Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

As the trial rattles toward its denouement sometime on Tuesday of next week and the fate of Black et al. falls into the laps of 12 ordinary Americans, the last tactical skirmishes paralleling the hostilities in the courtroom play out in the press. Coverage has ebbed somewhat at the moment. The Brits, having seen the Eddies make their case for Lord Black, have decamped, leaving the wire services, local press and the Canadian entourage. The Canadians are a source of some fascination to the American and British press. Representatives of both contingents have puzzled openly about the obvious bias displayed by the likes of Mark Steyn and Peter Worthington in and out of the courtroom. Questions also arose about the obvious conflict involved in Ken Whyte assigning and editing pieces at Maclean’s despite receiving a $100,000 bonus from Black nearly two years after his former boss gave up ownership of the Post. Then, over the last couple of days, things started to get really weird. First Theresa Tedesco wrote a piece in the Post quoting Julie Ruder’s father suggesting that Greenspan’s performance had to some extent repudiated his daughter’s argument from the day before:

“Later, Julie Ruder’s father was asked what he thought of Mr. Greenspan’s jury address. ‘There really are two sides to a story,’ came the reply.”

The next morning before court, the head of the prosecution team, Eric Sussman, confronted the Star’s Rick Westhead—whom Sussman perceives, and rightly so, as an honest broker among the various factions of the Canadian press. He told him in no uncertain terms that speaking with any members of the prosecution’s family was out of bounds and suggested that, in future, access to the prosecution would be a good deal more difficult. He told Westhead to spread the word, which he did. Sussman also confronted Tedesco and asked questions about how the quote was elicited, the suggestion being that she did not properly identify herself as a member of the press. Mark Steyn blogged about the incident on the Maclean’s Web site:

“Boy, these prosecutors are touchy guys. Julie Ruder’s dad was in court for her big closing statement, and afterwards Theresa Tedesco and a couple of others went over for a word with him.

This morning, lead prosecutor Eric Sussman strode into court purple-faced and told one of our number to pass the word that if any of us spoke to members of prosecutors’ families again nobody on the government team would utter a word to us ever again.

We all quaked in terror and then fell around laughing. Is that a federal offence? ‘Social interaction with family members of the US Attorney’s office’—15 years plus, if the family member’s female, male fraud.”

But that wasn’t the end of it. This morning in the Toronto Sun, Peter Worthington wrote the following:

“The prosecutors looked increasingly uncomfortable as summations droned on. Evidence of prosecutors unravelling could be detected in lead prosecutor Eric Sussman blowing up that Theresa Tedesco, in the Financial Post, quoted Julie Ruder’s lawyer father who attended the trial to watch his daughter.I had spoken to the father, and complimented him on his daughter’s performance, saying she’d done the best job among prosecution lawyers. But I didn’t write anything, Tedesco did, damn it, and Sussman, rather resembling an indignant ferret, confronted the Star’s Rick Westhead to relay a message to the ‘foreign’ media that writing about relatives or kin of the prosecutors would bring dire consequences.Sussman then buttonholed Tedesco and warned her (which, knowing Tedesco, is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline). There were no such sensitivities when prosecutor Jeffrey Cramer brought his family and children to court to hear his opening statement, calling the defendants ‘conspirators’ and likening them to bank robbers and burglars, but in suits and ties.

Ms. Ruder also wondered why Westhead felt the need to remark (in print) that she put on lipstick before performing. Would he make such an observation about a male lawyer? When told of the incident, Greenspan quipped that he was glad Westhead hadn’t caught him putting on lipstick.

So clearly the prosecutors are touchy these days.”

The Financial Times of London even weighed in on this imbroglio with an unsigned diary item:

“Eric Sussman, chief prosecutor in the criminal trial against Conrad Black, must have learnt a thing or two from his boss, US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, about playing tough with the media.

He hasn’t actually hauled any reporters off to prison, as Fitzgerald did with Judith Miller, the former New York Times reporter who refused to tell him the name of her sources.

But Sussman’s team let it be known to the gaggle of Canadian, British and American journalists following the three-month trial that he would refuse to speak to them if any journalist quoted the prosecution team’s relatives, who sometimes drop by the court to watch.

The warning was communicated after the straitlaced Sussman could be heard berating a Canadian journalist on Wednesday for quoting the father of his colleague Julie Ruder, who had been in the courtroom watching Black’s lawyer deliver a closing argument.

‘Did you tell Julie Ruder’s father you were quoting him on the record?’ he asked before storming off.

The offensive quote? Ruder told the journalist, ‘There really are two sides of a story.’”

Several of the combatants had what diplomats call a “frank and open exchange” on the matter this morning before court. With the weekend upon us, I suspect sleeping dogs will be left to snooze in peace. But what to make of all this? Put bluntly, in a trial with this much at stake, with any number of layered agendas in play, when one faction of the press is campaigning on behalf of the defence, these sorts of sensitivities and distortions are bound to arise. In the meantime, reporters like Westhead and Waldie, who play it relatively straight, end up having to march to a beat not their own. As one of the players in this wee drama suggested this morning, “I’m getting pulled into the middle of something and I don’t even have a dog in the fight.”

Black a ‘good man,’ defence tells jurors [National Post]Defense portrays press lord as ‘good man’ [Chicago Tribune]The end is near in fraud trial [Toronto Star]No evidence against Black co-accused, court told [Globe and Mail]