Mark “Perry Mason” Steyn from the Chicago trial of Conrad Black
HH: We begin, with so much happening around the world, with columnist to the world, Mark Steyn, currently sequestered in a Chicago hotel, impersonating Dominick Dunne during the O.J. trial. You’re covering the Conrad Black trial, Mark Steyn. I want to do that after the break. But how do you like living the life of the court reporter?
MS: I rather like Chicago, and it’s quite fun to have, if you’re basically a guy who works at home a lot of the time, it’s quite good to have somewhere to go during the day, even if it’s a courtroom. I rather like it. I sit just behind the government prosecutors. I’ve got a very good seat, and I like the way after the first couple of days, they’re all very officious and bureaucratic, but after the first two days, you’re suddenly like part of the furniture. People say hi to you as you walk down the corridors. I feel practically now, I’m part of the Chicago justice system.
HH: Well, they’re all certainly reading your blog everyday, because you’re blogging this trial. So they must know that one of the globe’s finest and wittiest writers can throw darts in their back everyday, internet wise, and so they should be treating you nice.
MS: Yeah, well, it’s quite interesting, that, because you’re kind of covering the trial in real time. Now that’s the difference the internet’s made, and so you find that both on the prosecution and defense side, the people respond to things you’ve said, if you update in the morning. And you come back after lunch, and find they’re taking into account things you’ve said. I find that a very interesting way of doing it. But I must say it’s quite a grueling slog. These…say what you like about the U.S. justice system, but this American judge works a lot harder than most Canadian or British judges do. There’s an extra two or three hours a day that she’s in that courtroom.
HH: How are you doing with courthouse food?
MS: Well, I’m not having a lot of that, to be honest. And actually, the coffee, which I do have, is pretty good. I need extensive cups of coffee, because there’s a lot of very technical stuff in this thing, and so I’m relying a lot on coffee, and it’s actually not bad. They’ve got some deal with Starbucks there. It’s all franchised now. I’m surprised Halliburton isn’t running the coffee machines in there. You’d think they would have got that deal, but it’s not bad.
HH: Now you know, we had a little pool going in the office between Duane and I on one side, and Adam on another. Duane and I were betting that you were cheap and would never go to Starbucks.
MS: (laughing) Well, I don’t actually…I’ll tell you, I am a bit of a coffee snob, because you know, I’m a long time Quebecer, and Quebec has the best, really good, Café Ole in North America. And to be honest, I always loved the lattes when I was a child. And since they’ve become sort of standard on every kind of street corner these days, I don’t really like…Starbucks does something with its coffee that I’m not too keen on.
HH: All right. Well, you got in trouble on the show last week when you mocked Red State food. And I put up a post on that, and you now have a list of suggestions on where to eat in the Red States of America.
MS: Yeah, I know…
MS: And now, I’ve just revealed myself as some effete, sissy-boy, latte-sipper (laughing).
HH: I know (laughing).
MS: And it’s getting worse and worse. I might as well just register with the Democratic Party and get a gig on CNN the way this is going.
HH: And you also may be clubbed if you go to Seattle. That’s the other thing that could happen to you for slamming on Starbucks. By the way, Straight Eye For the Separatist Guy, tell us about these elections, and what happened in the Frenchland up there.
MS: Well, Quebec had an election this week, and the conservatives, the so-called conservative party, they’re actually a very libertarian party that’s rather eccentric in some ways, but they basically got a third of the vote. And they’re now the leader of Her Majesty’s loyal opposition up there. And the separatists got their lowest vote since 1970. It’s interesting to me, the separatists were led by basically a gay guy who admitted to snorting coke. And normally, when politicians admit to doing drugs, they mean when they were at college. That’s what David Cameron, the British Conservative leader, when he talked about his drug use, he was referring to when he was at university. Well, this guy, it turns out he was doing coke during Quebec cabinet meetings. Now if I was responsible for Quebec’s socialist, basket case economy, it would take considerable quantities of cocaine to get me through those cabinet meetings. But it was interesting to me that everybody said oh, electing a gay cokehead, this proves that Quebec is the most progressive people in North America. Well, this guy turned out to be a disaster. And I think the gay cokehead bit was a lot to do with it. You know, whatever people say, whatever they tell pollsters, people who do not live in fashionable, urban environments are a lot more culturally conservative than you think. And I think running, electing a guy like this as party leader is a disaster, and it would be a disaster in just about, you name the most liberate state in America, it would be a similar disaster down here.
HH: So there’s kind of a complete bollixed up of politics now in Quebec. Nobody’s really running it, right?
MS: Well, it’s basically the first minority government since the 19th Century. And I think, I actually, to be honest, after the last week in Washington, I think there’s a lot to be said for minority, multiple party, Westminster systems. I think of a lot to commend them, compared to a sort of Nancy Pelosified Congress.
HH: Oh, I know.
MS: I’m looking forward to seeing how things go up there.
