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The [Monday] Papers

The trial of former Sun-Times proprietor Conrad Black opens this week and is expected to last up to three months. As dazzling a megalomaniac as Black is, the gist of the matter is a rather dull series of financial deals that will be parsed within pennies of their lives, and when it's all through we'll have had our fill of audit committees and non-compete agreements. But the most important part of this story has yet to - and may never - be told, and that is a full accounting for what Black's actions and, more particularly, those of publisher David Radler, wrought on the editorial integrity of the Sun-Times and the public discourse of our city. It's clear that managers and staffers still at the paper were culpable enablers of the intrusion of Radler's heavy, grimy hand in editorial affairs, folks who stayed silent even as they implore others to this day to have the courage to bring forward wrongdoing in their own institutions. The Sun-Times will not escape the taint of the Black-Radler years, nor a continued reputation as a house of ethical horrors and warranted suspicion of a yellow-bellied current management team and newsroom, until it reveals to the public the entire story of its editorial abuses.

It's time for the paper to come clean if it hopes to start anew.

*

Some of those abuses we already know, though they look even worse now than they did then. That cheerleading for the Iraq War - was it Radler? Was he channeling former corporate director and neocon war architect Richard Perle?

It's time to tell us the truth.

For example, I wonder if current publisher John Cruickshank cares to amend his explanation at the beginning of the war for the Sun-Times's decision not to embed a reporter with U.S. troops - the largest American paper not to do so - as part of its meager war coverage. Was it mere Radler chintziness? Or a darker political motive?

Black and Radler also brought their conservative looniness to a paper once known as the liberal option in town. Shouldn't readers be let in on the full extent of the political agenda and how it's impacted the paper?

Already exposed is Radler's overturning of the editorial board's Democratic primary endorsement of Paul Vallas for governor in 2002 in favor of Rod Blagojevich. Given what we've learned about the governor's modus operandi since then, we can only wonder what kind of deal may have been struck. And yet, neither current Editor-in-Chief Michael Cooke or Cruickshank has spoken publicly to my knowledge about what really happened.

Then again, that old Hollinger culture still exists. Against the editorial board's wishes, Cruickshank decreed that Todd Stroger would be endorsed for Cook County president for "business reasons" - to win back black readers. Of course, that's not what the editorial said. Perhaps a little honesty is in store?

Cooke and Cruickshank are still Black and Radler's boys. Maybe it's time to clean house.

And how was the Sun-Times's coverage of the mayor and other officeholders compromised while the paper's parent company partnered with Donald Trump to tear down the Sun-Times Building in favor of Trump Tower?

And was it a Radler deal to threaten potential advertisers with adverse (or an absence of) news coverage? Michael Cooke would know.

Radler's tilting of the news pages in disproportionate favor to Israel and Jewish causes was obvious.

But a story by Maureen Orth in the February Vanity Fair drops a bombshell.

"He also gave stock options to certain reporters," Orth writes. "I asked one of them why she had been so chosen. 'Because I'm Jewish,' she says. 'I'm already on third base. The Jews did better; he favored the Jews.'"

Orth doesn't name this reporter or any of the other chosen few, but apparently they took their rewards from Radler and never spoke up.

*

I couldn't find Orth's article online, but it's worth tracking down if you're at all interested in Black, Radler, and the Sun-Times. A few of her gems:

- "When the veteran columnist Carl Rowan was jettisoned from the Sun-Times after Black and Radler took over, he sued for ageism," she writes. "According to John Cruickshank, formerly the editor and currently the publisher of that paper and others, part of Rowan's $250,000 settlement was taken from the Sun-Times's charity fund."

Did Cruickshank know this when it happened, or learn it later? Because if he knew it when it happened, shouldn't he have reported this to the feds?

- "[Black's wife Barbara Amiel] also served on Hollinger's board and held the title of 'vice president, editorial' at the Chicago Sun-Times, where between 1998 and 2003 she earned $1.3 million for producing a few columns and occasionally critiquing the paper."

Cooke and Cruickshank were unaware? Doubtful.

- "Radler used the second jet - the planes cost Hollinger $23 million over a three-year period - and maintained an apartment at the Four Seasons in Chicago, paid for by the company, while he presided as publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times, from 1995 to 2003."

- "Under [Radler's] direction large donations from the Sun-Times and Jerusalem Post charitable funds were made to Haifa University, which conferred an honorary degree on Radler. In Ontario, he had Hollinger donate $168,000 to establish the Radler Business Wing at his alma mater, Queen's University. To make the business run smoothly, his wife, Rona, was named the head of the Sun-Times's charity, receiving a total of $126,000."

