Magazine article The Spectator

Hatchet Job

Magazine article The Spectator

Hatchet Job

Article excerpt

New York

Dripping with malice, envy and venom, hacks are having the time of their life as Conrad Black goes on 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 with other cases of whitecollar 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' straitened 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 much, in fact, that it probably had the opposite 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 them. 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 straightaway.

'Thank God, you're a journalist and not in the CIA, ' was all Conrad said to me. …

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