The Conrad Black Book Club: A Matter of Principle, Chapter 6 (wherein Conrad loses the Telegraph)
Going on the word of Conrad Black alone (and his long, obscure words are the only ones we have), the Lord has basically become the business equivalent of Charlie Brown (same initials, even!). He’s just trying to do the right thing. But arch-nemesis Richard Breeden keeps pulling that football out of the way before he can kick it.
Black’s sale of Hollinger Inc. to the dapper Barclay brothers is blocked by the Hollinger International board, which challenges its validity. Even Black’s old pal Henry Kissinger votes against it, prompting the Baron to volley an “Et tu, Brute?” at the former Secretary of State (kind of a lame zinger, no? We’re sure Kissinger has heard much worse). This leads to a whole slew of trials, depositions and conferences with one Judge Leo Strine, a Delaware adjudicator who is, according to Black, as provincial as he is obtuse.
Meanwhile, Black’s new status as high society pariah is having an impact on Barbara. First she’s axed from the Telegraph, and then from Maclean’s; the editor who fired her, Black is quick to point out, often asked him for a job but never even passed an interview. Black insists that he’s devastated by his plummeting social status, but also notes that as a historian, he finds it interesting. Oh, brother.
Eventually, the sale of Hollinger Inc. is permanently halted—that’s when mammoth private equity firm Cerberus steps in, offering to refinance Hollinger Inc. Black is suspicious, and a ringing endorsement of Cerberus from Dan Quayle doesn’t help matters (although it provides another golden opportunity to name drop; which, naturally, Black takes).
Black’s suspicion eventually reaches Shutter Island proportions: he becomes convinced that Cerberus and Breeden are in cahoots. It sounds paranoid, but Cerberus’s last-minute withdrawal from the deal suggests that maybe Black isn’t so crazy after all.
Eventually, against the din of Black’s loud, vociferous protests, Hollinger International sells the Telegraph to the Barclay brothers, giving Breeden and co. a sum that equals 30 times what Hollinger originally paid for the paper. Resigned, Black sells his home in the U.K., hoping to quietly move on and become a “modest figure in American finance.” Which would be fine, if we didn’t already know that Black’s definition of “modest” is $80 million a year.
In the words of the Lord:
On Judge Leo Strine’s ineptitude: “It again revealed Strine’s naive inability to grasp the nature of the war that he had aggressively declined to bring to a swift and happy end with his mad and unjust verdict. This was corporate Armageddon, Gotterdammerung, not another Delaware commercial tiddly-winks match.”
On the Times’s reaction to Cerberus’s $2 billion loss in 2009: “The New York Times reported this unlikely freshet of muscular Americanism from one of Wall Street’s weediest vultures, defoliated of feathers, credibility, and investors, with becoming and wry amusement.”
On his loss of social status: “I had gone from being a person of prominence in some circles to a negative ex-presence, someone it was desired and enjoyable to humiliate, if not deliberately, by cavalier demonstration of my new insignificance.”