- "Joycelyn Winnecke, former Sun-Times managing editor and now associate managing editor for national news at the Chicago Tribune . . . says she cut millions from the news budget at Radler's direction."

Think about the impact that must have had on the paper - and on our civic affairs. And no one spoke up.

- "Even as he bled the paper dry, his mantra was to not mess with 'poor people' such as janitors or with 'the vets' who had been there more than 30 years. But, as he reportedly told one executive, 'everybody else you can fuck with. Anybody who's worth a shit isn't here anymore because of what I have done to this company.' His management style, another executive told me, was to prey on people's weaknesses. 'He had something on almost every guy working for him.'"

Do tell, David.

*

"Former Chicago Sun-Times publisher David Radler and his companies will pay a total of $63.4 million to settle claims by the Sun-Times Media Group, the company said Sunday," the paper reports. "The total includes $21.8 million Radler agreed to pay to settle civil charges that he looted the Sun-Times' parent company, Hollinger International, now called the Sun-Times Media Group."

*

"Government authorities and those in charge at Hollinger today," Orth writes, "claim they have plenty of insight into how Black and his executives did business. In addition to a total of 17 criminal counts, Black and other Hollinger officials stand accused by their company and shareholders of diverting more than $400 million - about 95 percent of Hollinger International's profits from 1997 to 2003 - into holding companies by which they controlled the conglomerate.

"The diversion of most of that money, however, was approved by Black's handpicked board of directors, composed of glittering socialites, political titans, and prestigious businessmen. The mortified board has already agreed to settle a shareholders' lawsuit for $50 million, to be paid by the company's insurance."

*

"[Prosecutors will be attempting to prove that Black and others pocketed more than $80 million for agreements - allegedly made by misleading the board or without board authorization at all - that they would not compete with community newspapers they had just sold to a Canadian company called CanWest for $2.1 billion" writes Orth. "Non-competes are common, but usually the compensation goes to the company, not to individuals. In Canada, non-competes are not taxable, whereas if these amounts had been labeled as bonuses they would have been.

"In addition, Patrick Fitzgerald has brought charges against Black for having the company pay for a portion of his wife's $62,870 60th-birthday party, at La Grenouille, in New York; for allegedly undervaluing the price of the New York apartment he had bought from the company; and for using the company jet for a vacation on Bora-Bora, at a cost of $530,000. Black is already in a vulnerable position with the S.E.C., owing to a 1982 consent decree he has been under for a questionable dealing in the purchase of a stake in a Cleveland mining company. Therefore, the lawyer mounting his defense cannot expect to have an easy time."

-

"Last September, Black's lawyers sought to have the entire criminal indictment thrown out, arguing that it cast too many aspersions on the rich way he lived. The defendant would be unable to get a fair trial, the documents argued, because a typical Chicago juror 'does not reside in more than one residence, employ servants or a chauffeur, enjoy lavish furniture, or host expensive parties.'"

Or enjoy a decent newspaper.

"Black's only true peers, the argument seemed to imply, might be in the House of Lords. For years Black had taken delight in conspicuous and promiscuous consumption. Now, in their brief, his lawyers actually quoted Matthew 19:24 - 'It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.' U.S. District Court judge Amy St. Eve, who is presiding over the black case in Chicago, denied the motion."

*

Some members of Hollinger's board were paid as much as $25,000 per meeting plus annual fees.

*

"A devoted family man, [Radler] would interrupt important financial negotiations to take phone calls from his two daughters, one of whom worked at the law firm of Big Jim Thompson."

Who chaired the board's audit comittee.


*

What kind of man is Richard Perle? Orth fills us in.

"Perle's total compensation by Hollinger International from 1998 to 2003 was $5.4 million. While serving as chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, Perle also set up Trireme Partners, a venture-capital fund focused on homeland security and defense, and he got a $2.5 million investment from Hollinger for Trireme, which was never reported to the audit committee. Both Black and Kissinger were on Trireme's board. At one point Perle was even charging groceries to Hollinger.

"Perle chose not to provide a statement for this article, other than to tell me that the special committee's report was 'filled with inaccuracies.'"

But none that he cared to correct.

"So far, Perle's legal fees exceed $4 million."

*

Perle was on Meet the Press on Sunday, pressing on with his view of the Iraq War, credibility apparently undamaged. The show, of course, is hosted by Tim Russert. Who is married to Maureen Orth.



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Posted on March 19, 2007


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