Amiel to savor
It is difficult to feel sorry for Conrad Black, the press baron whose Hollinger newspaper empire seems about to disintegrate because of his alleged looting of the company. And it is impossible to feel anything but joy at the embarrassment of those illustrious personages who sat on the Hollinger board -- including Henry Kissinger, Richard Perle, Marie-Josee Kravis, former Illinois Gov. James Thompson (!), and convicted felon Alfred Taubman (!!) -- all of whom sat silently as Black shoveled shareholder assets into his and his cronies' private ventures.
According to today's New York Times, these very smart and very very important people spent just enough time on Hollinger board business to rubber-stamp Black's shenanigans and vote themselves a raise. For several of them, crucial questions of fiduciary responsibility appear to have been obscured by a much simpler inquiry: "Where's mine?"
Aside from the dubious ethics, of course, the Hollinger story offers yet another episode in the annals of right-wing hypocrisy. Black's flagship London "quality" newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, wasted more ink on Whitewater than any other publication outside the United States. Indeed, the Telegraph "broke" many Clinton scandal tales, few of which turned out to bear any resemblance to reality. Featured in the paper's Clinton coverage was an undisguised contempt for the "sleazy business deals" of the president and his Arkansas friends.
Among the opinion-mongers most responsible for that attitudinizing tone was Black's wife, Barbara Amiel. As a columnist she never allowed her skimpy familiarity with basic facts to interfere with her duty to tell us all what to think. In Whitewater there was "a pattern of corruption leading in an unbroken path from Arkansas to Washington," she wrote early on. "Nothing, it seems, can embarrass Bill Clinton."
Now I suppose we shall see what, if anything, can embarrass Amiel, whose domestic staff was apparently subsidized by Hollinger shareholders, at a cost of more than $230,000, and who reportedly received "previously undisclosed payments" as a member of the Hollinger board. What would become of her, Kissinger, Perle and the rest of the Hollinger crew if a zealous prosecutor had $50 million and five years to burn investigating them?
While Black may fall, Rupert Murdoch continues to rise, along with his anointed heirs James and Lachlan. Alexander Cockburn recently interviewed the author of "The Murdoch Archipelago," a new book about the corruption and intimidation that undergird the News Corp. empire. (Let's hope that Simon & Schuster, which published this important, scathing title in Britain, will show the courage to publish it here soon as well.) Cockburn describes longtime investigative journalist Bruce Page's core thesis:
"Murdoch offers his target governments a privatized version of a state propaganda service, manipulated without scruple and with no regard for truth. His price takes the form of vast government favors such as tax breaks, regulatory relief (as with the recent FCC ruling on the acquisition of Direct TV), monopoly markets and so forth. The propaganda is undertaken with the utmost cynicism, whether it's the stentorian fake populism and soft porn in the UK's Sun and News of the World, or shameless bootlicking of the butchers of Tiananmen Square."
Stentorian fake populism? That sounds a lot like Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity.
[11:30 a.m. PST, Jan. 5, 2004]