By Frank Moher
Now that the Conrad Black trial has entered its Radlerian phase, with Black’s former capo taking the stand against him, it’s time once again to blog the poor bloggers (and columnists) consigned to Chicago’s federal courthouse.
Question: what is Mark Steyn without his trademark wit? Answer: the rather dull fellow we find currently blogging the trial for Maclean’s. Steyn’s anger at what he regards as the unjust treatment of his former boss guides his coverage — impartiality, apparently, is for wanks — and nothing is more certain to make you unfunny than righteous indignation. Alas, without the yuks, Steyn is just another information worker — and not a very reliable one at that.
His composure deserted him completely on Monday, as, along with the rest of the drama-starved courtroom live-ins, he salivated at the prospect of Radler’s arrival. “The day of the rat is here,” he wrote. “Renowned cheapskate and germaphobe David Radler, Conrad Black’s right-hand man turned government stool pigeon, is scheduled to begin testifying today.” That’s either four or five epithets, depending on whether you regard “right-hand man” as derisory. Perhaps just “rat cheapskate germaphobe” would have been enough.
But the greater problem with Steyn’s team loyalty is that it’s forcing him into some bizarre moral postures. Lately he’s taken to arguing this: the Hollinger directors signed off on documents referring to the non-compete payments that are at the heart of the prosecution’s case. Whether they knew they were doing so (they say they did not) is irrelevant; according to Steyn, that makes the payments all right. But, of course, it does no such thing — particularly in the case of the payment made by Horizon Publications, which Black and Radler partially owned. Even the rat cheapskate germaphobe could figure that one out. “Did you have any intention of competing?” prosecutor Eric Sussman asked Radler.
“No,” he answered.
“Because it would be like competing against one’s self.”
Meantime, over at Toronto Life, Douglas Bell continues to offer the liveliest coverage, thanks in no small part to those leaving comments on his blog. In response to Barbara Amiel’s latest Maclean’s column, in which she pulls an Elizabeth May and makes some inappropriate second world war allusions, one reader writes: “This self-righteous peaen to botox, collagen, cosmetic surgery, etc. is trying to compare her current predicament to the Holocaust???” Never mind that “paean” is misspelled; that’s personal invective worthy of Mark Steyn!
Another visitor notes that “Black’s claim that he left Radler to run the western Canadian and US papers never was very credible. For example, he weighed in publicly in labour disputes at their Calgary paper, at one point engaging in his trademark style of mudslinging when he described a priest, who supported the labourers, as a jerked up little twit, or some such charming Black epithet . . . . he must be hoping the prosecution doesn’t happen on the numerous accounts of his handling of that labour dispute.” One of which, come to think of it, you’ll find right here in backofthebook.ca.
In The Independent, Dominic Lawson quotes this telling passage from Black’s new biography of Richard Nixon “The American prosecutorial system encourages suborned or intimidated perjury, or at least spontaneous clarity of recollection . . . plea bargains are negotiated by threat and financial strangulation and reduction of penalties, as lower echelons roll over in sequence blaming higher-ups.” Adds Lawson: “For Richard Milhous Nixon, read Conrad Moffat Black.”
Many bloggers remarked on how hale and relaxed Radler appeared on the stand. “If they win their case, federal prosecutors might want to consider using Radler in a promotional video about the incentives to being a cooperating witness,” wrote Mark Brown in the Chicago Sun-Times. To Steyn, of course, this was evidence of self-satisfaction.
But it may just be that a little confession remains good for the soul.
And everybody seemed to buy Radler’s claim that he doesn’t know how to use e-mail. But as those of us who do use e-mail know, one should never commit to the cybersphere anything one wouldn’t want to see on the front page of the newspaper the next day. It seems to me just as likely that Radler — engaged in various shady transactions as he was — realized that the phone, not Microsoft Outlook, was his friend.
That lousy rat cheapskate germaphobe.