OMG: Whitey’s ‘solitary act’

The Boston Globe breaks a story that is fascinating on multiple levels about gangster James (Whitey) Bulger breaking a rule at his prison in Florida and being sent to solitary confinement for 30 days.

Bulger, who is serving a life sentence for participating in 11 murders, was shipped off to solitary last June for masturbating in his cell with the lights on. Prison officials say sexual activity of any kind is prohibited. As one official put it, sexual activity, even when alone, “interferes with the orderly running of the institution.”

Like any self-respecting gangster, Bulger appealed his punishment, saying he was “set up” by a corrections officer. He told a hearing officer he was just applying a medicated powder to his genitals to deal with a yeast infection. At 85, he said, his sex life is over. As for why the lights were on, Bulger told officials he always sleeps with the lights on because of the lingering effects of an LSD experiment he participated in in the 1950s.

Finally, the story was fascinating for the way the Globe squeamishly wrote about it. The newspaper couldn’t bring itself to use the word masturbate. The Globe’s front-page headline said “Bulger put in solitary for a solitary act.” The story, written by Shelley Murphy, referred to the gangster as getting into trouble of a sort “not easily discussed.” Murphy subsequently reported that Bulger was accused of — “there’s no polite way to say this — sexually gratifying himself.”

Several other news outlets that picked up on the Globe story had no problem using the word masturbate. Some even used masturbate in the headline. But locally most news outlets took the puritanical route, using euphemisms for masturbation. The Metro’s headline said “Bulger got solitary for allegedly pleasing himself in jail cell.” Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr trotted out one euphemism after another, suggesting at one point that Bulger was “like a kid back in the old days caught in his bedroom with a flashlight and a copy of a National Geographic featuring a big spread on the native girls of New Guinea.”




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