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Shaping Opinion

A Society, Culture and History podcast featuring Tim O'Brien
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Tim O'Brien from O'Brien Communications helps you immerse yourself in a story, a time, a place or just an idea that has shaped the way we think. Each episode will make you see things a little differently about subjects and ideas you thought you knew. Shaping Opinion resides at the intersection of history, communication and culture. Each episode tells a story through conversation. Tim O'Brien is a veteran public relations professional who has handled a wide range of complex PR matters for clients and organizations. Good PR sees the big picture and that's what this podcast is designed to do.

Our stories are always interesting, sometimes offbeat. Warning: After listening, you will come away with a new and fresh perspective.


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87 episodes

Recent Episodes

The Last Pirate, The First Celebrity Gangster – Episode 87
Author Rich Cohen joins Tim to talk about his latest book called The Last Pirate of New York. As the title would suggest, it’s about the end of the days of pirates in New York, and the birth of the celebrity gangster, all in the story of one man, Albert Hicks and the grisly case in 1860 that changed the way Americans saw crime.   In the 1990s John Gotti was the face of organized crime in New York, following a long tradition of gangsters in the Big Apple. Long before him, there was Lucky Luciano and Tammany Hall. But where did it all get started? And who started it all? These are the kinds of questions that were on the mind of Rich Cohen as he dug deeper and deeper into New York’s organized crime history. The end result was his book, “The Last Pirate of New York: A Ghost Ship, A Killer, and the Birth of a Gangster Nation.” The Scene on March 21, 1860 A boat adrift. The crew of the J.R. Mather saw it when the boats crashed into each other. Saw a darkened, lifeless boat but had to get back to port to fix their own damage quickly. Another boat came upon it less than an hour later. That boat was the Telegraph. They boarded the boat. The EA Johnson (an oyster sloop) was found on March 21st 1860. It was floating in New York’s Lower Bay off Brooklyn. Its foresails were torn off during a predawn collision with the J.R. Mather. The scene was grisly. The crew had vanished, but down in the cabin, the crew found ax marks in the ceiling and the floor, a sailor’s shirt with slash marks from a knife, and drawers and closets ransacked. Pools of blood ran from beam to beam as the ship swayed in the waves. Blood was everywhere. The Police detectives would find four amputated fingers and a thumb still clinging to the starboard rail. Newspapers and Public Reaction Word of mouth was extremely powerful and fast at that time. Word would spread through the ship crews and in the taverns and tenements. The shipyards and maritime life was centered in what is now the Financial District. The major newspapers that covered the crime were the New York Herald, New York Sun, Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the New York Times. The police followed the perpetrator’s trail to him. Albert Hicks was described as stalky and strong and handsome. He was also described as having an unsettling look in his eyes. He was an alcoholic. Known as aloof and a mean drunk. He had a wife and a son who did not know of his alternate life. He was a career criminal known as a “pirate.” He would admit to committing crimes from New Orleans to Hawaii, always coming back to New York. He used an alias which was “William Johnson.” The Trial He was held in a large prison building called the Halls of Justice, but they were better known as the Tombs because they resembled the tombs of the ancient Egyptians. Corruption was rampant. Some prisoners had it pretty good thanks to bribes to the warden and jail guards. Hicks didn’t have it that good. The trial at U.S. Circuit Court on Chambers Street drew standing room only crowds. Hicks became a prototype of an American architype – the celebrity gangster. The U.S. marshal detaining Hicks at The Tombs prison was a corrupt politician and gambling kingpin who also ran the toughest gang in Five Points. Hicks confessed to stealing $150 in gold and silver coins; $26 in money; a watch from the captain and some clothes. After being found guilty and sentenced, Hicks was executed on Bedloe’s Island. That island is better known as Liberty Island today, where the Statue of Liberty now stands. Links The Last Pirate of New York, by Rich Cohen (Amazon) A Walking Tour of New York, Circa 1860, Accompanied by the Last Pirate, Vulture "The Last Pirate of New York" Review, Wall Street Journal About this Episode’s Guest Rich Cohen Photo Credit: Pascal Perich
Breaking IN to Auschwitz – Episode 86
Former war correspondent and author Jack Fairweather joins Tim to talk about the one man who elected to volunteer to be taken prisoner to fight the Nazi’s from inside of Auschwitz during World War II. Jack tells Tim why the world is only learning more about Witold Pilecki now, and how his story of bravery, heroics and the ultimate sacrifice almost was lost to history. Pilecki took on one of the most daunting tasks anyone would take in the war.   Think about this for a second. He’s the only known voluntary inmate of Auschwitz. He spent spent two and a half years as a member of the Resistance, gathering intelligence from German army during World War II from inside the concentration camp. Now, let that sink in. Witold Pilecki was a member of the Polish army, and on September 19th 1940, he intentionally allowed himself to be arrested by the Nazis. After that he was detained with roughly 1,800 Polish political prisoners, and then he was taken to Auschwitz, where he would be imprisoned for the next two and a half years. To his captors, he was nothing more than Prisoner 4859. Click here to buy book via Amazon Here’s what happened. Pilecki, a Catholic, had already served in the Polish Army and married a local school teacher named Maria before the hostilities started. They had two children. He ran the family farm, painted and wrote poetry and lived a quiet life. In 1939, he was called back to military service when the Nazis invaded Poland. Poland was quickly defeated and became occupied by the German army. After