John Moore on Conrad Black

Written by  //  July 18, 2007  //  Business, John Moore, Justice & Law, Media  //  1 Comment

Canadian elites’ judicial “blind spot” for those we admire

People tend to forgive those sins and sinners with which they can identify. The families of drunk drivers rally around their loved ones when they are on trial. “It was a small mistake”, they argue, “out of character and something anyone else could easily have done.” Were the shoe on the other foot and a member of their family been killed by an inebriated driver, they would offer angry tearstained victim impact statements arguing no amount of hard time would be too much for the offender.
And so it is with Conrad Black now that a jury has found him guilty of mail fraud and obstruction of justice. Black’s loyal friends in the media — who fearlessly and often somewhat patronizingly predicted his lordship would be acquitted — are united in a mixture of disbelief and outrage that such a great man might be tried and judged.
Months ago in my Toronto CFRB radio studio, George Jonas, ex husband of Black’s current wife, told me with a glimmer in his eye that he had not a speck of doubt that “he will be found innocent.” Immediately following the jury’s not terribly astonishing verdict, Jonas wrote that “the law is a poor substitute for justice.” He also offered a story about Lord Black’s kindness toward Jonas’ wife’s working dog as if a soft spot for man’s best friend were a litmus test of good character.
The media not only played cheerleader for Black during his trial they behaved as if they could will the jury toward the verdict his admirers so earnestly desired. It’s a practice that may work well in nudging public opinion during an election campaign but I doubt the Black jury ever read this newspaper’s 14-page tribute to its founder published in the final week of the trial.
Upon delivery of the verdict there began a chorus of indignant denunciations of everything from the ambitious and overzealous prosecutors to the American justice system itself. One prominent broadcaster and sometimes Black friend sniffed to me “Never allow yourself to be judged by a panel of housewives.”
Memo to Canada’s media elites: get a grip. Black was fairly prosecuted, ably defended, found guilty by a jury of his peers (yes he does have them) and the likelihood of his conviction being overturned on appeal is close to nil. Even amongst his enemies there are not likely many who relish the notion of this outsized, grandiloquent, maverick dying behind bars but that does not change the probability that it may happen.
But we always have a blind spot for those we love or admire. And in Black that blind spot is shared not only the Establishment to which he was born but also the media world he chose as his universe. So dazzled are these people by his intellect, charm, wealth and towering ego they cannot begin to imagine he might be guilty of a crime. And even if he is, it can’t really be a crime of much importance if only a piffling few million dollars was involved.
There’s nothing new in this phenomenon. Martha Stewart’s conviction raised a howl of protest amongst those who thought her ability to generate wealth and make a mean remoulade should trump a bonded corporate officer and a former licensed stock broker altering records to cover up insider trading. Only recently the pundocrasy in the United States rose up to defend Dick Cheney’s right hand man Scooter Libby after he was convicted of perjury. Sure he had committed a crime but so had Bill Clinton and besides Scooter only lied under oath to protect his boss. And he’s a swell fellow and good company.
The consensus amongst those who would shrug off these kinds of character deficits and crimes and misdemeanors exposes the core of elite thinking that, to borrow from F Scott Fitzgerald, “the rich are not like you and me”. Because it seems unpalatable for refined, accomplished and grand people to go to jail we should somehow find a way to ensure that they don’t. Either the system must be found to be flawed, the accused must have been railroaded or once we run out of options, surely they are deserving of a pardon. Their humiliation, we are told, is enough.
Conrad Black was tried and convicted in a country where a man born into poverty, let down by public education and shunned by employers for the colour of his skin can go to jail for life for robbing three convenience stores. When the media elites take an interest in the indignity of his imprisonment, I will be somewhat more inclined to think that Conrad Black is getting a raw deal.

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