Black Watch: Today’s Top Stories

Down the years, Conrad Black’s efforts at both practising journalism and owning the presses that print it have met with mixed results. As a journalist, his sensibility fell somewhere on a spectrum between afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable. As an owner, his attitude was rather more like that of Orson Welles’ fictitious creation Charles Foster Kane, with his famous dictum that the public will think “what I tell them to think.” Of course these two stances are somewhat at odds, which is why simultaneously owning the paper and writing its contents is generally frowned upon. Even Black knew that, as an owner, one needs to at least doff one’s cap in the general direction of that ethical bromide. Hence whenever he felt compelled to comment in the newspapers he owned, he would, like the rest of his paper’s readers, write a letter to the editor. That his scribbling for the most part made it into the paper in a timely and generally unabridged fashion always reminded me that the press, while free, is generally more congenial toward those who can afford it.

Lately Conrad Black has relieved himself of the need for these sorts of contortions (again with mixed results). Still, having joined the rest of us on Grub Street, one senses in Black’s prose a certain, how to say, imperiousness. Take for instance his column this past weekend in the National Post, in which he takes a run at his old nemesis and my fellow contributor here at Toronto Life, Peter Newman. Even a cursory glance reveals that Black, whose past assertions both journalistic and juridical on this subject were well publicized, remains displeased. I won’t repeat the litany of his grievance except to say that it is continuous with his past assertions. On the other side, Newman has responded and that response will turn up shortly in the National Post, and having read said response I promise you Newman needs no further help from me. In the end, as I read along, I couldn’t help but be reminded of that astonishing scene in Citizen Kane where Kane is confronted by his old friend and journalistic alter ego Jedediah Leland. Leland is fed up with Kane’s unselfconscious egoism and famously lets him know it:

Leland: You don’t care about anything except you. You just want to persuade people that you love ’em so much that they ought to love you back. Only you want love on your own terms. Something to be played your way, according to your rules…

Kane: A toast, Jedediah, to love on my terms. Those are the only terms anybody ever knows—his own.

A Peddler Of Gossip, Well Past His Prime: Source [National Post]


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