I got a good break in 1962. I worked for a suburban Philadelphia newspaper and had covered the PGA golf tournament at Aronimink Golf Club outside of Philly. My soon-to-be wife was a stewardess for United Airlines, and I sent her the clips, which she chanced to show to a fellow she met on a flight, who chanced to be the sports editor of the Akron Beacon Journal, who promptly invited me out to audition for a job at his paper. I covered the American Golf Classic at Firestone Country Club. I apparently passed muster and was offered a job for 50 percent more than I was making in Pennsylvania. I accepted until I got home and my paper not only matched the money but also gave me another offer no young newspaper guy could refuse—my own daily column.
Shortly after I began the column, another reporter at the paper, Don Murdaugh, who spent his last years as a deskman at the Sun-Sentinel, dropped a paper on my coffee-stained desk and said, “This is how it’s done.” The paper was the New York Herald Tribune, of which I was only vaguely aware, and he wanted me to read Jimmy Breslin. From that day, until the day Jimmy Breslin passed away, which was Sunday—the feast of St. Joseph—I have appreciated Don Murdaugh’s advice.
Breslin used to joke that after he became famous—just about the time Don Murdaugh discovered him for me—papers around the country hired columnists with Irish names to imitate his style. It was hard not to, like a high school sophomore first discovering Ernest Hemingway or J.D. Salinger, but I tried not to slavishly mimic his words. What I did do, with mild success, was take advice I did not hear from his lips until years later. Breslin took justified pride in inventing the “news column” in which the writer follows the day’s big story, and takes a fiction writer’s liberties, including personal opinion, in bringing it to the gut of the reader.
“What you do is follow the news, interview real people, and you use real quotes,” he told me around 1987. “It begins with shoe leather. You can’t miss. Nobody does it.”
Breslin did it several times a week, and many of his pieces that were written on deadline could win prizes as short stories. They were complete with symbols and original phrases. He described the Asian invasion of New York: “Korean Airlines is flying in with planes so crowded people are sitting everywhere but on the wings.” On the Kennedys: “No drawing room pallor these Irish, truck driver red in their faces.”
He was funny, and half his words in private were not fit for a family newspaper, although he always cleaned up his language in his many TV appearances. He never tried to change his rich, vulgar everyman style. In fact, he cultivated it, although he sprinkled his conversation with words like “canard," which not too many bar characters use on a regular basis.
His range was immense. Covering the Vietnam War in the mid-60s, one day he would make your eyes glisten with descriptions of the body bags lined up at an airport for shipment home, and the next he’d describe 16 jockeys all trying to throw a race by turning their horses around in the home stretch. I can't find the exact quote, but he wrote that of all the qualities the Vietnamese have shown during their long ordeal, perhaps the most salient and least recognized was that they were “the greatest thieves who ever lived” and “the wust fightin’ in the Tet Offensive was around the Saigon race track—the Viet Cong were all disgruntled bettas.”
I got to know him a bit after a story that began with Gold Coast magazine wound up as one of Breslin’s biggest scores. In the mid-70s I wrote about a con man named Michael Raymond who was suspected in the disappearances of three people in South Florida. One of them was Adelaide Stiles, a newspaperwoman who had been romanced by Raymond. She was a friend of our associate editor, Margaret Walker. Gaeton Fonzi, our Gold Coast partner who is becoming famous as a man who revealed the truth about the Kennedy assassination, was already known for his investigative reporting. He got interested in the Stiles case in the early 1980s. Fonzi had become friendly with Doug Haas, a Fort Lauderdale detective familiar with Raymond’s background. Haas had information that Raymond may have killed more than a dozen people, but that he managed to stay out of jail by being an FBI informant.
Together, Fonzi and Haas discovered that Raymond had gotten out of prison at the request of the FBI. They further learned that he was being used in a sting operation in Chicago. The Justice Department was trying to nail major politicians suspected of taking bribes from people who got contracts for collecting parking tickets, a lucrative business. Justice thought Fonzi knew a lot more than he did, and to protect agents working the case, offered him the whole story if he would hold it for a few months. Fonzi eventually broke the story in the Chicago Tribune and Miami Magazine. By then, Fonzi had learned that Raymond might have been working with the Feds on a similar sting in New York.
He took the story to Gil Spencer, editor of the New York Daily News, whom Fonzi had known from our days in Philadelphia. Spencer ran with the story, and Jimmy Breslin, at the time working for the Daily News, jumped all over it. In short order a major New York political figure, Donald Manes, borough mayor of Queens, committed suicide. He had been deeply involved in bribery. Others went to jail. In his 1996 book, I Want To Thank My Brain For Remembering Me, Breslin called the episode the biggest scandal during his long New York writing career.
