almost five years ago, “You might think that 1987, the year Tom Wolfe published his novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities” and Oliver Stone released his movie “Wall Street,” marked the high tide of America’s new money culture, But in 1987 the top 0.01 percent earned only about 40 percent of what they do today, and top executives less than a fifth as much. The America of “Wall Street” and “The Bonfires of the Vanities” was positively egalitarian compared with the country we live in today.”

Corporate profits and executive salaries in 2007 have hit new nosebleed highs, with CEO’s earning the equivalent of the gross national product of some third world nations. The “trickle down” seems to have slowed to a dribble at best; more likely the faucet has been shut off. 

And why not? “Greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind,” as the spruce Gekko preached.

Looks like most of us won’t be making the trip. The middle class—an apparent dinosaur of society with its teachers, assembly line workers, fire fighters, police, nurses and the like—is fast on its way to extinction, and the lower class in slipping deeper into the abyss. This is one deep impact that could and should be avoided. Without a firm backbone, our society is spineless.

The American Dream: Our Worst Nightmare

By Greg O’Brien, Codfish Press 

Got plenty of cash; it’s tied up in debt, the old quip goes. Only the joke today is on us, as the number of mortgage defaults from Cape Cod to Boston to New York and beyond is rising like the air temperature in May, and the dream of homeownership for some is becoming just that. Feeling the squeeze, several large mortgage companies are now reticent to make new loans, and many have tamped down on lending formulas, leaving many mortgage applicants who would have qualified in recent years out on the curb.

Ever try to blow too fast into a balloon? Makes you dizzy! And that’s what is happening to cash-starved homeowners, who bought into balloon payments, adjustable rates and other low interest gimmicks—enticed by banks and other lenders—and now can’t make the payments. As fast-talking huckster Art Fern, in a memorable Johnny Carson skit years ago, used to say: Got bad credit? We don’t care. Got no money? We don’t care. Don’t think you can pay? Then we care!”

Banks and financial institutions are showing a lot of “caring” these days toward over-extended homeowners, who dove head first into the deep end of the financial pool. Too bad no one told them it was empty. 

“Clearly we went too far,” Joseph E. Gyourko, a University of Pennsylvania Wharton School professor of real estate and finance, told The NewYork Times, stating the obvious.

It is evidently clear when you do the math. The average homeowner  carries $8,000-to-$10,000 in credit card debt, which does not include various home equity loans that often exceed the appraised value of the structure and are folded into the mortgage in a refinance when payments are due. Many homeowners are financing college educations in this way.  In an economy and a stock market that rises or falls, in part, on the basis of future value (today’s pork bellies), we’ve created vapor resources, and we have come to depend on them.  It’s a risky cycle. Like the greyhound at the racetrack, you never catch the rabbit!

Perhaps it’s time for some communal soul-searching, a reassessment of how Madison Avenue and the image-makers have defined success for our lives. A little scaling down these days is sound financial planning. Given our collective appetites for cars, vacations, pricy homes and costly schools, and our incapacity to afford them, you simply can’t get there from here, as they say Down East in Maine.


A Jarring Report On JFK's Autopsy

By Greg O’Brien, Providence Journal


In a modest, unassuming home on a Cape Cod country lane, with a front window insulated with weather stripping to conserve heat and a frayed American flag out front waving in the stiff March breeze, sits a man who lives with a history that haunts a nation and the world.  Francis Xavier O’Neill, Jr., a retired FBI agent, one of two agents who oversaw the grisly autopsy of John F. Kennedy forty-four years ago, is surrounded by a lifetime of memorabilia, photographs, medals and official reports worthy of a museum. He is one of the last surviving members of the preliminary criminal investigation team that probed the Kennedy assassination.

Recently released 8mm footage, previously unseen in public, of Kennedy’s fateful motorcade–taken less than 90 seconds before the deadly shots were fired–has further agitated conspiracy theorists and has jolted our collective memories. “The footage is sure to be new fodder for conspiracy buffs who have long maintained Kennedy was the victim of a sinister plot orchestrated by shadowy elements in either the government, the ‘military-industrial complex,’ the Mafia, or communist Cuba,” Reuters reported.