HH: Disastrous…now let’s get to the serious stuff. Over at Verum Serum, there is very extensive and detailed chronology of the tides of war that have been flowing between the West and Iran going back a very long time. But we’ve entered a new phase now, Mark Steyn. What do you make of the conduct of Great Britain, vis-a-vis the Iranian kidnapping of their sailors?
MS: Well, they were weak when this happened three years ago, and I believe I wrote in the Telegraph at the time that this was a great act of weakness by the British against an act of piracy by the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now if you allow people to get away with it, they try it again. They get a little more bolder. This parading of this woman, this female sailor, Royal Navy personnel rating, as they call it in the Royal Navy, in Islamic clothing, is a clear breach of the Geneva Conventions.
MS: But all the people who complain and whine about Gitmo all day long don’t care about countries like Iran violating the Geneva Conventions. Iran can violate them with impunity, and so will continue to do so. And I’m very concerned. Iran, you talk about the chronology, Iran respects far fewer of the basic courtesies between states than the Soviet Union, or the Chinese Communists, or any other traditional enemy of the United States has ever done. And the fact of the matter is that we respond weakly every time this happens. The absolute low point of the Cold War was nothing to do with America’s relations with the Soviet Union, but was Jimmy Carter’s completely disastrous behavior, vis-a-vis Iran in 1979. And the British are in effect reenacting a Carter strategy, 28 years later.
HH: Do you…I noted that you quoted at Nationalreview.com, Speaker Gingrich’s suggestion on this program yesterday, Rush even played it today, that first, blow the gasoline refinery, and then stop the tankers. Do you think there’s a chance in the world the Brits will adopt such a strategy?
MS: No, and I think the thing about it is that if you were to propose that either in the House of Commons, or in the United States Congress, people would regard you as an extremist. You would be accused of escalating the situation. Now I think you could make the case that in fact, you don’t even need to do as Newt was talking about with you, which is to threaten them privately with it for a week. I mean, you could make the case that they should just do it. I mean, Iran surprises us all the time. It seizes sailors, it takes out hit contracts on British subjects like Salman Rushdie, it blows up community centers in Argentina, it seizes the U.S. Embassy. Iran doesn’t threaten to do that, it just gets on with it and does it. And maybe there’s a case to be said for well, maybe we should just do something against Iran. Maybe we should just take out that refinery, and they can wake up to it, and see it smoking when it happens, and then they’ll realize we’re serious. But the fact of the matter is that at the moment, when you hear Speaker Gingrich talk about that on your show, you then think well, can I imagine the British Foreign Secretary threatening that? Can I imagine Condoleezza Rice threatening that? And it’s actually there, and you realize how far all the options have bled away, so that now, Tony Blair is threatening, threatening to very quietly raise the possibility of sometime down the road, getting a U.N. resolution on possible trade, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we all know that anything meaningful can’t be done by the U.N., because it would be vetoed by some combination of the Chinese, the Russians and the French. So in other words, it’s a non-threat, and the Iranians understand it as such.
HH: And back in Tehran, they say I guess we can push even further, don’t they?
HH: And as a result, great power status, as you wrote at National Review, erodes, and is not quickly reassembled. I don’t know if Great Britain gets it back. As Arthur Herman said, they used to wonder if they’d left a navy big enough to defend Great Britain. Now the question is do they have a navy big enough to defend the navy.
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HH: Mark Steyn goes Perry Mason in Chicago at the trial of Conrad Black.
MS: That is one of the all-time great TV theme tunes. I haven’t heard that in a long time.
HH: It is, and you’re instantly there in the courtroom.
MS: Yeah, they should play that every morning. I’d love to enter to that music.
HH: Well now, there are a couple of elements to this which I’m fascinated by. First of all, I wrote this last weekend when I discovered this. You’re writing this for McClain’s, which is what, like the Time Magazine of Canada?
MS: That’s right. It’s basically Canada’s biggest selling general interest magazine.
HH: And so they’ve drafted you and sent you to Chicago to basically cover a trial that has a lot of people gripped, but my guess is 95% of Americans don’t know who Conrad Black is, and would scratch their head as to why a Canadian who became a House of Lords member is on trial in Chicago, that could be facing the rest of his life in the slammer. What’s going on, Mark Steyn?
MS: Well basically, a couple of years ago, Conrad Black’s company, Hollinger, was the 2nd or 3rd biggest newspaper group in the world, basically in every major English-speaking country, they ran all Canada’s major dailies, the Ottawa Citizen, Montreal Gazette, Vancouver Sun. They had the Daily Telegraph, which is Britain’s biggest selling broadsheet newspaper. They had the Jerusalem Post. They had the Fairfax Group in Australia, which publishes the Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Age, all Australia’s big papers. And they happened to own a lot of, big bunch of small papers in the United States. And as a result, they brought all these essentially British commonwealth papers under the umbrella of an American public company, which is why, as you point out, a guy who’s essentially an Anglo-Canadian press baron is now looking at 101 years in the slammer in a Chicago courthouse.
HH: Now what is he charged with?
