Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories
The press’s late summer hibernation from Conrad Black—following what could be his last real effort to return home before sentencing—began in earnest over the weekend. There was little or nothing in the way of coverage. I did note, however, an engaging if somewhat eccentric piece by Zimbabwean journalist Chenjerai Chitsaru. Writing on a Web site produced by journalists forced into exile by the dreaded Mugabe regime, Chitsaru compares and contrasts recent developments in the lives and careers of Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black with what he terms the “African media crisis.” And while he readily admits that both men are worthy of criticism in their own right, their relative skulduggery is nothing compared to the efforts of Mugabe and his henchmen to control coverage of their exploits within Zimbabwe. In the end, its idiosyncrasies notwithstanding, the piece reminds us that while there are far worse abusers of an ostensibly free press than the likes of Black or Murdoch, the vigilant defence of same is our only bulwark against the dangers of uninformed consent, state sanctioned or otherwise.
With that in mind, I report today that sources close to the prosecution in the Conrad Black case confirmed last week that it was the prosecution’s understanding the $100,000 payment accepted by Ken Whyte from Black nearly 18 months after Black ceased his ownership of the Post was in fact a “retainer” rather than, as Whyte would have it, a payment for past performance. This, combined with Whyte’s litigation against Hollinger International regarding share options he’d been granted while in Black’s employ, further clouds the issue of Maclean’s relative objectivity in covering the case in a manner conceived and directed by Ken Whyte.
Update: Reached for comment this evening, Whyte responded via e-mail: “I reached a settlement with Hollinger earlier this year. I hope you’re not going to be writing about my compensation again but if you are I would appreciate it if you would ask me about it first.” Asked if he had anything to add in response to those who would suggest that the form of his compensation put him into a conflict of interest with regard to his directing the coverage of the Conrad Black trial for Maclean’s, Whyte replied: “I’ve said far more than I want to say about it, thanks.”