A few years later, I followed Breslin around his old neighborhood of Queens, New York, for a piece for Avenue magazine in Manhattan. He had just won the Pulitzer Prize and published a highly acclaimed novel, Table Money. We met outside his apartment in Central Park West. He came out half dressed, carrying his suit jacket, unbuttoned shirt hanging out and tie dangling over his shoulder. He introduced me to his wife, who was leaning out a window a few stories up. He was a gracious host, inviting me to spend time at the Daily News. He was writing a book on Damon Runyon and showed me a book written “by the guy I’m stealing from.” Breslin constantly threw away entertaining lines. I expected to see them in print the next day, but there was only one that showed up later in a book. He described working politically with Geraldine Ferraro, who ran for vice president. Her husband had gotten some bad ink, and when Breslin asked him if this would be a problem for the campaign, the husband assured him it would not be.
“I didn’t know he was talkin’ about the statue of limitations,” Breslin said.
I noticed at the time that Breslin, although he had a reputation as a hard drinker, took nothing stronger than a Coke. The bartender at Costello’s on 44th Street, at the time a Daily News hangout, joked with him about it. Much later I learned that Breslin had stopped the booze, and did not drink for the last 30 years of his 88-year life.
Breslin often pretended to not like his family. He described his first wife who died at age 50: "she uses knives." In reality, as anyone who knew him saw, he was devoted to his family of six kids. His own father had abandoned his family when Breslin was 6 years old. He had his son Christopher, at the time a college student, with him on one of our trips to Queens, and in his office he seemed to be on the phone with one of his children every five minutes. One of his great columns was about the death of his daughter Rosemary, a distinguished writer herself, in 2004. At the moment she took her last breath, Breslin imagined his late wife sitting by the bedside, as Rosemary had sat by her mother years before. "The mother took her hand, and walked her away, as if to the first day of school."
Jimmy Breslin knew that his parking collections story had begun with Gaeton Fonzi in Florida. I spoke to him occasionally over the years, and he always began the conversation the same way: “Boinie, how’s Fonzi?” He came to Florida a few times and Fonzi, Doug Haas and I had lunch with him. It had something to do with the ongoing saga of Michael Raymond, the murderous con man, who was to die in jail after finally being convicted of murdering a bank teller who was about the testify against him in a New York embezzlement case. It was then that one of Breslin’s many intellectual gifts became manifest. The man could hold several conversations with different people on different subjects, bouncing back and forth, and seemed to remain in command of each subject.
“He was a complex guy,” Doug Haas said Sunday after learning of Breslin’s death. Fonzi, no longer with us, phrased it differently at the time. “He’s a thousand guys.”
I knew where Fonzi got that line. He stole it from a Philadelphia civil rights leader who was only in it for the money and wound up in jail. Jimmy Breslin, who got famous remembering other people’s quotes, would appreciate a good thief.
It’s time for another density cap. Back in the mid-1970s, Perfect Town (also known as Boca Raton) got panicky when it saw tall buildings sprouting on Fort Lauderdale’s beach. Fearing contagion, it passed a law limiting the number of people who could live in Boca. Keep in mind that this was a time when the Royal Palm Polo Club, in the vicinity of what is now Town Center, was as far as Boca extended to the west. I-95 was not yet.
Developers were upset as the city downsized their plans, and the lawsuit that followed found the new law unconstitutional as hell. But the litigation gave Boca several years grace and enabled it to enact a variety of ordinances, including one affecting signs, that set the tone for what we like to call Perfect Town. Ironically, it also attracted new residents seeking to escape what they considered clutter and congestion in communities to the south. And Boca did not become another Fort Lauderdale.
Lately, however, it has been trying to do so. The anti-growth public officials slowly declined in numbers and influence. Now Boca has battles again between development interests and residents concerned about the traffic woes that go with it. Opponents of growth might even summon the old battle cry—“not another Fort Lauderdale,” and this time it is even more apt than 40 years ago. But the fact is even as Boca becomes a little more like Fort Lauderdale, Fort Lauderdale is widening the gap by becoming more like Miami and New York.
Anybody living in or around Fort Lauderdale, and the thousands of people who commute to work in the city, don’t need any explanation of the problem. Everybody is complaining about the absurdly rapid increase in traffic congestion over the last year or two, since the recession called a temporary halt to development. It seems as if overnight the main thoroughfare through downtown—Federal Highway—has been transformed from rows of low-rise businesses, some of them less than attractive, to blocks of closely packed apartment buildings. Imposing as they are, these new structures are dwarfed by the soaring towers just a few blocks away in the Las Olas Boulevard area.
It makes sense to have concentrations of housing near the new Brightline station being constructed on the FEC tracks just north of Broward Boulevard. That rail corridor is going to become very busy, especially when Tri-Rail trains are inevitably added to the fast Brightline train from Miami to West Palm Beach (and eventually to Orlando). Having residents within walking distance of the station is only realistic.
The downside of all this frantic building is that in welcoming new residents to an increasingly vibrant downtown, the city is destroying the quality of life in the nearby neighborhoods that are bearing the brunt of the exploding traffic. Those neighborhoods are some of the most pleasant and convenient locales in the state. Few cities have such suburban-like communities ringing their commercial district, within walking distance of shops and restaurants, and for many, even the beach.