More than four decades after this national trauma, eyewitnesses to the Nov. 22, 1963 assassination and its aftermath are fading like dew under the Texas sun. At 83, Frank O’Neill is still a beacon of enlightenment. While he maintains Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone gunman, O’Neill is critical of some of the initial investigation and autopsy assumptions.


As a 39-year-old agent then assigned to Andrews Air Force Base, O’Neill was personally directed by then FBI director J. Edgar Hoover to meet Air Force One carrying Kennedy’s body back from Dallas, and “to stay with the body of the President, no matter where it was taken, not to let it out of my sight, and to obtain any evidence of the murder that might be in the body…I was to take whatever action that was necessary and deemed appropriate under the circumstances,” O’Neill writes in a manuscript to be published later this year, an autobiography tentatively entitled,  “A Fox Among Wolves.” The Providence Journal has obtained a copy of the manuscript.  


FBI Agent James W. Sibert, now retired, was assigned to assist O’Neill, who had spoken with Kennedy on several occasions. After Air Force One landed at Andrews and slowly taxied up the tarmac, O’Neill, Sibert and others with high-security clearance greeted the plane, and watched solemnly as Kennedy’s casket was carried to a waiting gray Navy ambulance for the trip to Bethesda Naval Hospital where the autopsy was performed. 


Inside the autopsy room, O’Neill and Sibert assisted Secret Service Agents Roy Kellerman and Bill Greer in lifting Kennedy’s naked body from the damaged bronze casket to the autopsy table. Greer had chauffeured the president’s limousine through Dealey Plaza; Kellerman had been in the front seat next to him. Kennedy’s body, O’Neill writes in a chilling, matter-of-fact tone “was wrapped in a sheet, with another bloody sheet wrapped around his head. The body was lying on a plastic-type covering to prevent, one would assume, the inside of the casket from being irrevocably soiled from blood dripping from the body. Kennedy’s hands were clenched, his eyes opened and his mouth in a grimace.”


O’Neill and others in the autopsy room were stunned when they saw Kennedy’s deep head wound above his right ear “almost the circumference of a grapefruit.” Chief pathologist Dr. James J. Humes, a central figure in the Warren Commission investigation, supervised the autopsy; also in the room were attending surgeons and government officials. O’Neill and Sibert stood next to the autopsy table and “were the only two people representing any agency that could be considered a disinterested (neutral) party,” writes the eclectic O’Neill, a former World War II paratrooper, recipient of the Bronze Star, a former New York City police officer, a retired attorney, and former Connecticut state legislator and Justice of the Peace. “The Navy doctors were concerned with the immediate event at hand. The Secret Service was most concerned since their most important assignment lay dead on the table.”


X-Rays, viewed by Humes, O’Neill, Sibert and others, revealed dozens of bone splinters and several bullet fragments. Two of the fragments were retrieved, and later matched to an M-1 rifle linked to Lee Harvey Oswald. “Parts of the brain were still there, but not much,” writes O’Neill. “It would seem that no one could survive such an injury.” Three shots were fired, investigators say—the first sounding like a firecracker that entered the upper right rear of Kennedy’s back. O’Neill in his official report said agent Kellerman, now deceased, told him that Kennedy cried out, “My God, I’ve been hit, get me to a hospital!” The second bullet hit then Gov. John Connally, sitting in a jump seat behind Kellerman. The third was the fatal wound to Kennedy. O’Neill said last week in an interview that Kellerman insisted, when pressed how he knew it was Kennedy’s voice, “I was with the man for three years, and know his voice like I know my own. And he was the only man in the back seat of the car that day who spoke with a Boston accent.”


While conspiracy theorists will debate the assassination for generations, O’Neill’s observations are jarring and soul-searching.


