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Archive for June, 2011

It’s a truism in journalism that the most interesting stories don’t always end up on Page 1.

Take, for example, a story on page A23 of the Sunday New York Times. An irresistible story, accompanied by two captivating photos, was ensconced five pages from the back of the section.

Titled “A Gangster’s Gal Was Loyal to the End Of Life on the Lam,” it was about Catherine Greig, the 60-year-old girlfriend of notorious Boston gangster James (Whitey) Bulger, who was arrested along with Greig outside their Santa Monica, Calif., apartment last week.

Bulger, 81, and Greig had been on the run for 16 years, having left Boston after an FBI agent with whom Bulger had been cooperating tipped Bulger off to the fact that he was about to be arrested.

The FBI finally got Bulger, who is charged with 19 murders, among other crimes, following a tip that came in after the FBI ran TV ads in several large markets, asking people to be on the lookout for Greig.

Catherine Greig, in happier times, before she went on the lam with James (Whitey) Bulger

From photos, it appears that Greig was a good-looking woman at one time, with platinum hair and pleasing features. She was proud of her appearance, too.

“She had her teeth cleaned once a month and frequented hair salons, even on the run,” wrote Katharine Q. Seely, one of The Times’ top-tier reporters. “…She also underwent numerous plastic surgeries, including breast implants, a nose job and a face lift, according to the FBI.”

She and Bulger, who were going by the names of Carol and Charlie Gasko in California, paid for everything in cash; more than $800,000 in cash was found in their apartment.

Seelye described Greig as “a supporting character in the long-running Bulger crime drama, overshadowed by her larger-than-life companion and always dutifully subordinate.”

Indicative of the twisted roots to their relationship, Bulger was carrying on with Greig back in Boston while he was living with another woman, named Theresa Stanley. Furthermore, Greig had previously been married to a Boston firefighter who had two brothers who were members of a rival gang to Bulger’s. Bulger or his henchmen killed both men.

As Seelye put it, “It was a sign, perhaps, that if she could overlook his (Bulger’s) possible involvement in the deaths of her two brothers-in-law, she could overlook a lot more.”

Makes you gulp, doesn’t it?

When the tipping point came in 1995 — after the FBI agent informed Bulger he was about to be arrested — he unceremoniously dumped Theresa Stanley, dropping her off in a parking lot and saying, “I’ll call you.”

Well, as Van Morrison says in his great song “Domino,” “If you don’t hear from me, that just means I didn’t call.” And that was the end of that.

Bulger then picked up Greig “and they disappeared into rural America,” Seelye wrote, leaving behind Grieg’s beloved poodles, whom she had pampered and  kept well groomed.

All along, Bulger had Greig firmly under his thumb, and for some reason — money? fear? perverted loyalty? — she put up with it.

Bulger and Greig, before they were arrested last week in Santa Monica

A man who knew the couple in Louisiana, where they stayed for a while, told The Boston Globe that Bulger believed that “women should be seen and not heard.”

“He (the man who knew them) added that Mr. Bulger had boasted that all he had to do was clap his hands and Ms. Greig would jump,” Seelye wrote.

When they were arrested last week, Greig’s hair had gone white…but still well coiffed.

Greig is now charged with harboring a fugitive and faces five years in prison. With Bulger undoubtedly headed to prison for good, the most interesting tentacle of this story to follow after the trials and sentencings will be this:

Who Greig team up with next?

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The leader of  “Team Gray” got a touching and powerful send-off yesterday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church.

Several hundred people packed the church (standing room only) at 118th and Holmes to pay their last respects to Kevin Gray, 51-year-old president of the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission, who died of cancer last week.

Part of the crowd that attended Kevin Gray's funeral

Besides the huge crowd, a testament to Gray’s influence and popularity was the presence on the altar of six priests, led by St. Thomas More pastor Rev. Don Farnan, who was a good friend of Gray.

It’s not often that you see the chief celebrant at a funeral choke up and have his voice crack, but it happened yesterday. The first time it happened, Farnan had to stop speaking for several seconds, which triggered a flood of tears from the people in the pews.