But that is changing rapidly and the people are angry. The main thoroughfares are backing up to the point of gridlock. A traffic light changes and nobody can move because cross traffic blocks the intersection. Horns blare futilely. Tempers flare. And in frustration, drivers take to side streets, cutting through what were once quiet neighborhoods. Streets so narrow that they don’t even have posted speed limits, see cars racing through them. These are streets where people walk dogs, stroll with baby carriages and jog. At least they used to.
A cut through driver is often a dangerous driver, impatient, going much too fast, barely slowing for stop signs. All this new construction is more than an inconvenience. It is creating safety issues. The situation would be bad enough if all development near downtown were to stop today, but residents of the affected neighborhoods see nothing but more building on the horizon. There are many projects already approved. Lots that have been cleared await more apartments and even a few new hotels.
This is not an isolated problem. As we go to press, West Palm Beach announced a plan to control gridlock in its downtown. One idea is to get people out of cars, on to bicycles. Good luck with that. The real question: Is rampant growth inevitable? Does a community have an obligation to the concept of property rights to destroy itself in the process? The answer to that can be found north of Palm Beach. Stuart and Vero Beach made a decision decades ago not to become another Fort Lauderdale. Which is why so many people who used to be here are now there.
The president called a press conference. The room was filled with reporters, but when the president walked in, they all walked out. Surprised, he turned to his press secretary, but the man had left. When he tried to find out from the Secret Service what was going on, he found they had all gone to bed. He went out to the presidential limo, just in time to hear the driver say he was quitting.
The street was crowded, attracted by the presidential limousine, but when the people saw the president, they quickly disappeared—into doorways, up alleys, around corners, up chimneys. There was a restaurant nearby, but when the president went in, all of the people got up and left. He asked for coffee, but the waiter refused to serve him. In fact, he walked out. The president went to complain to the manager, but the manager locked his office door. When he walked into the kitchen, all the cooks raced out the back door.
The president walked to the White House. The crowded street emptied out; all the cars sped off. The president saw a figure peeking out a window, but as he came near, a curtain was drawn. When he got to the White House, no one was there. The staff had quit. The guards were gone. The door was locked. An airplane was overhead. But when the president waved to get attention, the plane made a sudden bank and disappeared. The president attempted to tweet, but his phone was dead. Some knave had hacked it.
In case you hadn’t guessed, this is a boycott. Or, to be historically precise, Boycott with a capital “B.” These are times when organizations threaten to boycott anything associated with President Trump, and Democrats boycott some hearings, and people threaten to boycott Starbucks because its CEO said he would hire refugees from the Muslim countries. Politics aside, some people weary of the traffic jams caused by cars lined up to enter busy Starbucks stores, may welcome that idea. In any event, it may be useful to recall where the term boycott comes from.
Like all great ideas, it began in Ireland. In the year 1880, as the Irish were making their annual attempt to escape English rule. A retired British military man, Capt. Charles Boycott, had the unenviable job of collecting rents, for an absentee landlord, from poor Irish tenant farmers in County Mayo on Ireland’s rugged west coast. He wasn’t a beloved figure to start with, and when a bad harvest made it tough for the tenants to pay, and farmers faced eviction, resentment against Boycott grew.
Instead of killing him, as the Irish sometimes handled such touchy problems, the people took the advice of the Irish politician/patriot Charles Stewart Parnell. He suggested they “shun” Boycott. That they did. Nobody would work for him or serve him in a restaurant or even talk to him. They turned from him on the streets. And some people actually drew curtains when they saw him walking by.
The situation quickly drew national and eventually, worldwide attention. Boycott could not stand it and was forced to leave Mayo. And even then, no carriage driver would accept the job of taking him to his train. He actually rode in an army ambulance.
When he arrived in Dublin, the situation was little better. People threatened the hotel where he stayed, and he soon left for England.
By then his name had provided a new noun and verb for the English language. Within months, boycott became a term for, well, boycott. The history of Capt. Boycott seems ironically applicable to the current political climate.
If what we read in the lying media is true, that psychologists suspect President Trump suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder bordering on mental illness, the idea of an Irish-style boycott would make him even crazier.
Imagine if a man who has an incurable craving for approval were to suffer the same fate as Capt. Boycott. Suppose nobody would talk to him, or do TV interviews, or even mention him in stupid columns like this. Suppose nobody whispered his name or made fun of him on “Saturday Night Live.” Suppose not even Fox News, which is a public relations arm of the Republican Party, would give him airtime. Suppose he could not get a room at his own hotels. And imagine if even his press secretary, Sean Spicer, stopped destroying his own reputation by his bumbling, petulant defense of every wacky thing the president tweets in the dead of night.
Does anyone doubt that the president would become completely unhinged and, like the original Capt. Boycott, flee to some country where people actually would talk to him?
But what sane country would take an illegal immigrant? Russia comes to mind.