“Looking back on the day’s events, I kept thinking of Kellerman and Greer,” he writes. “They both had the President’s blood and brain tissue on their cloths, and it was very evident that they were physically shaken, although still under control….Roy (Kellerman) had been the agent who had directed the security of the President on the Texas trip. That night at Bethesda he told me he cautioned Kennedy that morning not to be so open with the crowds for security reasons. Kennedy told him that if someone wanted to kill him all they would have to do was use a scope rifle from a high building. Roy had tears in his eyes when he told me.”


(Greg O’Brien is a freelance writer and editor living on Cape Cod, and is editing Francis X. O’Neill Jr.’s manuscript on the Kennedy autopsy and O’Neill’s life in the FBI and other branches of government service.)



Tale of Two Murrays: Lt. Gov. Tim Murray?In Tune With Playing Second Fiddle

(With Gov. Duval Patrick’s recent announcement that his wife, Diane, was suffering from exhaustion and depression, and that he was temporarily cutting back on his schedule to spend time with her, newly elected Lt. Gov. Tim Murray stepped more directly into the Beacon Hill spotlight, picking up on some of the governor’s duties. As former mayor of Worcester, the Commonwealth’s Second City, Murray labored in relative media obscurity beyond the Route 128 loop. The Boston Irish Reporter profile below, published last month, offers a detailed overview of Murray, his politics and family background.

In a tale of two Murray’s, Codfish Press blog provides an intimate look at Sen. Therese Murray of Plymouth, whose district includes Bourne, Falmouth, Sandwich and parts of Barnstable. Murray is the odds on favorite to replace Robert Travaglini as Massachusetts Senate President. Travaglini is expected to leave his post for a job with the Massachusetts Council of Community Hospitals.

(The two Murrays represent yet another changing of the guard in Beacon Hill politics.)

By Greg O’Brien, Boston Irish Reporter

 It was weeks after Christmas, and Timothy P. Murray was still opening packages. The best presents under the tree last year were his stocking stuffer Democratic primary victory with 43 percent of the vote, his election in November as the 73rd lieutenant governor of Massachusetts and his anticipated role as a key advisor, city-state liaison, and strategist on commuter rail issues in the Duval Patrick Administration. As Murray sits in his corner office in the Governor’s Suite on this late afternoon in early January, he is consumed with his new responsibilities and sorting through some of the filtrate and transition of serving three terms as mayor of Worcester, a post he left two days ago.

With boxes still unpacked, files that need to be sorted, and his mind alert in expectation, Murray is a study of second place finishes. And that’s a good thing, if you ask this 38-years-old, third generation Irish American, who looks more like an acolyte than one of the state’s most influential leaders in a region where politics is the coin of this parochial realm. There is no little man complex about him—having presided in the last five years over more than $1 billion of new economic development in Worcester and shoring up amidst draconian budget cuts the city’s declining schools, which are now ranked among the top urban school systems in the nation. No, there is nothing bashful about being mayor of the “second city,” the second largest municipality in the Commonwealth, Boston’s stepsister. “That’s just the facts,” he says. And now that he’s lieutenant governor, playing second fiddle to Gov. Patrick, Murray is as comfortable with it as Derek Jeter is batting second. It’s déjà vu all over again, as Yogi might say, although the cerebral Murray would prefer to quote Harry S. Truman: “The only thing new in the world is the history you don’t know.”

There is not much Murray, a Worcester native, doesn’t know about meeting tight budgets, making tough decisions and inspiring a vision. “My mission,” he says, “was to transform a blue collar city to a white collar economy with a blue collar work ethic.” Mission accomplished, in part, his supporters would assert. As mayor, a member of the Worcester City Council and chairman of the Worcester School Committee, a job he performed in his mayoral duties, Murray, among other accomplishments: built community-school partnerships to lower dropout rates; helped create school-based health initiatives; expanded after-school programs to support working families; was the inspiration for the ground-breaking City Square Project—a public-private venture for a $575 million mixed-use redevelopment of the failing Worcester Common Outlets Mall (former Worcester Galleria) in the downtown area; established a close working partnership with the city, local businesses, and Worcester’s colleges and universities to generate job opportunities; and worked diligently to revitalize other sections of this historic industrial city, which in some ways is more representative of Massachusetts than Boston itself.

