The Ink-Stained Maw Descends

The Ink-Stained Maw Descends

And so it begins. After months of accelerating buildup, culminating in the pillar-to-post coverage over the last two weeks, the ink-stained maw has descended on the city of big shoulders for what’s being described as the mightiest trial thereabouts since that of the Chicago 7, and presumably only Al Capone (whose portrait adorned Hollinger’s New York office) before that. Press coverage has been particularly intense in Black’s former media precincts. From Sydney to London to New York, the major newspapers have all had a go, varying in their tone from the Brits’ steady drumbeat of derision to America’s sniffily faux indifference.

The opening salvos from Toronto’s mainstream press ran the gamut from stage-managed pieces tracking Black’s self-ascribed defence (interviews with the National Post’s Theresa Tedesco and The Globe and Mail’s Patricia Best, the latter in the guise of dinner at Scaramouche) to unmitigated shows of support (Mark Steyn for Maclean’s, who summed up his arguments thusly: “I hope Conrad Black is acquitted in Chicago”) to the requisite hoax, courtesy of Frank magazine prankster Michael Bate (his Web site saw everyone from Lord Black himself to America’s oldest newspaper industry journal to London’s mighty Guardian reeled in like so many limp mackerel. The po-faced press (a veritable Nuremberg rally on this subject) will smirk, snigger and move on.

And yet, in reflecting on this Black mischief, one wonders which is the greater hoax—Frank magazine’s or the mainstream press’s coverage. In a moment of typically loony self-congratulation, Black wrote in Britain’s Tatler that the media’s “monstrous caricature” has of late “been diluted in the U.S. and largely erased in Canada.” This is, of course, an attempt at a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can hardly blame Black. He’s trying keep his ass out of stir (and, as his invitation to his would-be cheerleaders at for drinks at his house indicates, any port in a storm).

The trial promises to be a Roman circus, and there is plenty of intrigue lurking in the wings. Rumours abound that Frank’s lord and master has made fast friends with Black nemesis Tom Bower (recently slapped with an $11-million libel suit for his book Conrad & Lady Black: Dancing on the Edge), and that they plan to meet up at the trial. Vanity Fair celebrity chronicler Dominick Dunne has already made it known that one of his prime angles is encouraging Eddie Greenspan to fall flat on his face—payback for snotty comments Greenspan made about the writer in a documentary.

Still, the Lord and Lady remain the big draw, and most reporters will while away the more tedious hours in the courtroom placing bets on whether Black will take the stand in his own defence, what Barbara Amiel will be wearing that day, or whether, as is rumoured, she’ll actually be called as a witness.

So, in the words of the great Michael Buffer, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”