MS: Well, he’s…this is basically, I regard it as the extreme end of Sarbanes-Oxley. He’s charged for taking what they call non-competition fees, which is basically a form of tax-free bonus in Canada, which means you know, when a company changes hands, if for example I buy the restaurant in my town, the restaurant might make me sign a non-competition agreement, in order that I don’t then take their money and open up a rival restaurant across the street. It’s a standard thing in business. But it happens to be tax-free, perfectly legal in Canada. And so as a result, this…my old boss is on trial in Patrick Fitzgerald’s courthouse. And just as I objected to Patrick Fitzgerald essentially criminalizing the political dispute on the war in the Scooter Libby trial, so to a certain extent, I object to him criminalizing the practice of business in this trial, because I think the market is the best way of correcting these things. If shareholders are dissatisfied, they can take their money out, they can vote against the board. The market is excellent at being self-correcting. I don’t think the intervention of the criminal justice system is very good at that, so I believe this is part of the post-Enron excessive regulation of business, which is deeply damaging to the United States in the long run.
HH: Well, I’m of two minds. I really do agree with you, but if he goes on and then prosecutes everyone at the Tribune Company for putting the L.A. Times upon us, in the dispiriting and glop-like mess that it is, and destroying the share price, by the way, and the New York Times, and the rest of these people, that’s fine. But I don’t understand how this one company has gotten slapped for, I guess, looting, in essence.
MS: Well, it’s basically gotten slapped, I think, because of the sort of cross-border aspect of it, that in other words, the people who ran Hollinger had a strange board. In other words, it had mainly Canadian executives, and then its independent directors were all these big shot Americans like Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle and Jim Thompson, the former governor of Illinois. And basically, the government’s case in this trial is that these…this sinister cabal of Canadians came down from north of the border, the badlands north of the 49th Parallel, and cunningly pulled the wool over the eyes of these…
HH: Over Richard Perle’s eyes? (laughing)
MS: Yes, naïve, innocent, unworldly types like Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle. I mean, Henry Kissinger, he could handle the Soviet Union, he could handle the Chinese politburo, he could handle Yasser Arafat, and the Palestinians, but the Canadians, that was just way too much for him.
MS: I mean, this is a characterization of Kissinger and Perle nobody has ever attempted in human history.
HH: Well now, let me ask you as well, the nutters have not shown up, and this could be neocon central. This could be their Bilderberger’s trial, because everyone they hate is there, but they don’t seem to care.
MS: No. Well, it’s very interesting, I’ve got a very conspiracy-minded neighbor. He’s basically one of these kooks who refuses to be on the electric grid, because he thinks that’s how the government controls your mind, lives in the woods, deep in the woods, and has completely…conspiracy theories on everything all going back to the Knights Templars, and the Bilderberg group, and the whole rest. And he used to come around here fairly often, and he stumbles on the Hollinger story, and he’s reading the names of these newspaper titles, Daily Telegraph of London, National Post of Canada, Chicago Sun-Times, and he’s going where have I heard these before? And he goes, Oh, my God, they’re Mark Steyn’s newspapers.
MS: And so he thinks the entire conspiracy theory of the Iraq war, and everything going back to the Knights Templars now all flows through my…
HH: Oh no (laughing)
HH: But now, there’s hardly a Jew to be found in this vast kettle of names, though. How can he connect up a conspiracy without the requisite number of Jews?
MS: Well, there is a Jew in this story, and that is Conrad Black’s supposedly sinister wife, Barbara Amiel, my colleague, newspaper colleague for many years. But she’s basically portrayed in the British and Canadian press as this sort of sinister, Zionist, trophy clotheshorse. If you read the book, the best selling book in Britain about Conrad Black called Conrad And Lady Black by Tom Bower, basically he portrays Barbara Amiel, Lady Black, as this kind of Zionist version of Lady Macbeth. So there is even a Jewish angle in there.
HH: Well, I hope you’re keeping the rights to your blog, because I think there’s a movie here once Hollywood…it’s just it’s happening in Chicago, so nobody knows it’s happening.
MS: Well, it’s interesting, the prosecutors are all young. They all look like they’re auditioning for this role in some hip kind of Chicago Legal type TV show, whereas the defense counsel are all kind of cranky, old…one of the defendants has this octogenarian lawyer, marvelous guy called Gus Newman, who is basically this kind of cranky, whiskery, old New York lawyer. And I think so far, the old cranky guys have it over what he calls the youthful brains trust on the government table.
HH: 30 seconds, right now, is Conrad Black going to jail for the rest of his life, Mark Steyn?
MS: I don’t think so. I think the government is having a hard time stating where the crime is here. It shouldn’t be a criminal trial. This…the market is self-correcting. The government cannot calibrate as well as the market can.
HH: Mark Steyn, always a pleasure. You’ve got to read this blog from the trial of Conrad Black. I’ve linked it at Hughhewitt.com, you can find it at www.steynonline.com. It’s fascinating, it’s the next iteration of journalism. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure.
End of interview.