The Conrad Black Book Club: A Matter of Principle, Chapter 1
When we found out that Conrad Black was releasing a book, we smacked our heads and thought, “Of COURSE!” Really, that Black hasn’t published a memoir
before now is somewhat shocking—the famously loquacious Lord has never exactly been shy about speaking his mind and nearly twenty years is a long time. To that end, A Matter of Principle is a gift from on high. The gargantuan tome is a timeless, epic tale straight from the baron’s mouth, a juicy catalogue of betrayal (by pretty much everyone), love (for Barbara Amiel), corruption (of the American justice system, naturally), and triumph over adversity (think Dead Poet’s Society reenactments, only Black is Robin Williams and the students are Black’s cellmates). To celebrate this momentous literary event, we bring you the Conrad Black Book Club, in which every week we’ll be discussing a chapter from this seminal work. Read our first recap—and a collection of Black’s most ridiculous passages—after the jump.
Chapter 1: Conrad reflects on three decades’ worth of happier days
Lord Black begins his tale where it ends: in Florida’s Coleman Federal Correctional Complex. Conrad’s prison experience is fairly boring, and he spends his days and nights musing over the collapse of society in his absence. He describes his home study, filled with ridiculous items (a crystal model of the Titanic, a shield given to him by a Zulu chief, an iron copy of Stalin’s death mask), and proceeds to provide a backgrounder on his illustrious newspaper career, which began at the U.K.’s Telegraph and eventually saw Black purchase a large block of Southam shares in 1992. (One would expect the juiciest chunk of this chapter to be Black’s rivalry with Rupert Murdoch, but the baron is surprisingly to the point on the subject, dealing in price cuts and circulation scuffles rather than mudslinging.) He does, however, bill himself as the first adopter of new technology, claiming to have predicted the changes in the newspaper industry as early as the mid-’90s. Of course he did. He is the prophet of our times. The climax of the chapter is Black’s crowning achievement: the creation of the National Post. Through the misty, soft-focus lens of memory, Black touts the editorial prowess of Ken Whyte and recalls the Post’s halcyon youth.
In the words of the Lord:
• On reading the newspaper in prison: “Lying in my bunk after the lights have gone out, I reflect on the ludicrous demise of my great love affair with America.”
• On his integrity as a publisher: “Technically, of course I did have control of the newspaper, but I was always wary, there as in the National Post and elsewhere, of imposing my will too strongly on valued editors, other than for the most overwhelmingly important issues.”
• On Rupert Murdoch (and on The Simpsons, in case we hadn’t heard of it): “Personally, Murdoch is an enigma. My best guess is that culturally he is an Archie Bunker who enjoys locker room scatological humour and detests effete liberalism. I have long thought that his hugely successful animated cartoon television program, The Simpsons, is the expression of his societal views: the people are idiots and their leaders are crooks.”
• On the Toronto Star: “The Star, Canada’s largest-circulation newspaper for many decades, was a middle-brow, oppressively Toronto-centric, anti-American, soft-left product, with acres of flabbily written pap sniping at capitalism, traditionalism, Christianity, and anything remotely America.”
• On the National Post’s reputation for over-spending: “In truth, the annual parties were Spartan affairs and far from extravagant, offering only drinks and rudimentary food. The dancing was more than the usual spectacle given the pulchritude and panache of many of the female staff.”
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