The death of a Mafioso last week got major play in the Philadelphia newspapers and even got decent coverage in South Florida. The event deserved it. Nicodemo Scarfo, 87, was one of the most violent men in the long history of organized crime. Although short of stature, Scarfo was long in arrogance and ruthlessness. He turned the Philadelphia mob from what was once described as “the nicest family” where violence was rare, into a gang that prided itself on the number of people it killed.
Between 1980 when Scarfo began his rise to power and 1995, some 25 mob-related figures in Philadelphia and South Jersey were murdered, usually in very public fashion. And, according to informants who eventually brought him down, some of the hits were over trivial matters.
Scarfo died in prison after 30 years behind bars. Although most of the violence occurred in Philadelphia and South Jersey, it was in South Florida that a remarkable piece of police work helped bring Scarfo and key members of his gang to justice. The downfall of Scarfo’s organization may have saved South Florida from the kind of bloodbath that characterized his reign in Philadelphia.
The beginning of the end was in 1985 when local law enforcement was tipped off that Scarfo’s people were coming to Florida, intent on taking over local rackets. Florida had always been considered neutral territory, where none of the northern big city crime families attempted to dominate. Like other people, mobsters enjoyed peaceful vacations here. Going back to Al Capone in the 1920s, some had impressive winter homes. But, if Scarfo lived up to form, that was about to change. A mob civil war could break out.
At the time there existed in Fort Lauderdale the Metropolitan Investigation Unit, whose founder and director was Fort Lauderdale Police Capt. Doug Haas. It consisted of people from various local police departments, coordinating with state police from both New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and the FBI.
Scarfo had already been in jail three times, and northern authorities were attempting to build a major case against him when he began to frequent Florida.
“They were after him, but nothing stuck,” says Haas, who learned that Scarfo lived in a Coral Ridge waterfront home listed in the name of a local businessman. “Whenever he was here, there was a 24/7 operation. We did aerial surveillance; we followed him in his boat. When he was on I-95 we were the traffic.“
In retrospect, it was obvious his gang was overconfident. They thought that in Florida they were free from the constant surveillance in the north. There was also speculation—never proved—that they had protection from friends in high places down here.
“They might as well have gotten off the plane wearing T-shirts saying ‘Philly Mob,’” one of the detectives said at the time. “They were all well-built young Italian guys. They would go into a bar and tell the barmaid they were the Philly mob and taking over here. They didn’t know they were talking to a policewoman.”
Although his men might have been careless, Scarfo himself was guarded in the extreme—to his own detriment.
“He was afraid of microphones,” Haas says. “He was so paranoid he would come outside to talk. We set up in an apartment across the canal from his house. We photographed him arm in arm with people from the Gambino family in New York and the Bufalinos from Pennsylvania. We could stand there in the shadows of the balcony and hear what he said. Our people did a great job.”
On one occasion, a Fort Lauderdale detective had breakfast at an oceanfront hotel at a table next to Scarfo. He overheard Scarfo complain that his mob hadn’t killed anybody lately. But the most valuable intel was when a policewoman sitting next to Scarfo in a restaurant heard him plan to murder an associate. Haas recalls:
“When we took that to the FBI in Philadelphia, they were able to get a wire and then they told the guy they were planning to whack, and they turned him. He became an informant. “
By January 1987, the FBI had enough to move. When Scarfo got off a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Atlantic City, they arrested him. It was his last day of freedom. The trial, which made extensive use of the information provided in Florida, also led to the conviction of 16 members of his mob family. It effectively shut down organized crime in Philadelphia for several years.
Doug Haas retired in 1992. He worked for the Broward Sheriff's Office for several years before becoming a private detective. He operates mostly in Texas and Florida.
Patti Phipps, whose death from Alzheimer’s disease at a Washington, D.C. nursing home we reported in July 2015, will be interred at a graveside service at Evergreen Cemetery in Fort Lauderdale at 3 p.m. Friday, Jan. 27. Her brother-in-law, Ted Drum, reports that the longtime Gold Coast social leader will be buried along with her mother, Zada Phipps, who died recently, at age 100.
Patti was married several times, most recently to the late banker Ed Houston. During the 1960s, 70s and 80s, she was among the most prominent figures in charitable work on the Gold Coast. Her mother was a member of the Burdines department store family.The store is now part of the Macy's chain. Patti was a close friend of Gold Coast magazine’s original associate editor, Margaret Walker, and was an influential supporter of the magazine from its earliest days in the 1960s.
In the wake of last week’s tragedy at the airport, it seems banal to write about a wake for an Irish pub. But anyone passing Maguires Hill 16 on Andrews Avenue in Fort Lauderdale last week knew that something unusual was in the air. From the announcement last Monday that the well-known restaurant/bar had been sold and was closing, the parking lot and any available space nearby were jammed by people stopping by to say farewell to a local institution.
There was quite a lot written about the closing—about the surprise—despite the fact that rumors of a sale had been circulating for months. Yet nobody expected that new owners would close down a site with a 50-year history on such short notice. Also missing from news reports is the most compelling part of that history—how a location in a once somewhat seedy, off-the-beaten-trail location, which had been a redneck hangout frequented by bikers, became an iconic entertainment location with an extraordinarily broad following.