“If you don’t know a lot about Worcester, then you probably don’t know a lot about Fall River, New Bedford, Lawrence, Lowell and God forbid, Springfield, Pittsfield and Holyoke,” Murray says, noting that he plans to be a strong spokesman on Beacon Hill for these cities. “If we are going to turn this state around, and finally head in the right direction to stem population and job loss, then we have to recognize that there is a whole world beyond the Route 128 loop, and that state government needs to listen to it, respond to it and invest in it!”

To buttress this point, there’s a framed cartoon in Murray’s office that the librarian of the Worcester Public Library gave him after his election. It reads, “In an unconfirmed report, human life is believed to exist beyond Route 128. Details at 11! News 13 Boston.”

Murray is such a lunch pail homey, in fact, that Gov. Patrick recently teased him about all the Worcester paintings and memorabilia on the pale yellow walls. “You’re not the mayor of Worcester anymore; you have to get some more paintings of Boston.”

The independent-minded Murray still isn’t biting. A Boston-related painting on the wall that is scheduled to go is a large oil portrait of Boston Brahmin Leverett A. Saltonstall, governor of Massachusetts from 1939-45 and U.S. Senator from 1945-67. “I’m moving him out,” declares Murray. “I’m replacing him with Levi Lincoln.”

For those who live east of the Route 128 loop, and don’t know better, Levi Lincoln, Jr. was mayor of Worceser, served nine years as Massachusetts’s governor, seven years in Congress, and was a distant relative of Abraham Lincoln. He died in 1868. His father, Levi Lincoln, Sr., also served on Congress and briefly as governor, and his brother Enoch was governor of Maine, serving simultaneously with his sibling. The only other such examples in history are Nelson and Winthrop Rockefeller, who served as governors of New York and Arkansas respectively in the 1960s and George and Jeb Bush from 1999 to 2000, serving in Texas and Florida.

So much for the second city shtick. All politics is local.

And so Murray plans to commute most days from Worcester where he lives in a working class neighborhood with his wife, Tammy, an occupational therapist, and their cherubic two-year-old adopted Guatemalan daughter, Helen. He hopes to bring home the bacon to the western part of the state more than predecessors former Gov. Mitt Romney and former Lt. Governor Kerry Healey, a striking contrast to Murray with her more affluent style.

“There was much frustration in municipal corners of the state in dealing with the Romney Administration,” he says, seated at an uncluttered conference table that in weeks will be spilling over with reports and various documents. “There was an unwillingness to communicate with the mayors, a sense that we worked for the governor.” When budget cuts caused layoffs and closed schools, he says, “Romney wouldn’t meet with us. Healey made an effort, but she didn’t have the ability to deliver. It was meaningless. They cut our aide, and gave us no opportunity to mitigate the cuts. I was an advocate of local option taxes to kept schools open and people at work. But we had no alternatives.”

One alternative, Murray concluded, was to run for lieutenant governor, with the support of other mayors. “I think this new administration can do far better.”

The Patrick Administration, however, will have its hands full juggling a numbing state budget deficit. Murray, a practicing attorney until his election, is clearly impressed with Gov. Patrick’s intellect, drive and ability to communicate and lead in the budget process. He says he meets or speaks with him several times a day on policy and budget-related issues, and is thankful that Patrick has offered him “meaningful participation and a voice.”

To some extent, the Patrick Administration will have a safer passage in the roiling political waters of the Democratic controlled state Legislature. “But there will be some dust-ups,” Murray predicts. “But as long as there is mutual respect and commitment to doing what is best for the Commonwealth, we’ll get some things done.

“I think showing up for work in the real sense is a good start, and recognizing the many strengths this state possesses: working capital, medical delivery systems, state-of-the-art health care, biotech, and smart manufacturing,” he adds. “We need to better understand our assets statewide, celebrate them and build on them, rather than making some of them the butt of jokes. We need to set the right tone, and it needs to be set now.”