Just four weeks ago, Farnan, one of the most popular priests in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese, presided at the funeral of another well-known Kansas Citian, former City Councilman Bob Lewellen.

Lewellen was a close friend and mentor of Gray’s, and in the last week of Lewellen’s life, he and Gray rode around town looking at some of their favorite spots — some of them sports related — and sharing memories.

But back to yesterday…

The service had just the right combination of eulogies, prayerful supplications and great music, including the responsorial psalm “Shepherd Me, Oh God” and the David Haas classic “You Are Mine.”

The eulogists — Farnan, widow Katy Gray and long-time friend John Mulvihill — painted a portrait of a man who could juggle dozens of balls, who was never content to rest on past achievements and who, all the while, found ample time for family and friends.

Katy Gray, receiving condolences from a well-wisher after her husband's funeral

Katy, Kevin’s wife of 23 years, delivered an uplifting eulogy, surrounded by family members who seemed to comprise a convoy of courage.

“The outpouring of love for Kevin has been overwhelming,” Katy said. “As I look out at you today, I’m proud to say that each of you are a part of  Team Gray.” (That’s the handle that Gray gave his family, which includes four surviving daughters.)

In a light moment, Katy noted that Kevin had always said, “Everything is always black and white with you.”

“Funny,” Katy added, “that I ended up with the name Gray.”

Mulvihill, a classmate of Gray’s at Rockhurst High School, said:

“He was upbeat, honest and fun…He was the most successful politician never elected to office..The man was all about faith, family and community.”

Mulvihill went on to say that while Gray was “a man in a hurry,” he also was “a realistic guy who knew some things were going to get complicated.”

Gray’s approach to difficult and complicated challenges, Mulvihill said, was unfailingly pragmatic.

“He would say, ‘Figure it out,’ ” Mulvihill said. ‘Figure it out.’ ”

Kevin M. Gray, 1959 to 2011

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In the last four days, the picture has grown dimmer for Bishop Robert Finn, and the evidence of wrongdoing at the highest levels of local Catholic hierarchy has grown stronger.

And all because of two articles in The Kansas City Star.

The first was a thoroughly researched and beautifully written profile of the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, who stands charged with three felony counts of possessing child pornography. It ran on Page 1 on Saturday.

The second was an “As I See It, ” Op-Ed piece by Pat O’Neill a respected marketing consultant in Kansas City. It ran on Page A-11 on Monday. O’Neill, a practicing Catholic, called for the resignations of Finn and Vicar General Robert Murphy, and he challenged prosecutors to bring charges against the two.

The profile and the opinion piece served as a one-two punch that took a lot of  steam out Bishop Finn’s time-killing initiative two weeks ago, when he appointed former U.S. Attorney Todd Graves to investigate the diocese’s handling of sex-crimes cases, including the Ratigan case.

Morris

Rice

First, let’s look at the profile, which bore the by-lines of federal courts reporter Mark Morris and Northland reporter Glenn E. Rice. Rice has been on the Ratigan-Finn story from the start; this story represented Morris’ first work on the story.

Two of the main points that Morris and Rice established were, first, that Ratigan is — like Finn — a crusading, pro-life cleric, and, second, that Ratigan and Finn have spent time together.

The fact that they have more than a passing relationship could well indicate that after lewd photos of young girls were found in Ratigan’s laptop computer, Finn was loath to turn in a priest whom he knew quite well and who shared his pro-life stance. That’s been my conviction ever since Mike Rice, a former KC Star reporter, wrote a comment on this blog May 20, saying that he knew of people who had stopped attending Mass at Ratigan’s Northland parish because of his conservative ideology.

Regarding the Finn-Ratigan relationship, Morris and Rice dug up records revealing that in January 2007, Finn joined Ratigan and 40 high school students from St. Joseph for a bus ride to Washington, D.C., for the annual March for Life rally.

One of the most fascinating glimpses of Ratigan’s pro-life zeal was that he had his Harley-Davidson motorcycle decorated with themes that celebrated life.

“The gas tank bore the image of an angel bringing a baby down from heaven,” the story said, “while another spot carried a cross emblazoned with a ribbon reading, ‘Pro-Bikers for Life.’ ”

The entire story is a great read, but it contains, in particular, two killer paragraphs.

