Even among the ravenous pack of moguls and mediacrats that dominate and control our mediaocracy, Conrad Black was in a class of his own when it came to arrogance, chutzpah and criminal activity. He was, in effect, a media gangster.
The former owner of a company that once had the third largest newspaper company in the world by circulation was convicted Friday by a jury not of his peers but working class people who found hum guilty of fraud and obstruction of justice. In the Chicago tradition that saw mobster Al Capone sent to prison for tax violations rater than the many murders he ordered, Black got off on the $60 million in looting that his colleagues accused him of siphoning from his company to fund his and his wife's lavish "lifestyle." He, of course, will appeal, protesting his innocence to the grave and anyone who will listen before then.
The New York Times spoke of "his grandiose style characterized by sweeping pronouncements and Latinate diction," charging that he and his wife "appeared to live in the mesosphere, the place above the stratosphere where the air is thin and meteors burn up." The paper mentioned but did not explain the relevance of his attracting fellow criminals like Henry Kissinger and Margaret Thatcher to sit on his boards.
The case was prosecuted by none other than Patrick Fitzgerald who convicted Sooter Liddy in a proceeding where more serious charges against the likes of Karl Rove were never adjudicated. In this trial, a report accusing Black and Co of operating a "corporate kleptocracy" was ruled inadmissible so he was actually found guilty of lesser charges too.
Among his associates on the board of his holding company Hollinger were Henry Kissinger, Richard Perle and former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson who was also a Commissioner on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, the people who issued the 911 cover-up. What was their take?
Black himself was to the right of Atilla The Hun and Rupert Murdoch. Years ago, I watched him preach stridently to a UN conference in defense of the Vietnam War which had nothing to do with what was being discussed. He blustered in his own world of moral certainties in defense of wealth and power. He has now been tossed out of the Conservative Party in the UK and may not be able to reenter Canada, the scene of many of his crimes. The Feds even seized his wife's $3 million ring. An editor at the Telegraph in London, once one of "his papers," said he was "addicted to money."
On that charge, he is not alone and that's why in the end this media crime story points to a bigger crime that none of those covering the case mentioned.
If he had not been facing an imminent verdict, Conrad might have joined his media "comrades in alms" cavorting on a mountain top in Sun Valley this past weekend with other members of the media cabal who attend the annual VIP CEO-only private gathering sponsored by investment banker Herb Allen. It increasingly feels like those mafia getaways in the Adirondacks back in the l950s where the mob families gathered to target new opportunities, divide the nation into turfs to coordinate their predatory practices.
AP Reports: "As conveniently, many of the power players who control major internet and technology companies will also be on hand at Sun Valley to discuss strategies for the future of distributing video, music, text and other content through the internet, web-enabled cellphones and other digital means."
In the old days, anti-trust regulators would scrutinize gatherings of competitors on business policy. Concerns over price-fixing seemed to have disappeared in an age of media concentration and "strategic alliances." The courts are more worried about the cheating of shareholders than the expropriation of the earnings of consumers. They protect stealing from the greedy, not the needy.
Notice that the price of media and many entertainment products has quietly gone up, up and away. My cable bill has soared. The Sunday Times is now $4.00, and a ticket at the neighborhood movie theater is $11. In any other country, this would be seen as a form of pocket-picking even as media CEO salaries rise. Barry Diller made a reported $437 million last year to cite but one example. That's obscenity by media, not in it.
The sleaze and manipulation is everywhere and it is much worse than an alcoholic HBO executive beating up his girlfriend, as bad as that is. A new study argues that $206 billion dollars in excess profits and tax deductions subsidized Telecom companies in a "National Infrastructure Initiative" starting in the early 90's to do what has yet to be done. The authors call this "the largest fraud in American history." (http://www.networks.com/shortSCANDAL Summary.htm)
It gets worse. Read Eric Klinenberg's "Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media" (Metropolitan Books) and you will get all the dirty details of how news and public interest programming has been cut back by big Media in a systematic way. It didn't just happen because that's what the public wanted. It happened by plan to extract more money that can be transferred from the masses to the classes.
Also let's examine how the TV stations illegally avoid lowest unit price obligations to candidates by steering campaigns to higher price ads. This has driven up the cost of politics and forced politicians to spend more and more time raising more and more money to finance what is called "The Air War" which is what most of our campaigns have become. In some cases, the stations group the ads together into a block to make them unwatchable. These ads of course are riddled with inaccuracies and negative sloganeering and yet dominate the electoral discourse. This is form of media collusion enriches TV companies while they reduce local campaign coverage.
Meanwhile other even more deadly media crimes of deception and distortion continued unchecked as Michael Moore noted in his informed rant at CNN. He raised the issue of media coverage of the war as a prime exhibit. In my book "When News Lies" (Select Books) I argue in more detail that all the blatant patriotically correct shilling for an illegal war of aggression in Iraq constituted a war crime by media, not just some "mistake."
So, by all means, let's applaud the conviction of the odious Conrad Black even if he did slither out of the more serious charges. Now it's time to investigate Conrad's "comrades" to root out an even blacker plague on our culture: not the rip off of media by avaricious executives but the criminal sabotage and dumbing down of the media itself.
This is the real crime against democracy.