WASHINGTON, D.C. -- "Hit ‘em when they're down," is our motto. "Pile on," is our hearty exhortation. Who are we? We are the noble souls of the press. We are the self-described heroes, who write "history's first draft," as daily journalism is called. Yes, perhaps old Henry Ford had something when he described history as "bunk."
I may write in newspapers every week -- when I am not writing in magazines or writing books -- but I am quite confident that I am not a member of the press corps. I only "hit ‘em" when they are standing and capable of hitting back. I would never "pile on."
I avoid group things, and besides there is something cowardly about the journalists' feeding frenzy.
Today, the press is piling on in its coverage of the British and North American press tycoon Conrad Black. The journalists have found that Black's disagreements with members of his boards at his Hollinger corporations have put him under scrutiny by government agencies, and so they "hit ‘em while he's down." No rumor or report of irregularity is too measly for them to inflate into a page-one scream. If everything that has been said against him is wrong, it will take him years to recover his reputation, a legitimately earned reputation as a builder of some of the finest publications in the world. If Black is exonerated, you can be sure the hacks will not be writing about his exoneration on page one.
I have had my own run-ins with Conrad. A few years back we discussed entering into business arrangements, from which I walked away, to his indignation. But I will tell you that in all my dealings with him he was always a gentleman, and after suffering affront from me he showed the mettle of a gentleman and continued our friendship. He can deliver a punch, and he can take a punch.
Now the punches delivered at him are often below the belt. Just the other day in the Wall Street Journal -- on the front page no less! -- a series of low blows was struck. "Hollinger Investments Are Linked to Board's Perle and Kissinger," ran the headline of a story written for the credulous by the credulous. Certainly there was not much intellectual discipline present.
"This board (one of Black's Hollinger boards) has ties that were never disclosed," harrumphs a representative from one of Black's minority shareholders. "If we had known this, we would have said a preponderance of the board was not independent." The "ties" alluded to so melodramatically are ties Black, Kissinger and Perle have had for years, which anyone familiar with Hollinger should have known. Even as reported in the Journal story, they are perfectly unexceptional.