Fallen Press Baron Conrad Black: A Canadian Neocon

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

Fallen Press Baron Conrad Black: A Canadian Neocon


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


FOR THE THREE years I served in Rhodes, Greece with the U.S. Information Agency, perhaps my only complaint was the dearth of English-language daily newspapers. The New York Times arrived about six days late and The International Herald Tribune wasn't much better. Nearly on time, however, was The Jerusalem Post, which had current news and features ranging from gardening to travel, and regular columnists. Long after I left Rhodes, Conrad Black bought The Jerusalem Post, which proceeded to change its editorial policies and become the anti-Arab paper it is today. Because of my personal "before and after" experience, I've never forgotten what the Canadian media mogul does to the newspapers he adds to his stable.

Black's story is hardly one of rags to riches. His father, George Montegu Black, was president of Canadian Breweries, a major brewing conglomerate. Conrad's mother was the great-granddaughter of an early co-owner of the prominent British newspaper TheDaily Telegraph. Conrad and his late elder brother and sometime business partner, Montegu Black, inherited about $7 million. Conrad Black's wealth accumulated rapidly, and for a time he was extremely rich.

Born in 1944, Black attended an elite Canadian private school, Upper Canada College, which he hated. An indifferent student, because of lack of interest or motivation, he broke into the school records and stole a list of test answers. He made around $1,500 selling the list, until another student was caught with the purloined test answers and Black was expelled. He was then enrolled in a second school, Trinity College School, but was soon invited to leave. Black finally managed to graduate from his third school, Thornton College in Ontario.

He next attended Carleton University in Ottawa, where he majored in history and political science and took a three-year degree in 1965. He then went to Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto and, according to Canadian blogger Grant Schuyler's essay, "Lord Black of Crossharbour," did not do well. He left after a year, fled to Quebec and led a quasi-Bohemian life for the next eight years.

In Quebec Black learned fluent French and, despite his casual lifestyle, completed his law degree in 1970 at Laval University. He also developed a strong interest in French history, with a particular fascination for French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.

Black earned an M.A. in history in 1973 at McGill University in Montreal, and considers himself an expert in military history. He didn't get along with his supervising professor at McGill, however, a distinguished Canadian historian.

In his college days Black worked on the Eastern Townships Advertiser, a community newspaper in Quebec, and enjoyed it. By 1966 he, along with partners, bought the paper, along with the Sherbrooke Record, another Quebec newspaper, and one or two other small Canadian papers.

Before long, Black was using his inherited wealth and wheeling and dealing with corporate takeovers. When George Black died in 1976, he left his sons Conrad and Montegu stakes in Ravelston Corp., which had voting control of Argus Corporation, an influential holding company in Canada, as well as a stake in a mining company called Hollinger. By 1978 Black had acquired a controlling interest in Hollinger Mines. That same year he persuaded a wealthy widow to let him buy her late husband's stock in the Argus Corporation, Canada's most important conglomerate. Another widow accused him of fraud after he paid $30 million to take control of Ravelston. His own finances increased exponentially.

Hollinger Mines evolved into a holding company in 1979, and by 1985, after buying and selling other companies, became known as Hollinger International-which proceeded to acquire newspaper after newspaper, chain after chain. In 1985 Black took over The Daily Telegraph-his great-great-grandfather's publication-and it became the flagship of his holdings, which also included the Spectator magazine in England. …

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