Fantastic news

by Chris Bertram on November 17, 2003

Daily Telegraph owner Conrad Black looks to be “in deep trouble”:,7495,1086980,00.html .



dsquared 11.17.03 at 11:26 am

Looks like the Barclay brothers are going to get their shot at the big time …?

In related news, if I were Mark Steyn, I’d be cacking it right now, as he very much owes his prominence in Hollinger titles to being bezzies with Conrad and La Amiel.


Matthew 11.17.03 at 11:37 am

Atttempting to find that hilarious picture of him in ermine in the house of lords I came across this most strange site — ConradBlackEnvy


Andrew Edwards 11.17.03 at 11:38 am

No love lost, Mr. Black

The People of Canada


Keith M Ellis 11.17.03 at 12:24 pm

Black is from Canada; but I don’t see any of the newspapers listed as being Canadian. What is his current relationship with Canada, and what is their (your) beef with him?

I could Google to find out, probably; but there’s a limit on how much I want to know about this topic, and other CT readers may be interested in the answer to my question. Thanks in advance.


Chris Brooke 11.17.03 at 1:19 pm

Le jour de gloire est arrivé!


Chris Brooke 11.17.03 at 1:24 pm

I think that Black had to renounce his Canadian citizenship when he decided to accept a peerage offered by John Major, so he’s now a British subject.

The Brtitish Crown used to provide honours to Canadians, but in 1919 the Canadian government had the good sense to request that it stop.

There’s a bit about Conrad Black here.


Andrew Edwards 11.17.03 at 1:46 pm

He used to own about half the newspapers in the country, and turned pretty much all of them into right-wing propaganda machines. Think Rupert Murdoch.

Then when his flagship National Post floundered, he got in a snit and sold them all off (they’re now Liberal Party propaganda machines owned by the Aspers).

When he was offered a peerage, the Liberal Prime Minister (whom he had spent years relentlessly attacking) dug up an old rule that you can’t get a peerage in a foreign country without (I think) the express permission of the PM, and the PM asked the Brits not to carry it through. Conrad, apparently surprised that there are consequences to contstantly assailing the government, got in a bigger snit and renounced his Canadian citizenship.

All in all, an unpleasant chapter in the history of our national discourse.


pogge 11.17.03 at 2:28 pm

Andrew Edwards thinks correctly. Chretien had it in his power to deny Black the peerage and did so. So Black got huffy and left town. I don’t particularly miss him.


Invisible Adjunct 11.17.03 at 2:49 pm

Conrad Black may be a lord, but he’s no gentleman. He was expelled from Upper Canada College (very posh prep school: Canada’s equivalent of Eton or Exester) for selling copies of a stolen exam to his classmates. Apparently they took their code of honour a bit seriously. I recall reading an interview once where Black suggested he was expelled because the common herd couldn’t handle his obvious superiority.


Keith M Ellis 11.17.03 at 3:28 pm

Thanks for the background. My ex-wife is Canadian, so I’m not ignorant of Canadian culture and politics, but this is all news to me.

For the Americans in the house: what of the Chicago Sun-Times? My only familiarity with that paper is my regular visit to Ebert’s columns and reviews; I know of the storied Sun-Times and Tribune rivalry; but I no nothing about either paper’s editorial stance and it occurs to me that neither paper seems nationally prominent…odd given that Chicago is still the US’s third most populous city. Does the Sun-Times have a conservative editorial position?

And, incidentally and at the risk of derailing the thread, given the cross-Atlantic nature of this blog and its readership, I’d be very interested in people’s thoughts about the merits and faults of the differing views across the Atlantic about newspaper bias and objectivity. I hear it argued often that American presumptions of journalistic objectivity are a sham that does more harm than good, but I think I believe passionately otherwise. Perhaps a FPP on this topic by an interested CT blogger?

Anyway, Black looks to be a bastard who’s getting his comeuppance.


Doug 11.18.03 at 7:38 am

Maybe instead of ‘objectivity,’ we could think about ‘impartiality.’ The one is clearly a fallacy in a relative world, but the other is a very useful standard.


reuben 11.18.03 at 5:55 pm


An American perspective. Back when I still lived in the US I subscribed to the NY Times and was quite happy with it. Imagine my shock on my first flight to the UK when I read a news article that contained not just facts, but wit, opinion and insight. What can this be, I wondered: news with personality – can such a beast truly exist? Well exist it does in the UK, in spades.

The subjectivity of UK papers has its negatives: witness the Daily Mail’s 70-plus year campaign against almost all immigrants, including the Jews after Kristalnacht. Frankly, the Mail doesn’t seem much different today, and unfortunately it is widely read. Not too long ago it led a campaign to “name and shame” paedophiles. Too bad its readers don’t tend to make it past the first syllable of most words: they attacked (and I think burnt down the house of) a paediatrician. Onward Christian soldiers.

On the positive side, I feel far more informed than I ever did in the states. Papers here don’t pretend that news is something sacrosanct and objective to be delivered to us on a sterile tray. And why should they – when was a government press release every “objective”? Should newss be reported sans context? As many people have said before, if Bush said the earth was flat, American newspapers would duly report that “there is some controversy about the shape of the earth”. British newspapers would call him a wanker. (Except the Mail, which would demand a new immigration policy that involved herding all asylum seekers to the edge and pushing them off.)

