Conrad Black is now free, and though he must return to court to hear his appeal against conviction on three charges of fraud heard again, the likelihood is that he will never return to prison. One Chicago lawyer, who had followed Lord Black’s case, said: “One of the elements of being entitled to bail on appeal is that you’re likely to win.”
The fact is that he would not have been found guilty in any other country in the world. His conviction was undoubtedly part of a highly political response to a public mood of hysteria against “fat cats” in the wake of the multibillion Enron scandal, and he was condemned under a vague catch-all law (of which some of the Supreme Court Justices who heard Lord Black’s case were openly contemptuous), which the Wall Street Journal described as “the kitchen-sink charge against politicians and executives when [prosecutors are] worried that they can’t make more specific allegations stick”. The paper went on to comment: “The Black reversal is another blot on US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, who has previously abused legal process…”
I have always believed (having followed his trial in 2007 day by day) that Conrad Black is and was an honourable man and that his imprisonment was a gross miscarriage of justice. I have, as many readers will know, an interest to declare: I was appointed by Conrad Black personally as editor of this newspaper, and he consistently, especially in my early years, defended my editorial independence against attacks on it from without and within.
But my belief (and that of many others) that this was an injustice has now been confirmed by the Supreme Court of the United States of America: it can no longer be seen as the personal prejudice of those who know and admire him.
Despite all this, his enemies in this country persist in speaking of him as though he were an undoubted criminal whose clever lawyers have found some ingenious legal technicality on which to be released. In its news stories about his release on bail, for instance, the BBC has consistently referred to him as the “disgraced peer” or the “disgraced press baron” Lord Black of Coldharbour (getting in a sneer at his resonant title as it expresses scepticism about his vindication).
The fact is that “disgraced” is a wholly inappropriate word to use about someone whose convictions are under active review and who is likely to have them finally and without reservation set aside. I think that the BBC’s coverage of Lord Black’s release disgraces the BBC; and that it is yet another little sliver of evidence for the subterranean existence of the heaving morass of hidden, and often half-conscious, assumptions which underlie all its supposedly “impartial” reporting of the world we live in.