Sunday, October 16, 2011

He's back.....

Conrad Black is at it again. Even from behind bars he's giving us his take on the Occupy Wall Street protesters. "No one was without sin but they all were in feverish competition to throw the first stone, and follow with a fusillade," he wrote in his most recent National Post column. The Post allows this inmate, who is serving a five-year sentence for fraud, to write a regular column because Lord Black was its founder. (Can it be 13 years ago this month?) Of course, Black is a staunch defender of unrestrained capitalism and so his opinion of the protesters is pre-ordained.

Capitalism is the best system because it is the only one that conforms to the almost universal desire for more, for gain. This need not be Gordon Gekko's "greed works"; it is just as likely to be John Locke's proverbial prudent squirrel laying in enough acorns for the winter. But the desire for gain invariably pushes the system to excessive impetuosity.

This shouldn't be allowed. Take away his typewriter!

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Tubby checks in to the Crowbar Hotel

Conrad Black is officially a jailbird! His Tubbyness showed up as scheduled yesterday to begin serving his 6 1/2-year sentence for fraud and obstruction of justice after being found guilty late last year of defrauding Hollinger shareholders out of millions. Typically, The Verbose One maintained his innocence to the end. In his case, he has several mouthpiece newspapers to use in proclaiming his mistreatment, including the New York Sun, in which he penned an exculpatory column to coincide with his incarceration.
It is a terrible thing to be falsely accused, and wrongly convicted, even of a fraction of the original charges, and unjustly incarcerated. For persisting in seeking the recognition of my innocence of these charges, I have been portrayed as defiant, or at least in denial. I defy and deny unjust charges, not the practical difficulties I have faced for the last four years and am facing now.
In Canada, of course, the National Post he founded almost a decade ago provided a platform for Black's rationalizing, in which he blamed his plight on "a factional dispute between groups of shareholders" in his former newspaper company, Hollinger International. Some wanted the company "broken up or sold for a quick gain," according to Black. Others, he claimed, agreed with him and others in the company's management, who were conducting "an orderly withdrawal" from the tanking industry.
To prevail, the dissident shareholders had to remove the controlling shareholder. To destabilize my position, they began giving hostile interviews to competing publications, and attempted to depress the share price. In the commercial atmosphere after Enron and other accounting fraud cases where billions were lost and tens of thousands of people thrown into unemployment, the most effective way to force out an incumbent management was to attack their integrity.
The account provided by Black might convince someone who hasn't read the 500-page report of the independent directors committee of Hollinger, which chracterized the company's pillaging by Black, David Radler, and others as a "corporate kleptocracy." Unfortunately I have, as I had to digest it on short notice for a conference paper I was presenting in Sweden a few years ago. In piecing off the Hollinger empire, Black and Radler not only kept a percentage of the sales price -- typically 10 percent -- for themseves as "non-compete" payments. Hollinger shareholders figured that money should have gone to the company instead of its senior executives, but that's not what Black was convicted of. Even more egregious was the sale of newspapers to companies controlled by Black and Radler at arm's , often through relatives, such as Radler's father-in-law. The prices were a bargain indeed, as low as $1. Often they were re-sold in short order for a huge profit. If that isn't fraud, I don't know what is!

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Having your cake and eating it

It seems Rupert Murdoch isn't crazy after all. He'd like to hang onto as much as possible of the $65 million in subscription revenue the Wall Street Journal pulls in annually. Murdoch announced last year, after acquiring the crown jewel in business journalism, that he was going to tear down the subscription wall and make WSJ Online content free for all in pursuit of increased revenues from advertising. But it seems the Dirty Digger would like to have it both ways, as much as possible, adding last week that some things online will remain available only to subscribers.

Mr. Murdoch made his latest comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in answering a question. "We are going to greatly expand and improve the free part of The Wall Street Journal online, but there will still be a strong offering" for subscribers, he said. "The really special things will still be a subscription service, and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive."

The partial climb-down came the same days as news that readership of online newspapers jumped six percent in 2007, to 60 million visitors per month. The jump for December was nine perent over the same month a year earlier, boding even better for online journalism. Now if only advertising revenue follows suit the woes that seem to beset the newspaper business won't seem quite so severe. The head of the Newspaper Association of America, which sponsored the report by Neilsen Online, gave his best sales pitch in delivering the news.