One is about Ratigan’s propensity to gamble. (He played the Missouri Lottery, for example.)

“In December 2010,” the story said, “whether he realized it or not, Ratigan placed one of the lowest percentage bets of his life when he handed his laptop computer to a repair person. Would the technician notice the allegedly lewd photos of girls under the age of 12? And if so, would he mention the photos to anyone?”

Wisely, the reporters let the questions hang in the air because everyone knows the answers.

The second memorable paragraph spelled out what happened after church officials seized Ratigan’s computer.

“The next day, Ratigan, the son of a man who suffered from profound depression, retreated to his garage, fired up the pro-life Harley and waited for death.”

We all know how that episode came out, too.

***

O’Neill’s column carries a tremendous wallop in no small measure because he is well known in Catholic circles and even served for a time as communications consultant to the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

O'Neill

In his piece, O’Neill showed that he, too, can turn a phrase. Consider this:

“When Bishop Finn arrived here in 2005, he was one of a new wave of American bishops charged with turning the tide of public opinion away from the abuse scandals and back to core conservative Catholic values and respect for the church and its priestly vocations. Instead, Bishop Finn is up to his collar in a flood of renewed scrutiny and anger.”

O’Neill went on to point out that despite hundreds of reports of priest sexual abuse over the last two decades, “only a handful of pedophile priests and no complicit church supervisors have been subjected to civil punishment, i.e., jail time.”

The column concluded with a flourish:

“The time has come for us to harness our collective anger and embarrassment and use that energy to change the way our church and our dioceses operate, once and for all.

“After all these years, it is starkly obvious to me that there will be no change for the better in the Kansas City diocese until men like Bishop Robert Finn and his Vicar General Robert Murphy are forced to resign, and criminals in collars are subject to secular trial and incarceration.”

In the p.r. battle that is being waged between Bishop Finn and his supporters on one hand and his critics on the other, the advantage has once again shifted to the critics, partly because of a great news story and a damn good p.r. man.

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Three short items today…

The Kansas City Star and writer Judy Thomas, in particular, wrung their hands today about the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ failure to significantly change their head-in-sand policies on child sex abuse.

Meeting in Bellevue, Wash., Thursday, the American bishops voted 187-5 to essentially stick with the policy that they adopted in 2002.

“We are dismayed that the new policy is almost identical to the current policy, despite horrifying recent evidence in Kansas City and Philadelphia that the church’s current policies are dangerously lenient and full of loopholes,” Terence McKiernan, president of BishopAccountability.org, was quoted as saying.

It was the lead story in the paper and ran under a one-inch headline that said “Bishops Resist Changes.”

All who are surprised please raise your hands.

Anyone who has any idea of how the Catholic Church operates — and that’s the vast majority of people — knows that the church’s turnaround time on major issues is usually a century or two, not a month or so.

The bishops’ assembly was probably set two years ago, and their position on the sex abuse policy was probably determined months ago.

Rigali -- another pomp and circumstance bishop

The Philadelphia scandal — where Bishop Justin Rigali allowed 37 accused priests to continue working around children in Catholic parishes — took place earlier this year.

I predict it’s going to take decades for the church to come around to the idea that the correct action in priest-accusation cases is to call the police immediately — not mull it over, meet with and warn the priests and try to persuade them to get on the right path.

The Star’s headline and story smacked of hyperventilation.

Maybe it was just a vehicle to run a big photo of the Rev. Shawn F. Ratigan, the local priest who got his kicks by taking “up-skirt” photos of elementary-school girls.

Ratigan, who is in jail, was photographed in Clay County Circuit Court, where he made a brief appearance Thursday. Nothing happened in his case Thursday; the fact that he appeared was, correctly, worth only a paragraph in today’s story.

The story probably deserved front-page play, but certainly not top of the page with a four-column photo.

***

Here’s a funny correction from Wednesday’s New York Times…

Leona and Trouble

“An article on Friday about the death of Leona Helmsley’s dog, Trouble, misstated the reason that Trouble’s inheritance from Ms. Helmsley’s estate was reduced to $2 million from $12 million, the amount specified in the will. A judge determined that the greater amount exceeded that necessary to care for the dog, not that Ms. Helmsley was of unsound mind when she made the will.”

