Media mogul/writer, 1944-

Conrad Black was once one of Canada's most influential and powerful individuals. At one time he had a monopoly on Canada's English daily newspapers -- but lost much of his media empire and is experiencing legal trouble. One of the most commonly cited anecdotes about Black states that Margaret Thatcher considers him to be further right than she is.



Conrad Moffat Black was born on August 25, 1944, in Toronto, Ontario. He was the first son of George Black, a wealthy man in his own right (as the president of Canadian Breweries). His early life was filled with small controversies; he found himself expelled from Upper Canada College after selling exams to his classmates. He went on to earn a history degree from Carleton University (Ottawa), a law degree from Laval University (Québec City) and a Masters of Arts from McGill University (Montreal). Black worked for a number of Canadian newspapers during the late 1960s and became fixated with the idea of owning several. He founded the Sterling Newspapers Group which eventually acted as a holding company for the newspapers he was acquiring not only in Canada but in the United States, England, Israel, and Australia as well.

Black was by no means in this alone; he was 'tutored' (so to speak) by some of Canada's leading businessmen. Towards the end of the 1970s he not only owned several newspapers but had also taken over a holding company that controlled a mining company, Dominion supermarkets, and a pipeline organization.

The newspapers

Black purchased the Daily Telegraph in 1985. He had always been known for pushing his far-right views in his papers, and several analysts believe that his ownership of the Telegraph was a great service to Margaret Thatcher. By the end of the 1990s, Black owned more than half of Canada's English daily newspapers and had controlling shares in dozens of others. Despite this, however, he still believed that the 'liberal media' reigned supreme in Canada, and was always outspoken about what he deemed to be its shortfalls.

Until 1998, Canada had one national newspaper. The Globe was not nearly conservative enough for Black's liking -- this supported his claim that the Canadian media was anti-conservative and he sought to change it. He expanded the Financial Post (a newspaper generally only of interest to those familiar with business news) and turned it into the National Post: Canada's national right-wing newspaper. The paper's editorials were (and are) undeniably conservative, and supported the now-defunct Canadian Alliance. Black used his stance to attack Canada's governing Liberal Party (both through his papers' editorials and personally) and Prime Minister Jean Chrétien.

Black was famous for taking over newspapers and firing or laying off up to 30% of their staff. He has likened the practice -- both orally and in print -- to 'drowning kittens' and 'cutting off gangrenous limbs'. He was also of the opinion that newspapers ran 'more efficiently' without journalists and that "most journalists" had substance abuse problems. Needless to say, he was not (and continues to not be) well-liked by the world's journalist population.

The title

The British government offered Black a position in the House of Lords in 1999, and Black attempted to accept the honour. Prime Minister Chrétien, however, had a trump card and wasn't about to let his most persistent critic off easy. Chrétien invoked the Nickle Resolution of 1919, a Canadian law that prevents Canadian citizens from accepting foreign honours that come with titles. A British peerage comes with a title. Black was not amused and even challenged the law (and the Prime Minister) in court -- twice! The courts ruled against him both times, however, and Black was faced with an ultimatum: it's Canada or the peerage. Choose wisely.

Black, of course, had not been the most traditional of Canadian patriots throughout his life, and when he wasn't insisting that Canada ought to become part of the United States, he was criticizing Canada's publicly-funded health care system. He renounced his Canadian citizenship in 2001, and officially became Lord Black of Crossharbour in October of that year. He used the incident as 'evidence' of Canada's 'general insensitivity' on several occasions, and, in a final National Post editorial written before he gave up his citizenship, called himself "one of many" unsatisfied Canadians who were leaving the country.

It, however, was not over with his renunciation of citizenship. The Canadian content media laws state that people who own Canadian media outlets are entitled to tax breaks -- if they are citizens of Canada. Black was no longer a citizen of Canada and was therefore no longer eligible for the aforementioned tax breaks. Rather than hand his money over to the Canadian government, he sold most of his Canadian newspapers -- including the National Post.

The trouble

While Black stayed on as president and CEO of Hollinger International, he was forced to 'step down' in November of 2003 after it was found that he (and several of his executives) had accepted "unauthorized non-competition payments." Black issued a statement saying he would pay back the funds he allegedly took "with interest" by a certain deadline, although he changed his mind by the time the deadline rolled around. By this point he was insisting that the payments had been authorized and the proper documentation had not been available originally.

Black soon found himself fired and sued by Hollinger. He attempted to sell his shares in the company in order to prevent having to pay more in restitution, but a judge determined that he had not upheld his duties to the company and refused to allow him to make the sale.

The personals

Black has been divorced once and is currently married to right-wing columnist Barbara Amiel (whom he kept employed with Hollinger for years). They have both equated feminism with communism (in writing) and share a mutual hatred of the CBC. Black converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in the 1970s but has insisted (in writing) that he has no social responsibility to help those less fortunate than him. He recently (2005) sued Toronto Life magazine for publishing an article and accompanying illustration suggesting that his Lordship belongs in Hell. The case was settled out of court after the magazine printed an apology.

He has also published two books, both biographies (of former Québec premier Maurice Duplessis and former U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt). An article on the Microsoft Network perhaps summed Black's political views by saying that by American standards, Black is a moderate Republican but by Canadian standards, he's a "right-wing lunatic." Black, while never having held any Canadian public office, did not enjoy a high popularity rating in his country of birth. Many Canadians were glad to see him go when he renounced his citizenship (though a few of Canada's more conservative citizens were astounded at how Chrétien treated "that poor man") and his fall from grace was given a great deal of press.

He still owns a fair number of newspapers, though not as many as he did during the 1990s. The Daily Telegraph might also soon be leaving his possession after Hollinger received three offers of more than 600 million pounds for it.

His trial (he's been officially charged with obstruction of justice and fraud) is scheduled for 2007.

Recommended reading: Shades of Black, The Big Black Book: The Essential Views of Conrad and Barbara Amiel Black.

The conviction

Conrad Moffat Black was found guilty of three counts of mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice by a Chicago jury of nine women and three men on July 13, 2007. He was sentenced to seven years in prison.

As a result, the Conservative Party of Great Britain immediately stripped him of his title of party whip in the House of Lords, though he cannot be stripped of his peerage. The Liberal Democratic Party has called for a change to the law that prohibits this, however, saying that Black should be stripped of his title. The Conservative Party has not yet indicated whether he will be expelled from the party as a whole.

He reported to a low-security penitentiary in Florida on March 5, 2008. He plans to appeal his conviction.

In 2010, several of his convictions were overturned and he was released on bail.

CBC News Indepth: Conrad Black 15 June 04
Conrad Black 15 June 04
Conrad Black - The newspaper mogul thinks like an American and writes like a Brit 15 June 04

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