Meet Conrad Black
. He's an outspoken Canadian conservative who's often compared to the Australian head of Newscorp (owner of Fox) Rupert Murdoch. Black owns a number of local papers within the US and Canada as well as the New York Sun, Chicago Sun-Times, London Daily Telegraph, and the Jerusalem Post.
Meet the Chicago Sun-Times. Once upon a time it was Chicago's liberal paper, a counterweight to the historically pro-Republican Tribune. When Murdoch bought it in the 1980's, its reporting took a slow glide to the Right. Murdoch sold it after only two years, but his editorial imprint remained. In 1994, Black bought it. Since then, while it's mostly stayed a little to the left of the Trib, the Sun-Times has clearly ceded any claim to being "Chicago's liberal paper".
But that may change very soon...
Saturday, Black's company Hollinger International charged him with stealing $200 million
. This is an interesting turn, considering that Black had built Hollinger International into a veritable "who's who" of conservative bad guys:
Hollinger International's board includes several prominent public figures, including Henry Kissinger, defense adviser Richard Perle and former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson.
Interestingly (and oh so surprisingly), the board has dirty hands of its own.
Black and Radler already face a shareholder lawsuit alleging they "looted" the company. The suit slams the board of directors, which includes former Illinois Gov. James R. Thompson, for rubber-stamping $300 million in inappropriate payments to Black, Radler and companies they controlled.
Now, Black and the board have turned on each other. In November, Black agreed to repay the company $7.2 million plus interest to make up for some of the unauthorized payments. On Sunday he fired off a letter to the board saying directors had OKd the payments. "I am not obligated and do not feel it is appropriate to return these non-compete payments to the company," he wrote.
Now, as reported in the Sun-Times article linked above, Black has sold his stake in Hollinger to two reclusive Scotsmen called the Barclay brothers.
This could be big news, since these two guys don't seem anywhere near as rabidly conservative as Black or Murdoch. The Sun-Times reports:
But while the Barclays shun the spotlight, they are not eccentrics in the style of Howard Hughes. Inseparable in their business dealings, they were knighted simultaneously by Queen Elizabeth in 2000 for philanthropy. Beneficiaries include the London Zoo and medical research, particularly on the treatment of Alzheimer's disease.
While it's unclear exactly what the Barclays will do, it's possible that the Sun-Times may be cleaning house after this. If the Barclays decide to reverse some of Black's editorial decisions, we may be seeing the return of a liberal paper to Chicago newstands. More importantly, regardless of the immediate results of the sale, a major conservative media mogul has been toppled. We should all give thanks for that.