I guess the issue of the late Ms. Helmsley’s state of mind is still up in the air, eh?

***

Then, the Thursday Times carried an item that is one of the most dreaded events in newsrooms: the correction to a correction.

“A correction in this space on Tuesday misstated the size of the (Irish Fianna Fail) party’s Dublin delegation…there were 18 members, not 47.”

Ouch.

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Two of my blogging compatriots, Hearne Christopher (kcconfidential.com) and Tony Botello (tonyskc.com) seem to be obsessed with what they refer to as “hotties.”

Their idea of hotties is young women with eye-catching qualities of one sort or another — sometimes beauty but more often physical endowments, such as curves or protuberances — that rivet the eye.

For example, on Tuesday, when The Star announced the hiring of Mi-Ai Parrish, a 40-year-old publisher in the McClatchy system, Hearne breathlessly gushed in the second paragraph of his story, “Blessed mother of god, they hired a hottie!”

Tony also weighed in with a “hottie” headline, and, on those two sites, at least, her appearance and youth took precedence over her credentials. (For a closer look at Parrish and her credentials, see my last post.)

Now, I’m completely in agreement with Hearne and Tony that beautiful young (and youngish) women are appealing to the eye, but my idea of a hottie is a bit more expansive than theirs. Probably, it’s because I’m 65 and look at women through a slightly different (more mature?) lens than those two “young” guys.

(For the record, Hearne will only admit to being “north of 50,” and I would guess that Tony is in his 30s.)

Anyway, as I have aged, I have come to appreciate the beauty of “older” women, which brings me to this…Christine Lagarde, the 55-year-old French finance minister and leading candidate for International Monetary Fund director, is one of the most striking women I have ever seen…At least from photos, that is, and I’ve seen a lot of photos of her.

As a teenager, Lagarde was a member of the French national synchronised swimming team. Wikipedia says that she is divorced and the mother of two adult sons. Since 2006, Wikipedia says, her partner has been an entrepreneur from Marseille named Xavier Giocanti.

She is a vegetarian and teetotaler, and her hobbies are yoga, scuba diving, swimming and gardening.

Take a look for yourself…

With Xavier

***

Here is a picture of Kansas Citian Susan Stanton, who is referenced in the comments below

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Talk about continuing the youth movement at The Kansas City Star.

Wow.

The woman who will become the new publisher later this month is 40.

She succeeds Mark Zieman, who was 47 when he was named publisher three years ago.

And…Mike Fannin, the editor, is only 44.

Parrish

The new publisher of the McClatchy-owned paper is Mi-Ai, Parrish, who has been publisher of the company-owned Idaho Statesman since July 2006.

Parrish, whose first name is pronounced MEE-uh, had been deputy managing editor for features and visuals at the Minneapolis Star Tribune before being tapped for the Idaho post.

I sure hope that Parrish works out, and I wish her the very best. But putting a 40-year-old person with five years of publishing experience — especially small-market experience — looks like a rather big roll of the dice to me.

On the plus side, reporter Mark Davis reports in a story on The Star’s website that Parrish led the Statesman’s effort to “transform and diversify business operations, introduce new print and digital products, grow digital traffic and revenue while improving the core newspaper and enhancing its reputation for quality journalism.”

This year, for example, the Statesman rolled out a new product called Business Insider, a weekly business-to-business magazine. And in 2008, the Statesman was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist in the breaking news category for its coverage of events triggered by the men’s room arrest of former Idaho Sen. Larry Craig in Minneapolis.

But look at some statistics.

The Star has an average Monday-Friday circulation of 210,000 and a Sunday circulation of about 300,000. By comparison, the Statesman, in Boise, has an average weekday circulation of about 50,000 and Sunday circulation of about 73,000. (Sunday circulation has been up slightly the last two years, while daily circulation has declined each of the last four years.)

So, The Star is about four times larger than the Statesman. That’s quite a jump.

Parrish also will be tested right off the bat with her choices for top managers. Among other things, she’ll have to decide whether to keep vice presidents such as Editor Mike Fannin and advertising executive Tim Doty in place.

