added by this website]|
December 22, 2003
and Business Blur in the World of a Media
By Jacques Steinberg and
ON the dust jacket of his
recently published biography of Franklin D.
Roosevelt, Conrad M. Black, the
embattled media magnate, collected laudatory blurbs
from an impressive set of conservative thinkers.
Henry A. Kissinger writes, "No biography
of Roosevelt is more thoughtful and readable." The
columnist George F. Will calls the book a
"delight to read." And William F. Buckley
Jr. commends the biography as "a learned volume on
F.D.R. by a vital critical mind."What the blurbs did not mention was that each man
was praising the work of a sometime boss. During
the 1990's, Lord Black had appointed all three to
an informal international board of advisers of
Hollinger International, the newspaper company he
For showing up once a
year with Lord Black to debate the world's
problems, each was typically paid about $25,000
annually (until the board was disbanded in
The advisory board was one example of how
friendships with the rich and often politically
influential overlapped with business in Lord
Black's world. The board became a who's who of
mostly conservative thinkers and politicians that
included Margaret Thatcher, Valéry
Giscard d'Estaing, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Richard N.
Perle (below left), and the former head
of Archer Daniels Midland, Dwayne O.
Lord Black enjoyed more than just conversation
from the advisers Hollinger paid for. Mr. Will and
Mr. Buckley have since written positively about
Lord Black in their columns, though without
mentioning their business dealings. And three other
members of the advisory board also joined
Hollinger's board as directors.
now, as Lord Black and Hollinger face inquiries by
the Securities and Exchange Commission and the
Justice Department into more than $200 million that
he and his top executives collected, these
interlocking relationships may come to haunt not
only Lord Black but the directors who oversaw the
company while these payments were being made. In
some cases, the directors had themselves accepted
additional payments from the company.
Lord Black, who is scheduled to testify before
the S.E.C. today, has been advised by his lawyers
to invoke the Fifth Amendment right against
self-incrimination because they think he has not
had time to review all the documents related to the
current issues, according to people with knowledge
of the discussions.
seemingly porous boundary among Lord Black's
social, political and business lives, which was
reflected in the composition of the Hollinger
board, has been thrown into relief by the
investigation. In the 1990's, Mr. Kissinger
(right), Mr. Perle and Mr. Andreas all
served as directors at times when they were also
getting paid (by the company) for their advice to
Lord Black. Lord Black, as well as Mr. Kissinger,
Mr. Perle and Mr. Andreas, last week declined
requests for interviews.
A closer look at the members of Lord Black's
inner circle sheds light not just on board
oversight but also on how he managed to transform
himself as Hollinger grew from an obscure Canadian
company that owned mines and supermarkets into the
owner of more than 100 daily newspapers, including
The Daily Telegraph in London, The
Jerusalem Post and The Chicago
In the process, Lord Black became a throwback
press baron who lived lavishly on Park Avenue, in
Palm Beach and in London and was at ease in the
most prominent salons in the world. His annual
Hollinger Dinner attracted the likes of Ronald
Reagan and Richard M. Nixon.
"I think Conrad did these things less for the
bottom line than to create the aura that group gave
him," said Peter Munk, the founder and
chairman of Barrick Gold, and someone who briefly
served on an earlier incarnation of the Hollinger
board before resigning in the mid-1990's. "He
reveled in that aura."
Mr. Brzezinski, who was national security
adviser in the Carter administration, said he first
met Lord Black perhaps four decades ago at one of
several international conferences that they
One is known as
Bilderberg Group, a conclave of business and
political leaders from North America and Europe
that meets each year for discussions that are
off the record.
"He's an extremely intelligent guy, very well
read," Mr. Brzezinski said.
In the early 1990's, Lord Black decided to form
a miniature Bilderberg of his own by creating a
board to advise Hollinger on international affairs,
according to "Shades of Black," a biography by
Richard Siklos, a former reporter for
Business Week and The Financial Post,
a Toronto business newspaper.
In its earliest incarnations, the advisory board
included Mr. Kissinger, Mr. Perle and Mr.
Brzezinski, as well as Paul A. Volcker, the
former head of the Federal Reserve; Chaim
Herzog, the former president of Israel, who
died in 1997; and Lady Thatcher, Mr. Siklos wrote.
They were joined by others, including Mr. Will and
Though Lord Black frequently found room for
liberals on his list of dinner guests, the members
of the advisory panel usually shared his
At the advisory meetings, each participant would
be assigned a topic. At times, given the weight of
expertise in the room, the conversations extended
to a second day.
"For quite a while, Mrs. Thatcher would
participate," Mr. Brzezinski said. "I was one of
those people who suggested to Conrad that it wasn't
productive to hear her speak at such length."
Lady Thatcher did not respond to messages left
for her at her foundation in Britain.
Mr. Brzezinski's personal records show that he
collected almost $170,000 for attending eight such
meetings in the 1990's, according to an aide. Mr.
Buckley estimated that he had earned perhaps
$200,000 or more. Mr. Will could not recall how
many meetings he attended; an aide later confirmed
that the per diem for each meeting was $25,000.
conversations at the traveling advisory meetings
could be illuminating, Mr. Buckley said he was
hard pressed to find an example of how the
sessions were of assistance to Hollinger. But
sometimes having such good friends helped
burnish Lord Black's public image.