that, Pilecki found his way to Warsaw to serve as part of the underground resistance against the Nazis. Not long after that, in August of 1940, the Nazis had taken prisoner a group of Polish political opponents and transported them to Auschwitz. It didn’t take long before the families of those prisoners were notified of their deaths. The Polish underground suspected murder, but needed more information. That was when he volunteered to investigate from the inside. After two and a half years, he would escape and write a 100-page report on life inside the Auschwitz death camp. The Mission In October 1940, Pilecki successfully sent out his first report with a released inmate. It reached the Polish Government-in-exile in March 1941, who passed it onto the Allies. At the time of Pilecki’s internment, Auschwitz was a concentration camp intended to hold predominantly political prisoners from Poland. He witnessed the changing demographic and horrifying treatment of each persecuted group. His reports described the early experiments conducted on Soviet prisoners of war, who were murdered with poisonous gas. This laid the foundations for the mass-murder of many Jews in the purpose-built gas chambers and crematoria. He described the pain suffered by other prisoners undergoing experiments against their will; many died from their injuries. Pilecki over time met fellow members of the Polish underground and began to create a secret organization inside Auschwitz. The organization ran at great risk. They built a radio transmitter from smuggled parts. Through this transmitter, he reported on conditions inside the camp, and he told of the number of deaths. At some point he had to stop communicating for risk of being discovered. Witold Pilecki Escapes Pilecki escaped Auschwitz in April 1943. He decided to escape this time because key members of his organization were sent to other concentration camps. He felt he would get transferred, too. He and two others only had one night to carry out their plan. They knew if they failed, they’d be hung in a public execution. They removed the bolts from a heavy door while the guards’ backs were turned. All three traveled about 100 miles over one week on foot to reach safety. Freedom and Captivity Once Again Pilecki found refuge at a friend’s parents’ home,
September 11 – A Pentagon Story – Episode 85
Captain Bill Toti, a retired Naval officer, joins Tim to discuss his firsthand experiences from the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Bill remembers the attack on the Pentagon moment for moment, and what he did in the immediate aftermath and throughout the recovery. One thing we talk about is how the Pentagon’s story may be the least known in the conversation on 9/11. On September 11th, 2001, 19 terrorists from the extremist group al-Qaida hijacked four commercial aircraft and used those planes to carry out suicide attacks against the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and what appears to be a failed attempt to target another Washington, D.C. target. At 8:45 a.m. on that a clear day, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York. Eighteen minutes later, a second passenger jet – United Airlines Flight 175 – flew into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. At 9:45 a.m., American Flight 77 would circle over Washington, D.C. before crashing into the west side of the Pentagon, ripping through the outer three of the Pentagon’s four, heavily reinforced and massive rings. At 10 minutes after 10 that morning, United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into an empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after it appears the passengers on that jet foiled a terrorist attack on Washington. At the end of the day, it was the worst terrorist attack on the United States in the country’s history. Almost 3,000 people were killed. Millions watched events unfold on television, though most of the country’s attention was on New York, where the World Trade Center’s twin towers would collapse on live TV, and where the greatest human losses occurred. At the Pentagon, 189 military personnel and civilians were killed, including the 64 people aboard American Flight 77. To this day, less is known about what happened that day at the Pentagon than the stories from New York and Pennsylvania. The Chronology of Events at the Pentagon That morning, five militants passed through security at Dulles International Airport at approximately 7:35 am. They boarded American Airlines Flight 77 that was on its way to Los Angeles, California. At 8:20 am, Flight 77 departed Dulles International Airport. The jet had 64 people on board: a crew of six plus 58 passengers, including the five terrorists. The last routine radio communication with American Airlines Flight 77 occurred at 8:51 am. Investigators have guessed that between 8:51 and 8:54 that morning, somewhere over Kentucky, the terrorists took control of the plan. The hijackers turned the jet southward, and then around 9 a.m., they turned the plane toward Washington, D.C., all the while causing confusion among air traffic control. The hijackers had turned off Flight 77’s transponder, causing the aircraft to become invisible to air traffic control. No one knew the course, the speed or the altitude of the jet. The militant pilot would not answer any radio messages. At 9:33 am, Flight 77 headed for the Pentagon. Controllers at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport told the Secret Service Operations Center in Washington, D.C. that “an aircraft is coming at you and not talking with us.” At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. Captain Bill Toti was there and remembers what it was like that day, and in the years since, he has worked to help keep the story of the Pentagon on that day in the nation’s memory. Links 9/11 'Inside the Pentagon' Documentary, PBS The Pentagon: Local Naval Officer Details Chaos After Attack, Youngstown Vindicator 9/11 Pentagon, Naval History and Heritage Command 'The Forgotten 9/11:' Returning to the Pentagon 15 Years Later, NBC News About this Episode's Guest Captain Bill Toti William Toti served for more than 26 years in the ...
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Podcast Details
Mar 21st, 2018
Latest Episode
Sep 23rd, 2019
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37 minutes

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