Not so Black as all that

Convicted fraudster Conrad Blackā€¦ No, hang on a minute. That won't do. This is really not the moment for yet another hack to do what journalists do far too often: kick somebody when they are down - especially if that somebody used to be a big player and was someone to whom, not very long ago, most people were being nauseatingly sycophantic.

by Stefan Stern
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Last Friday's news from Chicago, while utterly devastating for Black himself, was not quite the complete humiliation it has been portrayed as being. He was convicted on only four out the 13 charges filed against him. And for all the outraged coverage of Black's excessive lifestyle, he was not actually convicted of abusing corporate funds to pay for all those parties, holidays and flights. Those former colleagues who declared themselves "shocked, shocked!" that the champagne might not have been paid for out of Conrad's own pocket will have to temper their outrage just a little.

Black has behaved stupidly, greedily and indeed criminally. The four convictions - three on charges of fraud, and one of blocking justice - seem sound. But let us also remember that at his peak Black displayed a swagger and self-confidence rare among newspaper proprietors these days. He challenged his editors but ultimately left them free to edit, limiting himself to disappointed "letters to the editor" to get his point across. Would you rather attend a lecture given by Black or by Richard Desmond - or for that matter, even one given by Rupert Murdoch himself?

Black's biographies, of FDR and Richard Nixon, have both been well received. And in most of his personal dealings Black maintained a courtesy and dignity consistent with the "great man" status he so earnestly sought.

MT's dealings with him were limited - but when I approached him to do an interview with the magazine a few years ago I received perhaps the most politely and elegantly expressed "No" in the history of British journalism, all on Lord Black of Crossharbour's very smart stationery.

Black will lose his appeal and go to prison. He will be sentenced in November. But he will emerge (in five years' time?) to fight again and, having paid his debt to society, will re-establish himself, somewhere.

I look forward to the exciting comeback.

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