"Newspapers' expanding print and digital portfolio offers value to advertisers by providing a targeted, comprehensive menu of choices for today's discriminating consumer," said NAA President and CEO John F. Sturm. "As our industry's transition accelerates, it is clear consumers recognize newspapers as
their trusted source of information in an increasingly digital environment."

The thing to watch will be what happens to advertising revenues, both in print and online, as the reession deepens and the full magnitude of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco reverberates throughout the economy.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

6 1/2 years? Only 6 1/2 years?

Lord Black of Double-Crossharbour (that's the best one I've heard in a long time!) got off lightly, if you ask me. The key to his short sentence was when Judge Amy St. Eve ruled he should be sentenced under the previous guidelines, not new ones introduced this year, which would have likely doubled his sentence. As a result, his prison time will be less than almost all the experts polled by Maclean's predicted. Black didn't even have to surrender himself into custody, being given three months to get his affairs in order and show up for incarceration in March. Not only that, but St. Eve is allowing Black to serve his time in Florida, closer to his home in Palm Beach, and not in icy Northern Illinois.

The one saving grace in all of this, for me at least, is the revelation that it was a journalist who was responsible for the most serious charge being laid against Black. While the fraud charges were the least of his worries, it was an obstruction of justice charge on which Black was convicted that carried the most prison time. According to the Toronto Star, that charge was not laid until a curious journalist started asking questions of prosecutors.

Some weeks after government lawyers filed the original indictment against Black,Wall Street Journal reporter Elena Cherney was working the phones. Now an editorwith The Globe and Mail, Cherney asked assistant U.S. attorney Eric Sussman why prosecutors hadn't charged Black for removing boxes from his Toronto office, violating a court order. Cherney's question would spark Sussman into action and lead to Black's most severe conviction, on obstruction.

The irony, of course, is in Black's long-trumpeted contempt for journalists as a species, to which he once referred as "swarming, grunting masses of jackals." He disposed of them by the hundreds at the many newspapers he acquired over the years. Once, after putting out the Daily Telegraph from behind a London picket line with only manasgement personnel, he deemed the excercise to have exposed "one of the great myths of the industry: that journalists are essential to producing a newspaper." Now, it seems, the ink-stained wreteches have at last extracted a measure of revenge.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Conrad may have skewered himself

Lord Black of Crossharbour, as he prefers to be known, may have added years to his sentence with an interview he did with BBC radio last week. The prosecution in his Chicago fraud sentencing next week has filed a brief pointing to His Lordship's defiance as evidence of a lack of remorse for his crimes. "Black's conduct makes clear that he would engage in the very same conduct again if given the opportunity,'" states the filing by Eric Sussman, assistant U.S. attorney. "To this day, Black maintains his offences of conviction were 'rubbish' and 'nonsense.'" In an interview on BBC4's Today programme, Black called his conviction "an injustice which will be the accepted fact of this case before long." He added that he never testified in his own defense because "it was not conceivable to any of the defendants or their counsel that we had not established well beyond reasonable doubt what we needed to achieve acquittals on every count."

Meanwhile, Black is hoping his celebrity friends can help save him from himself -- and prison. Letters on his behalf have been filed by more than 100 friends and acquaintances, according to a defence lawyer, including such dubious luminaries as Elton John and Rush Limbaugh. Jeffrey Steinback, a Chicago attorney working for Black, says the letters portray describe someone "with a deep reservoir of kindness and generosity consistently exhibited to people of all stations in life and an individual who has made significant contributions to society."

On the eve of His Lordship's imprisonment, directors of Hollinger, Inc., the newspaper company Black built and then looted of millions, are still trying to find out where the money went. "I don’t know where it is,” said Hollinger chief executive Wes Voorheis. “Black has done everything to make finding the money harder,” he said. Inc, the Canadian company that was used by Black to control Hollinger International. Voorheis is suing Black to recover $750 million, and according to the Sunday Times hired Juval Aviv, a controversial Israeli private investigator based in New York, to follow the money trail last year. "Aviv, who claimed to be a former Israeli commando and Mossad intelligence officer, provided nothing investigator to track it down."

I can hardly wait for Monday!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

7 years? 5 years? 29 months?

No, I haven't forgotten about Conrad Black's upcoming sentencing for fraud, which was supposed to be the original focus of this blog. It's just that the whole FCC thing kinda popped up there and took precedence for awhile. But the old Google news alert on Tubby has heated up again with the release of his pre-sentence report. According to a report in the Toronto Star, the probation officer who interviewed Black has recommended noted that the amount that Hollinger shareholders were defrauded was ONLY $6.1 million, which should equate to a sentence of seven years. The Canadian Press interviewed lawyers in the case, and from what they say it's good news for Lord Himself, who might even get off with only five years in the slammer.

