“Black Mass” does a decent job of portraying the rise and fall of Boston crime boss James “Whitey” Bulger and how he wound up as an FBI informant, but there’s far more to the story. Director Joe Berlinger’s 2014 documentary “Whitey: United States of America vs. James J. Bulger” — available online at Amazon and Netflix — raises a troubling and unresolved question: What if Bulger wasn’t an informant? As one attorney suggests, “our federal government is more corrupt than anyone ever imagined.”
Berlinger focuses on the ongoing trials involving Bulger and his insistence that he wasn’t a snitch, he was in fact paying off the cops and FBI for protection. Bulger may just be trying to preserve his street rep, but evidence confirms that far more people in law enforcement — beyond supposed lone-wolf FBI agent John Connolly — were actively suppressing leads that led to Bulger. Also strange is how many of the “tips” contained in Bulger’s file are vague and can be traced, almost word for word, to info provided by other snitches.
Hollywood movies tend to glorify the bad guy, but in “Whitey” we hear from a terrified liquor store owner whose kids were threatened during a Bulger shakedown, and the still-bitter brother of a young woman who was “disappeared” by Bulger. The victims’ families seem convinced the government allowed Bulger to kill with impunity for years.
The only reason we know about all this is due to good investigative reporting — it turns out Bulger also had plans to whack a journalist. U.S. institutions may be more corrupt than we would like to believe.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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