Ex-media mogul and ex-con Conrad Black is doing press for his new book A Matter of Principle, and to watch him skewer the biased media who try to corner him is heavenly. I haven’t seen balls like this since Bill Buckley threatened to “plaster” Gore Vidal. When Britain’s Sky News called him a “convicted fraudster,” he told the reporter to “Stop being such a jackass.” When the irritatingly smug BBC repeated the allegation he discussed smashing in the journalist’s face.
He’s like the opposite of Warren Buffett. Where Buffett tells us he has it too easy and has been “coddled long enough,” Lord Black of Crossharbour insists it is he who is doing the coddling and tells a UK audience, “Ninety-nine per cent of the people subjected to the provocations and allegations and false charges and defamations that I have would have responded with a much shorter fuse.”
Black refused to settle out of court and he won’t allow reporters to defame him with any false accusations. Finally we find a “stupid white man” who’s smart enough to see through the jealousy behind that narrative. If someone made it in America, God bless them. That’s good for all of us. As the tattoo on my right arm says, “Luxury employ’d a million of the poor/and odious pride a million more.” That’s right, America, Canada, and Britain: It’s OK to win.
The new Western world is a place where amateurs reign supreme and to be successful is to be guilty of ripping off the losers. It wasn’t always that way. Einstein and Steve Jobs were dropouts. America itself is a European dropout, but Uncle Sam became successful. So did fellow dropout Conrad Black. We seem to have forgotten that part instead of seeing the amateur as a phase on the path to victory.
Even our president is a permanent rookie. In Edward Klein’s blistering Obama biography The Amateur, he quotes fellow New York Times dropout William Safire:
Because there are a great many more amateurs than pros, the public image of the amateur is that of a fresh-faced, civic minded citizen out to do battle for a cause he believes in, versus the cigar-chomping image of the public professional.
With a modern education that promotes platitudes and discourages dissension, amateurs have never been more numerous. That means it’s a dark time for anyone who happens to have their shit together.
You’d think a country whose values are built on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness would be pleased when someone actually pulls it off, but unless he made his fortune entertaining us with movies or music, he’s a pariah.
Conrad Black did nothing wrong but he looks like Boss Hogg, so he must be ripping off everybody. I believe this is why he was sentenced to six and a half years in prison for allegedly taking $600,000 from his company and obstructing justice by removing evidence. Black claims the figure is more like $285K (here at 5:54) and he removed the boxes from his office while being filmed by office cameras he had installed. He tried to tell the courts this but was thwarted at every turn. He says the government seized his finances while he was trying to secure counsel so he was forced to go with much cheaper lawyers. As the Vanity Fair piece on him highlighted last year, “No one noticed…when the government finally returned the money to him—this summer.” It took years in court and nearly his entire fortune, but after serving two sentences totaling over three years in federal prison (not “Club Fed” but a real prison with hardened criminals), he seems to have finally convinced the courts that a multi-millionaire doesn’t risk jail by taking petty cash and only a madman films himself stealing something.
Like our own Taki Theodoracopulos, Black seems strangely upbeat about the whole experience. He said prison made him more compassionate and humble. In jail he worked many jobs. He tutored dozens of inmates and helped them get their GEDs. There were two things that really stuck out from his time in prison and neither of them had anything to do with his fellow inmates. First, there was the authorities’ obsession with his anal cavity. It was checked thoroughly and regularly, leading Black to quip, “I…was slightly mystified at the extent of official curiosity about that generally unremitting aperture.” Second, he was disturbed by how much the guards seemed to enjoy watching him suffer. When he was forced to clean the showers, guards would visit and stand there gawking at him. “All of these guards from all over coming into the shower to watch this millionaire clean,” the Globe and Mail quoted him as saying. “I said, ‘Captain, I get the sense you are watching the Super Bowl here, that this is a spectator sport. I assure you, this is nothing so entertaining.’” This disturbs me, too. We’ve gone from admiring the successful to wanting to humiliate them.
Black claims to have finally convinced the courts of his innocence. He told the BBC, “We got rid of all the counts and we had the prosecuting statute declared unconstitutional,” but convincing the American, Canadian, and British public is going to take some doing. That’s because we’ve learned to love to hate the rich. I’ve already discussed the heaps of hatred millionaires such as Eduardo Saverin and Denise Rich got when they avoided the government. We applauded when Martha Stewart went to prison for charges that few understood. Mitt Romney is chastised for having totally legal offshore accounts. I have it on good authority that Anthony Marshall, the 85-year-old son of Brooke Astor accused of stealing from her estate, says he was framed and will soon be coming out with a book proving it. Journalists don’t hesitate calling his wife “Miss Piggy” and replacing her nose with a snout, but not one of them noticed that Astor’s butler was awarded a $42-million apartment shortly after testifying against Marshall. Why worry about the facts when the story’s already written?
The rich aren’t always innocent. Bernie Madoff deserved everything he got. The press was right to call Enron a scandal, and the people behind bundled mortgages were equally corrupt. What disturbs me is the American media’s contempt for success. It allows a corrupt prison system to run roughshod over anyone it deems unfit. I’m already disgusted that millions of the American poor are incarcerated for ridiculous drug charges or some bullshit an angry girlfriend made up. Nearly a third of Americans will be arrested before they turn 23. Sixty-five million Americans have a criminal record. Now they’re waging war on the winners, too. That only leaves judges, cops, lawyers, and their friends.
In the “smash your face in” interview, Black says, “99.5% of prosecutions in the US are convicted. The whole system is a fraudulent, fascistic conveyer belt of the corrupt prison system.” In the “stop being such a jackass” one he says, “I do say quite forthrightly in there that I probably became a bit insouciant and to that extent my downfall was justified,” then he pauses for a second and quotes the Bible: “Pride goeth before a disaster.” I’d argue we have taken the latter parable a little too far. Our pride is basically goneth and with that comes disaster.
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