Andrew Frey, the New York lawyer handling Mr. Black's appeal, said Wednesday he was encouraged by the fact that the pre-sentence investigation report didn't back up “the government's insane request for a massive sentence.” Prosecutors have asked for Mr. Black to serve between 24 and 30 years. While Mr. Frey wouldn't discuss the range of sentencing range the defence would find appropriate, he said he hopes the judge “can use some common sense here and hopefully appreciate that this is not the crime of century — even though it's a highly celebrated case — and hopefully show some common sense in devising an appropriate sentence.”

The Globe suggests Black's co-defendants might even get off with house arrest. According to a report in the Canadian Press, judge Amy St. Eve has been inundated with letters written on Black's behalf that portray him as . . . almost human. "Black's lawyers also argued his constant pronouncements of victory throughout the trial - including called the four Jewish prosecutors 'Nazis' - was a show of optimism, not arrogance, his lawyer said." So deep is Black's "reservoir of kindness," according to his lawyers, that he should even get off with the same 29-month sentence agreed to by David Radler, Black's former business partners and the prosecution's star witness. Oy, vey! Stay tuned as the rhetoric is bound to increase by sentencing on Dec. 10.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Only the Big to get Bigger?

Having escaped Seattle with his scalp -- although the jeers and catcalls from last Friday's sixth and final public meeting on cross-ownership rule changes must still be ringing in his ears -- FCC chair Kevin Martin finally unveiled the extent of his proposed changes yesterday. Under his plan, noted Editor & Publisher, only newspapers in the 20 largest television markets would be allowed to hold station licences.

The rewrite Martin is proposing is, as his own office said in its announce-ment "notably more conservative in approach" than the sweeping cross-ownership rule change it proposed in 2003. That rule change was overturned by an appeals court that nevertheless endorsed the general idea that newspapers could own broadcast in their markets. Martin's rule would allow dailies only in the top 20 Nielsen Designated Market Areas (DMAs), and would allow a paper to own either one TV station or one radio station.

The drive by media activists to preserve local news diversity apparently had some impact on the extent of the proposed changes, as newspapers would have to show that also owning a broadcast outlet would "increase the amount of local news in the market." As a result, the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) expressed disappointment at the "extremely limited" change to what it called "the onerous, decades-old" cross-ownership ban. Small-market publishers also cricitized the limited extent of the change. Martin claimed in a New York Times op-ed piece on Tuesday that the financial viability of the newspaper industry is at stake. "If we don't act to improve the health of the newspaper industry, we will see newspapers wither and die," Martin wrote. "Without newspapers, we would be less informed about our communities and have fewer outlets for the expression of independent thinking and a diversity of viewpoints."

In that case, noted small-town publisher Sidney H. "Skip" Bliss of the 21,000-circulation Janesville, Wisc. Gazette, only dailies in the largest U.S. cities will see any relief. "To say that, and then to backtrack and say, well, there's only 20 newspapers that would see this relief when he seems to be talking about the whole newspaper business, well, it's really hard to understand."

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), vowed to continue his plan to block the changes, claiming Martin's proposed relaxation of the rules is based on a faulty assumption. "He has yet to make the case for why any further media consolidation is necessary,"said Dorgan."Indeed, he is relying on an assumption that newspapers are doomed and that cross-ownership is necessary to save them. I believe this is not the case."

The targeted nature of the proposal further bolsters suspicions that it is intended to smooth the sale of the Chicago Tribune chain, which since buying up the Los Angeles Times chain has held waivers for several cross-ownerships nation-wide. Tribune has been granted temporary waivers pending the FCC's review of ther rules, but needs an answer by year's end. Martin's bid to ram through the change carries a Dec. 18 end date, which dovetails nicely with the Tribune sale, noted Radio Online.

In May, fourteen lawmakers from Illinois asked Martin to end the cross-ownership ban, so that Tribune could move forward with its bid to go private. The group, including Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL) and House Reps. Rahm Emanuel (IL-5) and Dennis Hastert (R-IL), encouraged the FCC to act on Sam Zell's $8.2 billion bid "expeditiously and to avoid administrative delay."