That story dates to 1989. The bar was then known as Fridays Downtown, but you wouldn’t confuse it with the trendy TGI Friday’s chain we know today. Alan Craig had a car restoration business on a nearby street, and he used to bring his workers in for happy hour. Craig was also a musician and singer. Back in Dublin, he had participated in what the Irish call “sessions,” where amateur musicians got together in pubs on weekend nights.
“One night I brought the guys in and somebody had a guitar, and I played some Irish songs,” Craig recalled Monday. “The owner said, ‘Why don’t you put together an Irish night on a Friday night?’ Nobody was in there after nine o’clock. It was a ghost town. So I did. It was an Irish night, just for fun. Nobody got paid. In a few weeks, we had 50 people there, and then the next week 75. It just kept growing. And the owner says, ‘Why don’t you buy the place and turn it into an Irish pub?’”
Craig did, using the name of a Dublin landmark, but it was not totally to the liking of his then wife Hilary Joyalle, who had worked in the restaurant business in Ireland. But she soon changed her mind as week after week the crowds increased, and they began serving lunch and dinner, making the place as much a restaurant as a bar. The musical group enlarged. Craig teamed with Mick Meehan, another Irish native, and they put together the Irish Times, which became one of the best Irish bands in Florida, often doing gigs outside the bar. The music reputation spread beyond the state, even across the sea. Some of the top names in Irish music, groups such as The Commitments, performed at the pub.
The timing was perfect. The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem had popularized traditional Irish music in the ‘60s and ‘70s, singing rebel and drinking songs largely unknown in the United States. They inspired Irish and American songwriters. When Alan Craig, with his gravely voice, sang “Fields of Athenry” it was a relatively new song by Pete St. John. Maguires’ audiences often requested the mournful ballad recalling the Irish famine era of the 1840s. It has since become a sports anthem in Ireland, sung at soccer games by the entire crowd.
Alan and Hilary went on to establish Irish bars in several other Florida towns. In 1999, they sold Maguires. The new owner owned it only briefly, selling to Jim and Martina Gregory, who owned bars in Ireland. They bought Maguires only after they were able to also acquire the real estate, including the large parking lot, which the Craigs had not owned. That ownership was central to their recent sale to a local group expected to develop high-rise buildings in the neighborhood, which is seeing extensive redevelopment. Far from the seedy days of old, it is within walking distance of the new All Aboard Florida train station, along streets lined with new apartments.
The Gregory family remodeled the place and expanded to outdoor seating. From its first days under the Craigs, it had attracted a journalism crowd. The former New Times office was just two blocks away, and the young staffers often gathered there. Over the years, courthouse types and law enforcement people—Broward Sheriff deputies, Fort Lauderdale police and even plain-clothes federal marshals—joined them. Political figures, including Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, often had lunch meetings. Musically, the entertainment became less Irish, but the food and décor remained old country. The burnished wood and walls crowded with photos from Ireland’s past made for an exceptionally cozy atmosphere, even by Irish pub standards.
The Gregorys also made it a popular sports bar. From its early days it had attracted European soccer and rugby fans, along with Gaelic football broadcasts, and the new owners enlarged its sporting footprint. Recent Sundays saw fans from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens gathering to root for their teams. The large local Notre Dame club met for Irish football, and Louisville brought in a crowd for both football and basketball games. Those fan bases are among the many saddened by the closing.
The former owners admired the new owners’ management. Says Hilary Joyalle, who for 13 years has owned The Field Irish Pub on Griffin Road in Dania Beach: “Jim and Martina didn’t do the Irish music as much, but they kept the spirit of the place very much alive.”
Surely to goodness, they did. And Monday, the day after the official closing, the normally crowded lunchtime parking lot was empty save for a few workers completing the shutdown operations. Above the Maguires sign the Irish and American flags were stirring in the chilly wind, and a sentimental soul might think he heard the raspy voice of Alan Craig awakening ghosts of the past.
Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing, we had dreams and songs to sing
It’s so lonely ‘round the Fields of Athenry.
Photo by Bernard McCormick
There are too many people named Ryan. It may be the most common name in the world if you consider it as both a last and, increasingly common, first name. It has to be in there with Kim and Muhammad, and they don’t count because they’re not Irish.
We take more than a passing interest in the over-Ryaning of America because we have the name in our family. Great grandmother Mary Ann Ryan was from Tipperary, where everybody is named Ryan. Hers is the most distinguished line in our detailed maternal family tree, in what is otherwise a typically no-account Irish history. Her father, born around 1816 in Thurles, County Tipperary, was allegedly an engineer—pretty rare for the Irish of his time. Not a train engineer, mind, but somebody who took part in the building of a bridge in Glasgow, Scotland, and was working on a construction project in St. Louis when he died.
