Conrad on Rupert: “A Great Bad Man”

by Alex Massie

Congratulations to the Financial Times for getting Conrad Black – a press baron of the old, swaggering, school who, by and large, was good for his newspapers – to write about Rupert Murdoch's present predicament. It is all grand stuff, written in the familiar grandiloquent Baron Black of Crossharbour style:

No one should begrudge the Guardian, the BBC, CNN, the New York Times and others their fun at his expense, nor take it too seriously. He is, as Clarendon said of Cromwell and the British historian David Chandler updated to Napoleon “a great bad man”. It is as wrong to dispute his greatness as his badness.

[…] Although his personality is generally quite agreeable, Mr Murdoch has no loyalty to anyone or anything except his company. He has difficulty keeping friendships; rarely keeps his word for long; is an exploiter of the discomfort of others; and has betrayed every political leader who ever helped him in any country, except Ronald Reagan and perhaps Tony Blair. All his instincts are downmarket; he is not only a tabloid sensationalist; he is a malicious myth-maker, an assassin of the dignity of others and of respected institutions, all in the guise of anti-elitism. He masquerades as a pillar of contemporary, enlightened populism in Britain and sensible conservatism in the US, though he has been assiduously kissing the undercarriage of the rulers of Beijing for years. His notions of public entertainment and civic values are enshrined in the cartoon television series The Simpsons: all public officials are crooks and the public is an ignorant lumpenproletariat. There is nothing illegal in this, and it has amusing aspects, but it is unbecoming someone who has been the subject of such widespread deference and official preferments.

That's a fair assessment and, given Black's present circumstances, perhaps a generous one too. Black concludes that the "British establishment" must rediscover its nerve and resolve never to be so intimidated again.

Relatedly, I've a piece up over at Foreign Policy on yesterday's startling developments.