Sunday, 4 November 2012

Conrad Black – various UK interviews – October 2012

 “… I’ve been persecuted half to death.  I don’t have any shame.  I’m proud of what happened.  I’m proud of having been in a US federal prison and survived as well as I did… Let me tell you something, I’m proud of having gone through the terribly difficult process of be falsely charged, falsely convicted and ultimately almost completely vindicated without losing my mind, become irrational, ceasing to be a penitent reasonable person and actually being able to endure a discussion like this without getting up and smashing your face in, which is what most people would do if they had been through what I have been.”

“99.5% of prosecutions in the US are convicted – the whole system is a fraudulent fascistic conveyor belt of a corrupt prison system”

 - Conrad Black speaking to Jeremy Paxman (BBC Newsnight, October 22, 2012) 

Perhaps Conrad Black is not known for his subtle demeanor or firm grip on reality, but many of his recent comments seem even more beyond rationality and sound judgment than usual.  At the core of some of these blustering and caustic statements seems to be an attempt to rehabilitate a somewhat tarnished public image.   If Black is to be believed, and I have no idea if he should be, he has been wronged by an American justice system that is corrupt to the core and aggressively out of control.  He has repeated countless times that he is innocent and would not have been convicted anywhere outside of the United States.  And even if we take the former newspaper baron at his word when he claims to have been wronged, his tactics for expressing this belief have ranged from simply hostile to outright fanciful. 

What is particularly funny is that this type of ‘I was wronged by the system’ defense is just the type of thing right wingers claim to despise (although this has not prevented the lazy right wing media in both the UK and Canada from parroting Black’s sketchy ‘the entire US legal system is corrupt’ arguments).  I guess it is all about maintaining order and being tough on crime until one of your ideological brethren run afoul of the law.  And when Black claims to be the victim of a “smear job” one has to wonder precisely who is out to get him?  The government?  Former business associates?  The dreaded left-wing media?   The entire legal system?  All of the above? 

What is most astounding is that when Black makes his claims (of being innocent and his right to remain in the House of Lords) he thinks nothing of evoking the names of such figures as Mandela and Thoreau.  In his interview with Paxman, Black, without a trace of irony, states, “I put myself in the camp of Henry David Thoreau who said that in a society that routinely sends innocent people to prison, the place for innocent people is in prison.”  Are we to assume that Black’s personal problems, and potential injustices against him, have taken on such an epic proportion?  Funny I just never think of Black as a martyr.

It seems fairly clear that Black’s main defensive tactic is to have a strong offence.  When it came to recent interviews the idea was to show who is in charge – who is controlling the message by speaking the most forcefully.  In the case of the Paxman interview this involved belligerence, name-calling and uttering thinly veiled threats.   But somehow, even is this era when public bullying is increasingly under the microscope, such hostile and quasi macho behavior is accepted (or expected?) from Black. One can’t help feel that by agreeing to be on certain shows this whole situation was constructed to give Black a soapbox as, protestations aside, there was no way he was expecting an easy ride in some sectors of the UK media.  What better way to show you are back on top than to put some of those uppity and pretentious reporters firmly in their place.  This is heroics through cantankerous sparring and a simplistic critique of the “ghastly American justice system that any sane English person knows is an outrage.”  By this logic might (even the hollow and hectoring variety) equals right and there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Black isn’t so much arrogant as simultaneously cunning and oblivious.

Of course Black is no stranger to re-writing history – from the exaggerated and glorified activities of Margaret Thatcher to the would-be noble actions of Richard Nixon.   As with Black, Nixon was just another decent and gifted public figure who has been wronged.  In a recent editorial Black notes that, “He (Nixon) was one of the country’s 10 or so most talented and successful presidents,” adding, “The impeachment counts, except for the grey area of payments to defendants, were defamatory claptrap; the congressional proceedings were a partisan crucifixion; Woodward and Bernstein are self-serving myth-makers.”   One presumes that Hollinger would never have employed such tenacious journalists. 

As with his own story, our not so trusty editorialist believes that the combination of selective details and forceful speech will result in the reevaluation and redemption of Nixon.  One is left to wonder how Black feels about the late president’s stance on crime.  Perhaps I have a selective memory as well but doesn’t the genesis of the ‘war on drugs’, and the subsequent explosion of convictions and incarcerations (which Black now so vehemently decries), date back to this period?  Maybe the ever-selective and one-dimensional Black just doesn’t see a connection between his heroes such as Reagan and Nixon (not to mention some of the rhetoric that came out of Hollinger newspapers) and the prison industrial complex.