More importantly, Mary Ann Ryan was said to be a cousin of Archbishop Patrick John Ryan of Philadelphia (by way of Thurles, Tipperary), who is considered one of the more important figures in the early Catholic Church in the U.S. Before he (shown above) came to Philadelphia in 1884, he ministered to Confederate prisoners in St. Louis. In Philadelphia, his charm and oratory helped ease tensions between the old-line Protestant power structure and the Irish immigrants. He has a nice high school named after him. Evidence of the blood relationship is strictly family lore. The Arch was allegedly an occasional dinner guest of grandfather Edward Sweeney, Mary Ann Ryan’s son-in-law, who published Catholic books in Philadelphia at the turn of the 19th century. It would make sense that they were friendly.
Back on topic. Ryan is a common name–ranked eighth in Ireland, so you would expect the name to travel. In America, we had financier Thomas Fortune Ryan in the colonial era, Father Abram Ryan (priest-poet of the Confederacy), actors Robert Ryan and Meg Ryan, and author Cornelius Ryan (The Longest Day). Making it into at least three movies—”Von Ryan’s Express,” “Ryan’s Daughter” and “Saving Private Ryan”—didn’t hurt the name’s popularity. There was also a long-running soap opera, “Ryan’s Hope.” Often forgotten is the fact that Charles Lindbergh’s plane, which flew to glory, was built by Ryan Airlines—one of several aviation companies founded by T. Claude Ryan. Aviation is in the Ryan genes. More recently in the old country, Tony Ryan (Thurles, Tipperary, of course) built Ryanair into a major player in European commercial aviation.
Sports reek with the name. Pitcher Nolan Ryan, quarterback Matt Ryan, runner Jim Ryun (a rare variation of the name), football coaches Buddy Ryan and Rex Ryan, basketball coach Bo Ryan, and Frank Ryan in several sports. There is a Ryan Center, home of the Rhode Island University’s basketball team—named for Thomas M. Ryan, a URI alum and former CEO of CVS.
Politics of late are infested with Ryans, beginning with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who may become our first Ryan president. There is also Congressman Tim Ryan of Ohio, who challenged Nancy Pelosi for Democratic Minority Leader. Locally, just in Broward County there are two prominent Ryans, County Commissioner Tim Ryan and Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan.
On their own, there are plenty of Ryans. But the real problem started when people began using it as a first name. That is a fairly recent phenomenon and has spiraled out of control. Why Ryan? None of the apostles were named Ryan. Not a single signer of the Declaration of Independence was Ryan. Wikipedia says it began in the 1970s with the actor Ryan O’Neal.
And yet, Ryan is everywhere you turn today. It has been one of the most common boys names for two decades. First name Ryans are all over sports. In recent times there have been three pro quarterbacks—Ryan Tannehill, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Ryan Leaf. And it shows up in all games. Ryan Howard, Ryan Lochte, Ryan Braun, Ryan Callahan (hockey), Ryan Arcidiacono (Villanova).
Other common Irish surnames have become first names. Kelly and Neil are popular, Connor less so. But none rival Ryan. Why Irish more than other nationalities? The English version of Celtic names is short, for one thing. The old Celtic name was, among other tongue-twisting possibilities, O Riaghain. Shortened, Irish names have become very American sounding. You don’t find many people with the first name of Pelosi, Shula, Huizenga, Netanyahu or Arcidiacono.
The name is equally big in show biz. One website lists 16 Hollywood hunks named Ryan, among them Ryan Gosling and Ryan Reynolds. Ryan, with various spellings, has become a female name, not always to the delight of the namee. There are websites devoted to the name that identify it as a strong masculine name, which some women named Ryan say ruined their lives. The same website also has a number of comments that the name has become overused.
Our point exactly. But we must also point out that our clan, which came by the name the old fashioned way, subtly preserved its family legacy without contributing to the Ryan pollution. We have a grand nephew, John Ryan Grande. Isn’t that grand, as the Irish say.
Fake news has been much in the news. There have even been reports that some of the propaganda that people who voted for Trump swallowed ravenously were stories planted by Russia. Paul Horner, who makes a living doing fake news, also claims he got Trump elected.
“Honestly, people are definitely dumber,” he told The Washington Post. “Nobody fact-checks anything anymore—I mean, that’s how Trump got elected.” This is how so many people became convinced President Obama was not born in the U.S. and was a Muslim.
Although the term “fake news” may be new, the concept is not. It has long been used by countries in warfare. Winston Churchill said, “In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies.” During the same World War II era, the Japanese people thought they were winning every battle until bombs began falling on their houses. They were not told when four of their aircraft carriers—the heart of their navy—were destroyed in a single battle at Midway, just six months after those same carriers devastated Pearl Harbor.
In normal times, however, major news organizations have generally agreed on basic facts, even if their editorial opinions varied. Alas, this is no longer true. Today, political parties, and media which favor them, cannot agree on facts. That was noted years ago when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan warned that “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”
That was just about the time that political operatives began doing exactly that. Convinced that the press was unfair, they began seeking new outlets for their own “facts” disguised as news. An early and glaring example was the 1968 presidential campaign, when Roger Ailes, then a young producer of “The Mike Douglas Show” in Philadelphia, convinced candidate Richard Nixon to let him manage the media aspect of his campaign.