I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that there is genuine competition over here – unlike in the states where there’s generally only one paper (or company) per city. Because different papers are competing for my readership, they strive to look better, be better written, offer stronger stories and appeal to political niches. And while they may go over the top sometimes, the end result is far more dynamic papers, and a much more active readership. People here read papers they way people in the US listen to talk radio – but luckily, the liberal end of the spectrum is represented. And papers seem much more popular here than in the US. Unlike in New York, for instance, the subways of London are filled with people reading newspapers at all hours of the day.

Sorry, I’m droning on a bit. One final note. Like Josh Chafetz at OxBlog, I read in the Guardian this morning that a poll indicates that 62% of Brits think that America is “generally speaking a force for good, not evil, in the world”. Unlike Josh, I’m not surprised that the majority of Brits have a generally good opinion of America. (I think that many Americans have very thin skin when it comes to criticism of our nation, equating negative comments with “anti-Americanism”.)

Also unlike Josh, I don’t take umbrage at the fact that, as he writes:

“So, despite the poll showing that pluralities of Britons both welcome President Bush’s visit and support the war in Iraq, the Guardian’s “Dear George” section sees things differently. By my count, 36 of the letters are hostile to President Bush, 11 are favorable, and 13 are roughly neutral.”

What Josh (who, if you don’t know, is American) doesn’t seem to get is that the Guardian, as a British paper, plays by British rules. It doesn’t feel constrained to represent “the nation” or to treat both sides of a story eqaully if it thinks that one argument makes sense and one is poppycock. Like all British papers, it represents its readership. And because it’s not afraid to call one side of an argument bullshit, it has to be willing to explain why that side of the argument is bullshit. So we get context, not just news. This is the bit that all too many American papers don’t do. This can encourage confirmation bias (and perhaps even worse, occasionally gives Harold Pinter a political voice), but in my experience, the pros of the British press far outweigh the cons.


Keith M Ellis 11.18.03 at 8:39 pm

Thanks for your insight, Reuben.

You may feel better informed, but I wonder if you are. (All things being equal.) Context is everything; but, unfortunately, there’s some considerable debate about what the correct context is.

Facts without interpretation, which is more the American style, require a great deal of effort on the part of the reader to render meaningful. Talk radio in the US is very popular because the interpretation is supplied (often without the fact). I don’t doubt that opinionated news reporting makes newspapers more popular in the UK than in the US. Opinionated news reporting is what makes Fox News popular in the US.

The presumption of the US journalistic ethos is, I suppose, in no small part related to the US political and social ethos: a suspicion of authority. Facts, though presented selectively or haphazardly, are nevertheless independent of authority. Interpretation is not. The US system presumes an active, skeptical reader who will farm for the greatest quantity of “facts” and form, hopefully, a more accurate interpretation.

Of course, those readers are rare. Where they’re assumed, I think the US style is better. Where they’re not…

…well, then you have to rely, in the case of interpretive news, integrity. In the case of uninterpretive news, integrity. In an imperfect world of credulous readers, I’m not sure either really has an advantage over the other. But as a skeptical reader, I prefer to discover context and interpretation myself.


reuben 11.19.03 at 11:01 am

Fair points, Keith (as was Doug’s), though I question your assertion that the guiding presumption of American journalism is suspicion of authority. Compared to British media, the current edition of the American press corps seemed very happy to be spoonfed talking points in the run-up to the war.

Very good point about interpretation. My feeling is that one can bring skepticism to the British press and benefit greatly from it. Just because I read the Guardian doesn’t mean I accept its arguments as writ. In fact, I find that because it presents its arguments more forcefully than say the NYT or WaPo, I’m spurred to investigate issues on my own behalf. I’m a more engaged reader. (And spend far more time muttering at my paper over breakfast – my poor wife).

One other point: It could be fairly argued that the British press encourages polarization – and may well damage the democratic process. On the other hand, you could argue that because the US has talk radio and Fox on the right but lacks equally influential standard bearers on the left, its democracy suffers.



Keith M Ellis 11.19.03 at 10:39 pm

Reuben, you also make some good points. I’d like to emphasize that I don’t that interpretive news is that much more difficult for skeptical reader than it uninterpretive news. Some, perhaps. But I do find it distracting; and I think that it encourages people to place themselves in a partisan echo chamber.

I do think that the uninterpretive stance of the US press has its pedigree in the general US cultural suspicion of authority, at least a little; but I agree that in practice the press is too deferential to authority. Personally, I think this is chiefly due to the corrupting influence of access-peddling.

In general, I suppose I just have to admit that I have a deep preference for the attempt at objectivity, even if it must necessarily fail. I really don’t believe that flawed objectivity isn’t better than outright subjectivity unless the reader is incapable of critical evaluation (and thus assumes something closer to objectivity than exists). And if he/she isn’t, I don’t think it’s worse simply because lack of critical faculty is a fatal intellectual flaw.


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