On the digital side, her youth should work to her advantage because that appears to be where the future lies for newspapers. But her youth could work against her on the personnel side, unless she gets some very good advisers.

On that front, my recommendation would be that, in the newsroom, she turn to long-time managing editor Steve Shirk, a tried and true leader at The Star for more than 35 years.

Steve’s an old guy — about 60. He’s got the wisdom and the temperament to help a new publisher make a safe jump from a small pond into the churning waters of the Lake of the Ozarks.

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The lemmings are on the loose.

I was wondering how long it would take for the knee-jerk defenders of the Catholic hierarchy to rise in defense of Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.

At first — after the shocking news of the diocese’s five-month-or-more cover-up of Father Shawn Ratigan’s child-porn propensities — the lemmings were quiet, for the most part. They were so taken aback at the gravity of the diocese’s action (or inaction) that they really didn’t know what to say or how to respond.

But now, after several weeks of the diocese coming under heavy bombardment from every direction, they’ve circled the wagons and launched a counterattack:

Call it the “good and holy man” defense.

Here are three examples:

Daniel G. Obermeier of Olathe, in a June 10 letter to the editor of The Star:

“Bishop Robert Finn made one mistake…Bishop Finn has lived and taught the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith. For this he should definitely not resign.”

Mark S. Robertson of Independence, in a June 11 letter to the editor:

“I have met Bishop Finn, but don’t know him personally It is quite obvious, though, that he is a good and holy man, and I think he has been a great bishop. He has launched many strong Catholic initiatives, and there are now over 25 seminarians, according to the Catholic Key 2011 diocesan directory.”

Kelly Roper of Platte City, in a June 12 letter to the editor:

“Bishop Finn is a true example of Christ in accepting the cross now being presented to him. He continues to talk to groups of people who are hurting, enduring persecution with the hope of correcting wrongs and bringing healing to his flock.”

As you know, Finn unleashed his own counter punch last Thursday, when he appointed former U.S. attorney Todd Graves to investigate the diocese’s handling of sex-crimes cases, including that of Ratigan, who is in the Clay County Jail on three felony counts of possessing child pornography.

“These are initial steps,” Finn said, regarding the appointment of Graves. “Other actions are forthcoming.”

So, Finn has decided to fight back, and unlike the sexting case of Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York, there’s no Nancy Pelosi or other higher-up to say to him:

“Robert, you’re embarrassing us. It’s time to get out from under the harsh spotlight.”

Finn may be a good and holy man, but he’s also shown his true stripes. He has done that by working, from Day One, to establish a set of priorities that puts the church hierarchy and Pope John Paul II’s vision of a very conservative church at the top of the list, with the laity — especially the welfare of children — at the bottom.

Bishops everywhere are trying to stack the deck with conservative priests, and I have heard enough to convince me that Ratigan is of that ilk. The conservative priests are going to get more rope than the liberals, it’s as simple as that.

If you look at this episode, then, within the context of the overall direction of the Catholic Church — and not as “one mistake” — it’s clear that it’s the product of a wayward philosophy, a philosophy that starts at the top.

I remember when my wife Patty and I had decided to join a Disciples of Christ Church in Olathe, and we were talking to the senior pastor, Rev. Holly McKissick, about our decision to leave the Catholic Church.

Something that Holly said that day stuck with me because it went right to the heart of our concerns.

“The Catholic Church has made a lot of good contributions over the centuries,” she said, “but there’s something wrong when one person at the top has all the answers and nobody else has any.”

The Catholic Church is strictly a vertical operation. Finn and the 5,000 other bishops are accountable to no one except the Pope. And Pope Benedict XVI, I feel sure, believes that Finn and almost every other conservative bishop is doing a fine job.

To me, the people who are putting up “the good and holy man” defense are, for the most part, moving in lockstep with church philosophy. To them, I think, the children who are victims of priestly perversion are collateral damage as the church plows ahead into the iceberg of conservatism.

I know that that’s a harsh opinion, but I just don’t see any other explanation for what happened in the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese. It’s a scandal, not “a mistake.”

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