The excoriation of a newspaper mogul and walking Thesaurus

Frank Touby —

So now “they” have stripped Lord Conrad Black of his major Canadian honour: membership in the elite Order of Canada. It was granted to him based upon his great success as a media mogul whose holdings were significantly larger than my own modest partnership with Paulette (nee Huebert) in The Bulletin, Journal of Downtown Toronto.

Baron Black of Crossharbour, as he’s known in Britain’s House of Lards (similar to our senate), shares several things in common with me aside from newspapers. Plural, only in his case.

We have both lived in Florida’s Palm Beach County. I in West Palm Beach and he across the water in ritzy, exclusive Palm Beach.

We are both later-life practising Catholics; I as a returnee from atheism and he a convert from that same spiritual vacuum.

We are both knights in the Roman Catholic Church. Conrad holds an elite knighthood in the papal Order of St. Gregory the Great. I, on the other hand, am a long-time entry-level Knight of Columbus (not at all active since they moved from the glorious old mansion on Sherbourne Street) and mainly now in it for the insurance. I wish I were better and had more time. Don’t we all?

We are also both admirers of Barbara Amiel’s clear, expressive and sensitive writing. And that, too, of her former husband, George Jonas.Order-of-Canada

Conrad’s own discourses—though mostly inspired—are more dense and best read on an Internet device so one can readily interpret his meaning and appreciate his precision use of obscure words.

I’m a practitioner of the writing theory that I learned at the hand of my Miami Senior High School journalism teacher, Barbara “BJ” Garfunkel: Be as simply and effectively clear as possible. Despite moving on to university, I can say that between BJ’s news-writing course and first-semester typing,  I really had learned in high school all that I needed to create my long-lasting career in journalism.

I wanted to be a reporter early in my youth. I wanted to join that pack of dogs nipping at the heels of rotten politicians and sleazy scammers. A North American reporter, doing the job right, I saw (and see) as democratic civilization’s representative.

There was a 1950s-era TV series lionizing reporters called The Big Story that was, to me, both a blessing and a curse. A blessing in that it inspired me to be a reporter and nothing short of that. A curse in that it was sponsored by Pall Mall cigarettes and so, at age 13, it was a Pall Mall that started a decades-long addiction which I twice conquered; permanently in 1992.

Conrad was largely responsible for creating the National Post, Toronto’s third outstanding world-class daily newspaper. Among scores of superb writers on its roster are Peter Kuitenbrower, Andrew Coyne and Conrad Black, to name a soupçon.

Conrad was victimized by the federal prosecutor in Chicago who thrives on landing the big fish and fileting them with insulting and trumped-up charges. Conrad was a big fish. Now, as we read always associated with his name, he is a “convicted felon.”

But convicted of what? A trumped-up and overblown cacophony of allegations that he abused savvy businessmen by offering, for payment, to not personally compete against them in the markets where they purchased a newspaper corporation he and his fellow shareholders were selling. That, after all was appealed and the other charges predictably dismissed as wrongful on the part of the prosecutor, is what put him in the “joint.”

He had sold his personal pledge to not start a competing newspaper—where he had every right to do so—after the sale of a newspaper corporation in which he was a shareholder.

If you were buying a newspaper corporation in which Conrad was a shareholder, would you not be willing to pay for his personal pledge to not start another newspaper in competition with you? Damn right! You’d be glad for the chance and might even insist upon it before buying the corporation.

So that’s how, with trumped up charges and false allegations of underhanded dealings, a Chicago federal prosecutor swayed an everyman jury to wrongly put this “lord” in prison stripes. Well, an orange jumpsuit, at any rate.

A number of U.S. worthies benefitted mightily from the disassembling of the corporate entity being mentioned. Some major money went into some pockets.

Since the Order of Canada isn’t just a medal like an Olympics necklace, the rulers of that august body couldn’t permit the continued presence of a “convicted felon” to taint their club of most honourables.

A similar fate befell Garth Drabinsky, a highly creative theatre mogul, who was also deemed unworthy of the Order despite a career lifetime of spectacular accomplishments deemed to be tainted by some financial manoeuvrings that likely had more to do with unfortunate timing than the fraud of which he was convicted.

It’s unlikely that Garth will ever, during his lifetime, recover his reputation from the taint of his conviction since there was genuine reason for it, no matter how inadvertent or unintentioned.

Because of the sad condition of my former nation, the land for which I bore arms during the nascent Viet Nam War era and which now has abandoned its constitution and the great promise it once held, a conviction in the U.S. will also likely never be rectified in the case of Conrad Black.

Injustice is institutionalized in the United States. Still. It was so in my youth against blacks and Latinos. And, in the redneck South, against Yankees.

There, as in Canada, the taint of a conviction stains bone deep. Even when it’s the least part of a person’s doings. Even when it’s wrong as in the case of Conrad Black.