The tenor Murray’s working parents set for him and his three brothers and sister in the family home just down the street from where he lives today was one of respect, dedication and hard work. His father, Tom, now retired, taught history and psychology at Millbury High School and then ran the guidance department at the school. His mother, Catherine (Cathy), is a registered nurse and still works nights at a drug and rehabilitation hospital in Worcester. His younger brothers, Tom, Jr. and Sean, are in law practice together; his other brother Kevin, works in Worcester for the State Lottery, and his sister, Erin (McMahon), is a public school teacher.

Both Murray’s parents have close ties to Ireland. On his father’s side, his grandfather, Dan’s clan immigrated to Worcester in the 1800s to work on the Blackstone Canal linking Worcester with Providence, came from County Cork. Grandfather Dan was labor leader—as a steelworker, head of the Worcester-Framingham Labor Council and vice president of the state AFL-CIO where he dabbled in politics, the only family member with any experience in elective politics. Murray’s grandmother on his father’s side, Brigit “Bridie” O’Connor, came from County Clare, and was a domestic.

His grandparents, on his mother’s side, Mary (Sullivan) and Edward Williams, came from Killarney and met in Worcester in the 1930s at an Ancient Order of Hibernians dance. His maternal grandmother was a domestic, as well, and his grandfather was a steelworker.

“I suppose you can’t get more basic than that,” says Murray, noting his family’s grounding in a solid work ethic that has been passed down like a family Bible. At the dinner table growing up, he recalls, politics was often discussed, mostly as it applied to government’s function to assist where appropriate. “My parents were moderate,” he says, “but they always taught us to understand there is a social and economic role of government. I never forgot that.”

After graduating from St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury where his father had attended school, Murray enrolled at Fordham University, majoring in American studies and cutting his teeth on politics working part-time during school and in summers for then Bronx Borough President Fernando “Freddy” Ferrer, who later ran twice for New York City mayor and lost to Michael Bloomberg. During Murray’s 2 1/2 year tenure with the borough president, he was assigned to work as Ferrer’s representative with the police, fire and sanitation departments, and to work with the housing and planning departments, as well as special projects and advance work. “It reinforced my interest in government and what government can do,” he says, noting the diversity of the Bronx. “It was a rich experience.”

After graduating from Fordham, Murray worked his way through law school at Western New England School of Law in Springfield, attending classes at night and working days as a substitute teacher in Worcester and as an advocate for homeless families in Framingham—another long commute. After earning his law degree, Murray became a partner in the Worcester law firm of Tattan and Leonard and Murray where he practiced general law and civil litigation. He practiced up until eight days before being sworn in as lieutenant governor.

Taking no bows, Murray is quick to cite the love and resolve of his family for his swift rise to the top. “Family keeps you rooted,” he says, stressing his wife’s continuous support and understanding. “Although there were some nights I got the fast ball by the chin by not being around much,” he admits of the long campaign. “But my wife works in the public schools, and understands the negative impacts of budget cuts and the consequences it has on kids. She believes in my devotion to government, she understands the mission.”

As the sun sets on the first week of his incumbency in the corner office, Murray paces his office absorbing the mission, then stares out his third floor window at the State House, down to a statute of John F. Kennedy below. “You got to be a good listener in this job,” he says. “You can’t have all the answers, but when you speak you must be articulate and forceful when necessary. And you can’t be afraid to push the bureaucracy. There’s an inclination in government to procrastinate, to put if off for another day.” 

No likelihood of that in the Lieutenant Governor’s Office. Not on Murray’s watch. There are no second chances for the kid from the Second City.


 (Greg O’Brien is editor and president of Stony Brook Group, a publishing and political/strategy company based in Brewster. The author/editor of several books, he is a regular contributor to regional newspapers and magazines, a political columnist for Boston Metro newspaper and a contributor to New York Metro, Philadelphia Metro and the Op-Ed pages of The Providence Journal. He is currently at work on a book on crisis communications, and contributes regularly to his two blogs: Boston Cod and Codfish Press.)