He shielded Nixon from the mainstream press. Instead, Nixon appeared in a series of town hall meetings, which were packed with supporters asking questions arranged in advance, designed to make Nixon look as if he were candidly talking on tough issues, when really it was all clever propaganda. Joe McGinniss’ book The Selling of the President 1968 exposed all of this. That best-seller made Ailes and himself famous. It also set Ailes on a path to create his own media form that would report the news his way, but it took almost 30 years before cable expanded the media landscape and enabled him to launch Fox News.
It was fitting that both Ailes and McGinniss were in Philadelphia at the time, for in the1960s the Philadelphia Inquirer, then owned by Walter Annenberg, was a corrupt operation. Annenberg blacklisted people he did not like. One was Milton Shapp, who ran for Pennsylvania governor. An Inquirer headline at the time read that Shapp had denied being in a mental institution. But nobody had said he was.
Annenberg also hated Matt McCloskey, who had owned the rival Philadelphia Daily News. McCloskey became ambassador to Ireland, but Annenberg never let his photo appear in the Inquirer. Then, at a political function, McCloskey managed to get himself in a photo taken for the Inquirer. He was between President Kennedy and Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth. He gleefully told people they could not keep him out of the paper. But the next day a gray blob appeared when the photo ran. McCloskey had been airbrushed out of the shot.
And when the Philadelphia Warriors moved to San Francisco, Annenberg was upset. A few years later, he suspected the Warriors’ old owner was behind the city’s new NBA team. He wasn’t, but for a period of time the 76ers got two paragraphs when they won, only one when they lost. Hard to believe? It happened.
Annenberg’s reputation for vindictiveness was so widely known that one of his pet employees took advantage of it. Harry Karafin was Annenberg’s hatchet man. When Karafin called, powerful people shuddered. For several years Karafin ran a shakedown scheme, threatening investigative stories, while a public relations accomplice suggested the potential target could use some PR advice. Karafin did not run fake stories; he faked running them. Among those who paid thousands in his extortion scheme was Philadelphia’s largest bank. Karafin was eventually exposed by Philadelphia magazine. He died in jail.
The co-writer of that story, our late Gold Coast magazine partner Gaeton Fonzi, later wrote magazine articles (above) and followed up with a book on Annenberg, detailing his decades of abuse of power. Shortly thereafter, Annenberg sold the paper to Knight-Ridder, at the time owner of the Miami Herald. The new ownership turned it into one of the best papers in the country, winning 19 Pulitzer Prizes over ensuing decades.
Today the purveyors of fake news do not go to jail. But they should.
Image via Philadelphia magazine
The behavior of FBI Director James Comey, which seems to have had an effect on the recent election, has been described as a low point in the history of that esteemed organization. Hardly. Does no one remember J. Edgar Hoover? Maybe not. Recently, in a conversation with a young college grad (not a deplorable), the name Grace Kelly came up. The young person had no idea who she was.
Hoover, of course, was the legendary founder of the FBI and its director for more than 35 years. An iconic figure in his lifetime, it has since been revealed that he abused his office in a number of ways, including keeping blackmail material on people—even presidents. To put the recent bad publicity in perspective, it has also become known that his FBI participated in one of the most disgraceful episodes of the 20th century—the cover-up of the murder of President John F. Kennedy.
Hoover decided almost immediately after the murder that Lee Harvey Oswald had acted alone. His bureau did the investigative work for the Warren Commission, which merely interviewed witnesses sent to it by the bureau, and relied on the information supplied by FBI. Those witnesses and details were screened by the FBI to exclude the considerable body of evidence pointing to a conspiracy, in which Oswald’s role was to take the hit, literally, for the crime. The Warren Commission ignored some FBI information, which contradicted that conclusion.
None of this was known in 1965, of course. When the Warren Commission issued its report, very few doubted it. But over the years, up to this day, researchers with access to slowly declassified information have convinced most of the country that there was a conspiracy. If the awful crime did not involve our own government, then surely the cover-up did.
We now know that Oswald was hardly a lone nut as the Warren Commission termed him. In the words of the late Pennsylvania Sen. Richard Schweiker, who reopened the investigation into the assassination in the 1970s, Oswald had “the fingerprints of intelligence all over him.” Gaeton Fonzi, a partner in Gold Coast magazine at the time, was hired to look into possible Oswald’s connections to the anti-Castro movement in Florida.
Fonzi spent five years on the government payroll and concluded that even the second investigation was rigged. He exposed the charade in his book, The Last Investigation, which first appeared in Gold Coast as two long articles in 1970. Upon his death four years ago, The New York Times called Fonzi's book one of the best on the assassination. Fonzi, and other investigators following up on his pioneering work, found evidence that Oswald had both CIA and FBI connections, and the latter must have been known to J. Edgar Hoover at the time of the assassination. He also probably knew that Jack Ruby, the man who murdered Oswald in the days after JFK’s death, had organized crime connections, and he also should have known that Ruby was part of the CIA’s anti-Castro war—smuggling weapons to anti-Castro groups. It is all pretty damning stuff.
