Things I saw that left my jaw swinging
As much as I dread it, like every other dog and his dog, I’m going to lift my leg and offer up a year-ender. In lieu of the usual categories (winners/losers, laurels/darts, thumbs-up/-down/-sideways) I’ve decided on an entirely subjective metric that allows for my eccentricity, narrative flow and abject laziness. Herewith then are the first three entries in a series of Things I Saw and/or Heard at the Trial of the 10th of This Century So Far™ That Left My Jaw Swinging in the Air Like an Poorly Hinged Window:
1. July 13th, 2007: Verdict day. A band of feral, muscle-bound federal marshals appeared on the scene for the first time, there to secure St. Eve’s courtroom. They emerged from the west elevators, marching more or less in formation, armed and carrying what appeared to be various instruments of torture. During a break in the proceedings, Black’s malign Boswell Tom Bower, myself and the Post’s Theresa Tedesco stood just outside the courtroom doors squawking on cell phones while waiting for the proceedings to resume. Just as St. Eve was about to gavel the assembled to order, the marshals shut the doors at the back blocking our way. Bower immediately went on the offensive. Using an intonation and accent somewhere between an aggrieved Anglican prelate and drill sergeant at Sandhurst, Bower protested (and I quote), “look hee-ah open these doors eemmee-jidtly” and began yanking on the handles to little effect. The marshal poked his head out, barked a threat and pulled the door shut. Bower would have none of it. “In the name of common decency I dee-mand that you desist. We’ve been covering these proceedings for months and on a fascistic whim you would bar us our rights. No wonder Americans so loathe their own government.” This outburst didn’t raise so much as an eyebrow from the centurion. After a while, the three of us schlepped off to an overflow room to watch the proceedings on CCTV. As he recessed, Bower continued his Raj-like rant: “What an appalling man. This country really is running down to the dogs.” Etc. etc. etc.
2. Besides his preening made-for-TV en famille processions and recessions from the court room, nothing gave Conrad Black’s essential hubris away so much as his obsessive courting of the press. Black, despite his embittered complaints at what he deemed the fourth estate’s rush to judgment, was like a junkie currying favour with his abusive dealer—no price too high, no indignity too low to get that fix he craved. Rick Westhead won an exclusive audience just before sentencing—even after Black had effectively boycotted Westhead for keeping too close company with prosecutors Black had deemed “Nazis”. In the end, Black’s attention-seeking met its symbiotic mate in Westhead’s persistent courting and Black afforded Westhead an interview over dinner in Palm Beach. Said one wag “it’s as if Alger Hiss had gone to dinner with Joe McCarthy to chew over the HUAC hearings.”
3. Among Black’s more ardent tormentors, none was more mischievous than James Bone of The Times. Going up in the elevator on verdict day, Bone was heard practicing a question in French (Black had made a habit of twitting British and English-Canadian journos by responding in scrums only to questions put to him by French Canadians in la langue d’amour.) Put roughly, it translated to: “Lord Black, are you aware that twenty percent of first-time inmates in federal prisons are sexually abused?” I never discovered if he had the nerve to put the question directly. Charming, n’est ce pas?