Alex Massie

Why I hope Conrad Black wins his appeal

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I carry no candle for Conrad Black and I've never worked for him. But his conviction on charges of fraud (albeit for raking in a comparatively trivial $3m) has occasioned another one of those interesting and illuminating differences between British and North American journalism. Without exception every British journalist I've talked to feels rather sorry for Lord Black of Crossharbour; without exception every American or Canadian hack seems pretty pleased that he's come a cropper.

Doubtless there are exceptions to this general rule (after all, my sample size is pretty small in the scheme of things) but it's striking nonetheless. The case for Black's defense is simple: he's a newspaper man. Black cares passionately about newspapers and, time after time, proved he was prepared to lavish time and money upon them. So what if he could be a bully and a braggart? The man had a sense of style, a certain swagger and, above all, a belief that papers matter that more than made up for his shortcomings (which, it must be admitted, included installing his loopy wife Barbara Amiel as a columnist at the Daily Telegraph). Better that, by far, than the management and death by calculator favoured by modern management.

Now if Black were a businessman in any other business I'll grant you that I might not be so charitable. But he has unfashionably inky fingers and he loves my shabby business so I'm predisposed to charity in his case. Newspaper owners - Beaverbrook, Rothermere, Maxwell, Murdoch, Black etc - should be larger than life rascals. It's part of the bleedin' job description. Plus, Black had a sense of humour too: how many moguls write letters (for publication) to the editor complaining about the position their own paper had taken on a given issue? Well, Conrad Black did and it spoke well of him: he understood the game.

So, yeah, I hope his appeal is successful and that, somehow, the old rogue bounces back.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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