We all know this now, on the 53rd anniversary of the crime, but Hoover surely knew it then—and chose to conceal it. Its recent embarrassment may not be the FBI's finest hour, but it is a long way from its worst.
Us: Mr. President-elect, you have been elected for a week now. When are you going to build the wall?
President-elect: What wall?
Us: The wall to keep the "Mexican rapists" out.
President-elect: I never said anything about a wall. I never said Mexicans were rapists.
Us: You said it 3,000 times a day for the last year.
Us: And what about getting all the illegal immigrants out of the country?
President-elect: I never said anything about immigrants. I want to bring people together. Didn’t you hear my acceptance speech?
Us: The one where you gushed over "crooked Hillary?"
President-elect: Why do you call that great American public servant crooked? I never said she was crooked.
Us: We got 1,000 messages a day from your campaign using that exact phrase.
President-elect: I was misquoted. I never said that.
Us: These were emails.
President-elect: I was mis-emailed.
Us: You also said the president wasn’t born in this country.
President-elect: WRONG. I have nothing but respect for the great job he has done. Didn’t you see my visit with him on television?
Us: And you didn’t say a word about him being a Muslim.
President-elect: I never said he was anything but a good Irish Catholic boy who got too much sun. Listen, you media people are all liars.
Us: That’s another thing. When you thought you were losing you called the media liars.
President-elect: WRONG. I never called anybody liars.
Us: You just did 10 seconds ago.
President-elect: No I didn’t. You media people are all liars. Except for the liars at Fox News. They are nice to me.
Us: And I guess you deny making fun of the disabled?
President-elect: I never did that. I would never mock a handicapped person. That was made up by the lying media.
Us: When are you going to revoke Obamacare?
President-elect: I never said I would. I would never take insurance away from 20 million poor people. You media liars don’t understand when you want to win, you say one thing, but when you win, you have to be president of all the people. I learned that from Hillary’s Wall Street speeches.
Us: Do you still think the election was rigged?
President-elect: Only if I lost. I have great respect for our institutions. America is great. I just hope I don’t screw it up.
Us: With all due respect, you don’t sound like the same man who ran for office.
President-elect: Well, as a matter of fact, I’m not. I’m the guy who played him on "Saturday Night Live." I’ve been hired to fool you morons in the media. There’s nothing like steady work. Trust me.
Like all real Americans, we watch with interest those interviews with ordinary folk explaining why they are voting for whomever they favor. We take particular interest in those people who appear 30 or older who say they never voted before. Usually, they are for Trump. What does that tell you about their level of citizenship?
Actually, most people who say they are for Trump do not seem stupid. They may not have a college degree, but they speak pretty well and their concerns about the economy, foreign competition, etc. seem thoughtful. Nor do they seem like flaming racists. But you have to wonder why a number of those same people say they believe President Obama wasn’t born in this country, and that he is a Muslim.
We wish the interviewers in these situations would ask one more question. Where do these people get their information? Is it from Fox News, which has a well-earned reputation for a right wing GOP bias? And do they read a newspaper? We tend to doubt it, with newspaper circulation having dropped so precipitously. Even television evening news attracts far smaller audiences than in the days of Huntley-Brinkley and Walter Cronkite.
We wonder if these people are addicted to the internet, which is notoriously unreliable. Are these the kind of people who read that some American cities have adopted Sharia law, or that Target stores are owned by Muslims—and immediately forward that nonsense to all their friends?
You don’t have to be deplorable to do that. We have friends who are well-educated and highly successful, who don’t take the time to investigate such trash before they spread it on the internet.
It is ironic that the media are being savaged by Donald Trump at the same time that the traditional media have lost much of its influence? A test of that decline on a local level is coming up soon. Virtually every important newspaper in Florida has campaigned heavily against Amendment One on the ballot. It pretends to be supporting solar energy development, but in fact, is sponsored by the leading electric companies who want to control solar and prevent independent solar companies from enjoying the competitive benefits that they do in most states. It is a deceptive and shameful move, backed by $22 million in advertising.
The Sun-Sentinel and other South Florida papers have repeatedly and very visibly urged voters to vote against this amendment. Most recently, Sunday's Miami Herald had a major story (headline above), and Monday's Sun-Sentinel explained the disgraceful attempt to confuse voters. It is hard to believe that any voter who reads a major Florida newspaper regularly does not understand this deception by the power companies and will vote accordingly against the amendment. And yet newspaper readership has declined so much, and even though papers' digital versions are still widely read, there is a major difference in their formats. A newspaper can get attention with positioning and length of a story. That impact is largely lost on the internet.
Nov. 8 will be an interesting commentary on the state of the fourth estate in our state.
Headline from Miami Herald