In a column syndicated by The Washington
Post Writers Group in March, Mr. Will recounted
observations Mr. Black had made in a London speech
defending the Bush administration's stance on
In a rebuttal to Mr. Bush's critics, Mr. Will
wrote, "Into this welter of foolishness has waded
Conrad Black, a British citizen and member of the
House of Lords who is a proprietor of many
Asked in the interview if he should have told
his readers of the payments he had received from
Hollinger, Mr. Will said he saw no reason to do
"My business is my business," he said. "Got
Shearer, editorial director and general manager
of The Washington Post Writers Group, said
he was unaware of Mr. Will's affiliation with
Hollinger or the money he received. "I think I
would have liked to have known," Mr. Shearer
Similarly, in a column published in The
National Review in 2002, Mr. Buckley, the
magazine's editor at large, wrote of attending a
dinner at Lord Black's home in London.
In an effort "to divulge all my personal
conflicts in talking about the subject," Mr.
Buckley wrote in the column that Lord Black and his
wife, Barbara Amiel, (right) were
among his "five closest friends in the entire
Asked later why he had not mentioned his
payments from Hollinger, Mr. Buckley said, "I
didn't think that had any bearing whatsoever."
To underscore that he did not feel beholden to
Lord Black -- "Giscard d'Estaing and I don't
bribe very easily," he said -- Mr. Buckley
mentioned a "withering review" of the Roosevelt
book that The National Review published on
yet, Mr. Buckley dashed off a letter to the editor
of The New York Observer after the newspaper
published a front-page profile of Lord Black last
week that interspersed criticism of his business
with criticism of his book.
"Your editorial on Conrad Black was febrile with
hate which one has to assume is personal," he
"You are entitled to ask how I presume to write
with ostensible authority," Mr. Buckley added. "I
write because I have known Conrad Black for 15
He concluded: "Since
your mind inclines in that direction, hear this:
he has never donated a nickel to any of my
But, aside from some good press, there were more
tangible benefits for both Lord Black and for the
people who associated with him, benefits that go to
the heart of shareholder complaints about the
Mr. Perle, the former head of the Pentagon's
Defense Policy Board who served on the Hollinger
board, also served as chairman or co-chairman of
Hollinger Digital, a unit of the parent company,
since its inception in 1996. In that capacity, he
was paid more than $300,000 a year and $2 million
in bonuses over part of that period, said someone
with knowledge of the company, figures that have
not previously been disclosed.
Reached for comment, Mr. Perle referred all
questions on these payments to the company.
Trireme, a venture capital firm partly managed
by Mr. Perle and advised by Lord Black, received a
$2.5 million investment from Hollinger this year,
although the company did not initially disclose the
firm's name, according to company filings earlier
reported in The Wall Street Journal. And
Hollinger also gave about $200,000 a year to The
National Interest, a foreign affairs
publication where Lord Black and Mr. Kissinger are
co-chairmen of the editorial board, of which Mr.
Perle is a member. The payments were also earlier
reported in The Journal.
And last month, Hollinger disclosed that the
company had given several current and former
executives, as well as a holding company controlled
by Lord Black, more than $30 million in payments
that were not approved by the company's board. (In
earlier filings, the company had said some payments
were approved by the company's independent
While all of the company's outside directors
could face lawsuits accusing them of failing to
serve shareholders, Mr. Kissinger, Mr. Perle and
Mr. Andreas may be at even greater risk. By
accepting additional fees for having served among
Mr. Black's international advisers, the three could
be considered consultants, or insiders.
to Charles Elson, professor of corporate
governance at the University of Delaware, the
acceptance of those payments increases the
likelihood of their liability for oversight
Herbert Denton, an informal adviser to
Hollinger shareholders, was more blunt. "One hand
was washing the other," he said
Some shareholders are also angry about roughly
$200 million in management fees paid to another
company controlled by Lord Black since 1995. In the
wake of the company's announcement, Lord Black
(right) has quit as chief executive but is
staying on as chairman while the board explores
whether to sell any company assets.
on this wesbite about Conrad Black and his
Irving, Radical's Diary April 18, 2000: "...
because the Satellite link is
off" (George Will
cancelled a debate)
Will: Faux historians' political agendas deserve
in 1993: Lunch with George Will: How an
Influential Journalist Distorts the
International, the publisher of the London Daily
Telegraph and the Chicago Sun-Times, said Conrad
Black would step down as chief executive officer
over $US32 million unauthorised payments to
executives, including Lord Black, that weren't
authorised by the board
Black's Jerusalem Post calls for the murder of
Frank Lowy defends $12.38 million bonus, won't
step down as head of Westfield's remuneration
Barbara Amiel, the wife of Spectator owner
Conrad Black, found it in her heart to write
truly wonderful things about David
makes friends at Conrad Black's garden
Battling B.C. Journalist Doug
Collins writes to craven publisher Conrad
New Statesman, a leading British weekly, has
raised the specter of Jewish control over the
media and government.
email letter circulating in London identifies
the Jewish directors of the British media
don't understand, Max. My entire interests in
the United States and internationally could be
seriously damaged by this" - Black to Max
envoy to UK recalled (Black's wife repeated
private dinner-party remark about
edition of David Irvings irregular and
scurrilous newsletter Action Report.
Fisk accused BBC of buckling to Israeli pressure
to drop the use of "assassination"
ambassador to Britain cannot remember referring
to Israel as that shitty little country during a
private conversation with a newspaper owner, his
spokesman said on Wednesday.
edition of David Irving's irregular and
scurrilous newsletter Action Report.
edition of David Irving's irregular and
scurrilous newsletter Action Report.
Irving watches the state procession of the Queen
Mother's coffin, and comments on the new
Irving jots some thoughts in his irregular
Radical''s Diary: the growth of hidden
censorship in Britain
Amiel writes truly wonderful things (among some
gratuitous smears) about David Irving
tells Jerusalem Post to stop claiming the
company supported Israel