Posted Monday, October 21, 2002

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 You don't understand, Max. My entire interests in the United States and internationally could be seriously damaged by this. -- newspaper owner Conrad Black to his editor Max Hastings


Toronto Globe and Mail

October 19, 2002 | Focus | p. F3


For nine years as editor of the Daily Telegraph, Max Hastings had to navigate the politics and personal passions of the paper's Canadian-born proprietor. In this exclusive excerpt from his compelling new book, he offers an inside look at how Conrad Black does business.

Paint It Black

[ ... ]

As the years went by, [Conrad Black] also developed increasingly strong views on the Middle East question, and thus on our coverage of it. Especially after his purchase of the Jerusalem Post, Conrad showed himself an energetic supporter of the Israeli cause against that of the Palestinians.

Conrad and I had several sharp exchanges, after pieces appeared in the Telegraph which he deemed anti-Israel or even anti-Semitic. One of Conrad's favourite terms of approbation was to describe a friend or colleague as "giving me a high comfort level." Conversely, when one of our writers erred in his eyes, I knew it was time to hoist storm signals when the chairman declared -- with only a nod toward irony or conscious extravagance -- that "this snivelling product of some pinko journalism school administered by the John Pilger/Christopher Hitchens Trust for the propagation of liberal mendacity does not give me a high comfort level, Max."

It was ironic, therefore, when one of the major rows of our time together descended on Conrad because he was accused of publishing anti-Semitic material in one of his own organs.

In November, 1994, a Los Angeles "stringer" for the Telegraph, William Cash, wrote a piece for The Spectator -- which the Telegraph had purchased from Algy Cluff in 1991 -- suggesting that Hollywood was a Jewish town. In the wake of its publication, the roof fell in. A long roll-call of Hollywood luminaries headed by Tom Cruise, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand and Kevin Costner wrote letters to Conrad and an open letter to The Spectator, and delivered diatribes to anyone who would listen, denouncing the Cash piece as a disgraceful piece of journalism.

"We have seen it all before, from the Inquisition in 13th-century Spain to the Holocaust of 20th-century Germany," ran one of the less hyperbolic passages of their Spectator letter. "When, to the editors of magazines like the Spectator, racist cant becomes indistinguishable from thoughtful commentary, it should sound a loud warning that we have not progessed so far after all."

I was sitting in Conrad's office while he took a call from an enraged Jack Valenti, speaking on behalf of the Hollywood Motion Picture Association, about the piece. They were demanding space not only in the Spectator, but also in the Daily Telegraph, to denounce the author. It was one of the few moments in my time with Conrad when I saw him look seriously rattled.

I did not think the Cash piece represented memorable -- perhaps not even tasteful -- journalism, but nor did I believe that it deserved the ludicrous overreaction of the Hollywood community. Their demands, especially for space in the Telegraph, seemed absurd. I urged that they should be given a right of reply in The Spectator, but otherwise told to take a running jump.

Conrad said: "You don't understand, Max. My entire interests in the United States and internationally could be seriously damaged by this."

The complaints eventually subsided. So too did the row, as I was growing to understand that all rows eventually do.

Editor: An Inside Story of Newspaper by Max Hastings (Macmillan, 2002) is distributed in Canada by H.B. Fenn and Company.


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  David Irving: Radical's Diary, Monday, October 21, 2002
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