March 25, 2007
Dripping with malice, envy and venom, hacks are having the time of their life as Conrad Black goes to trial in Chicago, a city known for its smiling wallet-lifters and corrupt public officials. Not since Fat Bob Maxwell took a dive into the Med back in 1991 have those holier than thou members of the Fourth Estate enjoyed themselves as much. The trouble is there’s quite a difference. Maxwell stole hundreds of millions of pounds from pension funds and ruined thousands of lives. Lord Black’s accusers—Savonarola types who love publicity and the limelight almost as much as they envy Conrad’s superior mind and knowledge—accuse him of siphoning off payments that should have been distributed among the shareholders. Either side could win this one. It depends how this particular case is handled in court. Personally I see no crime there.
Mind you, while the hacks are happily throwing around 100 years of jail time, the whole amount being disputed comes down to around 80 million greenbacks, peanuts when compared to other cases of white collar crime where the investors lost billions, including the life savings of employees. Obviously it’s news when a rich man gets into trouble, especially one as well known as Conrad Black. But it’s the tone that bothers me. The glee that describes the Blacks’ straightened circumstances, the joy expressed by the hacks as they describe the “physically diminished” couple. If they have been physically diminished, it certainly has escaped yours truly.
Tom Bower’s book on the Blacks hit a sleazy new low where hatchet jobs are concerned. So low, in fact, that it probably had a contrary effect among those who know the difference between real life and the movies. Did Bower really believe that Conrad Black bought a second jet because Barbara Amiel scolded him in public about not keeping up with the Kravises? I don’t think so, but it looked nice on paper so he ran with it. People don’t speak or act that way, not even the gruesome nouveaux Russians, although I wouldn’t put it past the latter. Then there is the surprise party at La Grenouille, which allegedly cost $62,000, two-thirds of which was charged as expenses to Hollinger.
Well, it wasn’t too much of a surprise, thanks to the poor little Greek boy. The Blacks and the Kissingers and I were at the Buckleys watching the returns of the 2000 elections when Conrad told me about it and asked me to keep it quiet. I was in my cups and told Barbara straight away. “Thank God you’re a journalist and not in the CIA,” was all Conrad said to me. But here’s the important point. The party, as far as I was concerned, was a flop. No loose women around. It was full of businessmen, people Conrad did business with, like Leonard Lauder, who was a big advertiser in the Black papers, Donald Trump, the ghastly Richard Perle and others prominent in Wall Street and D.C. . If that party wasn’t a legitimate business expense, I am Monica Lewinsky. And that other BS about Conrad describing his wife’s naked allure was more of Alice in Wonderland. He did nothing of the sort, in fact mentioned the poor little Greek boy twice. Something to do with ancient Greece and how indiscreet I had been.
America has a terrible system where prosecutors are concerned. An ambitious district attorney can go after anyone—and the more prominent they are the bigger the headlines—have the case thrown out of court, and still reap the benefits as a fearless, public-minded official. A gruesome clown by the name of Eliot Spitzer, whose father is a billionaire real estate developer, is now the governor of New York State. Spitzer made his name going after developers and Wall Street magnates, using the press and electronic media to show boat, and got zilch convictions. But his public showboating propelled him to the governorship. If McCarthyism has a bad name, you should try Spitzerism. This is how that undertaker look-alike, Rudy Giuliani, made his name before running for mayor. I think the system stinks. District attorneys should be held responsible for egregious and over-zealous prosecutions. Especially when they are as blatantly publicity-seeking ones as those Spitzer made his name with.
In Lord Black’s case we have this Fitzgerald fellow who smells like a Kennedy to me: Bobby Kennedy, cruel, opportunistic, smart as hell and holier than thou. The Inquisition would have suited him to a tee. The rat in all this is, of course, David Radler, the closest to a rodent human being I have ever encountered, whom the Feds made a deal with and who will turn state evidence against Conrad. Stool pigeons are hardly reliable, but this is how the cookie crumbles.
I hope my former boss gets off, but the climate in America right now is not unlike the one immediately after World War II, when millions of German women were being raped by the Russians, but we were busy showing movies how wonderful Uncle Joe and his henchmen were. If Conrad walks, I plan to give a very big party for him. Envious and malicious hacks need not look for their invitations. But I shall not be holding my breath.