DEVENS -- Talk radio hostess and Emmy-nominated investigative journalist Michele McPhee held court at the 11th annual Fidelity Bank Breakfast Series program hosted by the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 23.
Jim Adams, vice president at Rollstone Bank & Trust and president of the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce Board, welcomed McPhee and prepped the crowd. Whether you're a liberal or a conservative, "talk radio makes you think," said Adams.
And then McPhee riffed on several topics du jour.
Chief Executive Magazine ranked Massachusetts 47th in terms of states with the best business climate. Massachusetts beat only Illinois, New York and California and was flagged for unnecessary regulatory roughness on the medical-device industry. Texas topped the list as most business friendly.
Businesses keep "communities alive," said McPhee. "This is an important place to be innovators."
McPhee segued from innovation to investigation. She left WCVB TV's "Team 5 Investigates" this spring after eight months on the job because her stories were routinely stripped of their impact by the station's attorneys.
"I loved working at (Channel) 5," said McPhee. "It's really difficult these days to tell the truth in journalism. These corporations are run by lawyers. By the time you actually see an investigative piece, believe me, it's been watered down."
The legal team sidelined her original story on the 1989 disappearance of 14-year-old
Parent company Hearst Corporation nixed the story over fear of a lawsuit. "That story never saw the light of day," said McPhee. "That's why I'm back on talk radio." McPhee was nominated for an investigative journalism Emmy for her work at WCVB.
Previously a nighttime talk show host on WTKK FM from 2008 to 2011, McPhee joined WRKO 680 AM in January, co-hosting the morning drive time slot with Todd Feinberg weekdays from 5:30 to 9 a.m.
McPhee touched upon a Boston Herald story that's been whipped into a meringue by talk radio this summer -- the refusal of a Walpole baker to discount her whoopee pies for welfare recipients shopping at the Braintree farmers market. Andrea Taber refused to mark down her $17 gourmet pies for those using electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.
McPhee lauded Taber as a woman who has "worked hard all her life." McPhee, a critic of the EBT system, blamed the Patrick administration for the increase from $450 million in entitlement spending when Patrick took office to $1.3 billion now.
"That woman was vilified as mean-spirited and evil," said McPhee of Taber. "She had the guts to stand up and say, 'That's what I believe -- enough is enough."
In other news from the dessert aisle, McPhee applauded a Virginia couple who own a cupcake shop and refused to serve as a backdrop for a meet-and-greet with Vice President Joe Biden, who was passing through their town on the campaign trail. The couple was agitated by President Obama's July 13 Roanoke campaign speech in which he said, "If you've got a business -- you didn't build that."
Conservatives have used the comment as a battle cry. Obama supporters justify the comment, stating American business and industry is built upon public education, transportation, and the Internet, for example.
"Didn't your boss just say I didn't build this business? Tell Biden to beat it," said McPhee of the couple's reaction to the campaign team. "That afternoon they sold out of every item in their bakery."
McPhee said she's "a registered 'U' -- unenrolled -- and independent for a reason." She laid the blame for political loggerheads at the feet of upper-echelon Republican and Democratic players who "never had a real job in their lives."
A UMass Boston graduate, McPhee said, "I love state schools."
"Not everyone has to go to Harvard," said McPhee, razzing Democratic Senate challenger Elizabeth Warren's alma mater. As Warren and Sen. Scott Brown debated how to pay for subsidized Stafford student loans, McPhee poked fun at Harvard's nonprofit tax status "which raises an eyebrow, if you know what I mean." Harvard's $31 billion endowment outpaces number-two Yale by $10 billion.
McPhee earned her undergraduate degree while working at Café Roma in the North End, which she attests was outfitted with bullet proof glass "because if Jerry (late Boston Mafia boss Gennaro "Jerry" Angiulo) wanted to have a cup of coffee, he didn't want to have to worry about a wiseguy."
Her penchant for crime reporting took her from the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, and for a decade-long run as the police bureau chief at the New York Daily News. Her office was located blocks from ground zero of the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. "That forever changed my perspective on politics," said McPhee, and reconfirmed her support for U.S. troops.
A major gripe with media coverage of current events is the focus on relatively pithy matters, like the Robert Pattinson/Kristen Stewart break-up ("That tramp vamp!" said McPhee) rather than the number of soldiers killed in combat. "Ten have been killed this month alone," said McPhee. "Nobody's talking about it."
Another telltale sign of the dumbing-down of the national debate is Obama's appearances on "Entertainment Tonight" and in People magazine. "That's the media outlets people watch," McPhee rued.
McPhee frequently appears as an analyst on breaking-news stories and has co-produced and hosted two Tru-TV "Mugshot" specials on the mob. "I know a lot about the Mafia, but they have nothing on Beacon Hill politicians."
Blissfully unaware of the political battles she's embroiled in daily, McPhee said her fiancé is a Boston firefighter with "zero interest in politics. He's not sure if Obama is a 'D' or an 'R'. He doesn't have the same level of obsession."
McPhee fired off some final thoughts in a verbal fireworks finale of sorts. Regarding Neil Entwistle's recent denied murder conviction appeal, McPhee railed, "That just cost you another $1.3 million."
Harvard-trained neuroscientist Amy Bishop is being held for the 2010 shooting deaths of three colleagues and wounding three others after being informed she was being denied tenure at the University of Alabama, Huntsville. McPhee mused aloud, "If you were going to blow away your colleagues, would you sit through a board meeting...?"
After a pause, McPhee asked, "Is there anything else I should touch on?" The audience burst into laughter.
An audience member asked McPhee if she feels threatened when penning mobster books. "I'm more afraid of the FBI than the wiseguys because they have more power," said McPhee. She and other talk-radio pundits have been subjected to random tax audits from time to time. "So when you talk about being afraid, I'm more afraid of what the government can do."
Asked about Whitey Bulger, McPhee said she believes the mobster wasn't on the lam, but was relocated to California by the government. "Where can YOU find a beach house for $600 a month? All the names on the door buzzers were all names of former federal cases...I really believe the whole building was a safe house."
Bulger speaks Spanish, has a history of gun running and had a stash of cash and guns in a wall safe, said McPhee. She speculated that Bulger was part of the "Operation Fast and Furious" gun-running scandal that brought Congressional contempt charges against Attorney General Eric Holder in June. "I truly believe Whitey was still working for the government walking guns over the border. He's always been on the payroll for the government."
"I don't think Whitey will ever come to trial," said McPhee. "They're going to delay it till he dies." McPhee's book "A Mob Story" was famously photographed on the shelves of Bulger's hideout.
A frequent commentator for CNN, MSNBC, and FOX news, the Boston native has also authored several books.
A cable network has purchased McPhee's book titled "A Professor's Rage: The Chilling True Story of Harvard Ph.D. Amy Bishop" for a TV movie. McPhee wrote "A Date With Death," about the late Philip Markoff, the Boston University medical student accused of murder who took his own life; the Entwistle story captured in "Heartless," and "When Evil Rules," which studies businessman Melvin Reine's reign of terror over Falmouth.
McPhee's book "A Mob Story," about a South Beach nightclub king, is being adapted into a movie called "UnMade Man."