Saturday, May 19, 2007

Conrad Black, defender of editorial independence

Called David Asper’s Shawinigate op-ed “un-rigorous and hostile to your own employees”

From today’s Globe and Mail:

Mr. Asper’s son, David, a CanWest executive, began taking issue with the Post’s coverage of the so-called Shawinigate scandal, which involved allegations that Mr. Chrétien had improperly helped a business colleague get a loan from a federal agency for his hotel in Shawinigan. At the time, Lord Black and Mr. Chrétien were also sparring over his appointment to Britain’s upper chamber. The Aspers were long-time Liberals and many observers were convinced they would rein in the Post’s coverage.

On Jan. 5, 2001, Lord Black wrote Mr. Asper to complain about David’s interference saying it was “not reconcilable” with the corporate partnership. “I am aware that considerable pressure has been exerted by David on National Post editorial personnel on behalf of Chrétien,” Lord Black wrote, adding that the Prime Minister’s Office “is not composed of reasonable people.”

On March 7, 2001, David wrote a column in the Post criticizing the paper’s coverage, calling it unfair. The Post ran an editorial the same day defending its reporting and taking David to task.

Six days later, Mr. Asper fired off an angry letter to Lord Black threatening to sever their joint ownership of the Post. Mr. Asper called the Post’s criticism of his son “outrageous” and blamed Lord Black for orchestrating the subsequent fallout in other media.

“Neither you nor I would profit from a public battle, which would give great pleasure to those who wish neither of us well, but regrettably, you have chosen to publicly throw a gauntlet, administer a public slap in the face which has both embarrassed, humiliated and held up to ridicule and dishonour both my family and my company,” he wrote. “You will readily understand why I won’t remain silent.”

Lord Black replied: responded the next day, calling Mr. Asper’s reproaches “completely unjustified.” “The piece [David] wrote was un-rigorous and hostile to your own employees with consequences that were foreseeable and predicted,” he wrote. “I did not orchestrate anything.”

Lord Black said senior editors at the Post had told David that if he wrote his article it would “produce great resentment amongst the journalists and would appear to anyone in [Canada] still interested in an independent press to be servile toadying to a rather corrupt regime in what is now more or less a one-party state.”

He added that David was told he should write a “substantive piece,” stating specific reporting mistakes.

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