Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

Both sides got in their opening shots, and the interested world press continues to throw the kitchen sink into their coverage. The Globe now seems to have three people in the courtroom: one observing the lawyers (Brown), one observing the jury (Waldie) and one observing her navel (Blatchford). As for the truth, might I suggest a soupçon of the Sun’s crusty yet reliable founding editor Peter Worthington (the only one who got the jury fracas right). The master summed up yesterday’s proceedings in seven terse words: “Nothing unexpected. And little that was new.”Prosecution lawyer: ‘Bank robbers use masks and carry guns’ [Toronto Sun]Lawyers try hard to make Black case simple [Toronto Star]The prosecution’s nifty graphics stood in stark contrast to the old-fashioned words of the defence [Globe and Mail]We owe Conrad and Barbara gratitude [Telegraph]’Burglars use crowbars, robbers guns. He used memos and lies’ [Guardian]

New and Notable

What is new, and what no doubt curdled his Lordship’s porridge this morning, was a piece in the Wall Street Journal. Alan Murray, among the most respected columnists at the most influential business paper on earth, took dead aim at the broader implications of Black’s case and did not like what he saw. Having spoken at length to a player in the trial that other journos likely can’t even get on the phone, he wrote: “Black’s peerage and her décolletage aside, however, this trial will provide the most graphic illustration yet of why the 20th-century model of the public corporation broke down.” Yikes. The fact is that Murray’s column is more likely to have appeared under Judge St. Eve’s nose than anything written about the trial so far. With that in mind, we’ve included excerpts below:

“Just as the Washington business lobby is stepping up its campaign to remove the post-Enron shackles from business, Conrad Black has returned to remind us why those shackles were put there in the first place… There is, first of all, the brazenness of Mr. Black’s actions. Messrs. Lay and Ebbers might claim their deceits were for the benefit of all shareholders, of which they happened to be among the largest. Mr. Black can make no such claim. He and three others stand accused of fraudulently siphoning about $60 million out of Hollinger International, and into separate entities that they controlled. The prosecution will argue this was done without the knowledge or approval of Hollinger’s star-studded board of directors, which included Mr. Kissinger, Mr. Kravis’s wife, Marie-Josee, former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson and Richard Burt, former U.S. ambassador to Germany. Mr. Black continues to insist he is innocent…

“More remarkable than what was done without the board’s knowledge, however, is what was done with the board’s knowledge. From 1997 to 2003, Mr. Black and his associates transferred to themselves and their affiliates a total of about $400 million—an amount representing about 95 per cent of Hollinger’s entire adjusted net income during that period, according to a report prepared for the company’s board in 2004. The majority of this was apparently legal, and isn’t at issue in the trial. But that doesn’t make it right…

“Yet the Hollinger story is worth keeping in mind while Washington, acting under the banner of ‘competitiveness,’ begins rolling back those post-Enron changes in corporate laws, regulations and practices. Some of those clearly went too far, and could crimp the ability of public companies to create the prosperity they did in the past century. But others, particularly those making it clear that directors work for shareholders, not management, may not have gone far enough.”

Image courtesy JOHN GRESS/REUTERS (Toronto Star)