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Michael Wolff

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Conrad Black Is My Hero

Posted: 07/26/10 04:18 PM ET

Conrad Black is out of jail. He's back in Palm Beach, out on bail -- paid for by his friend and fellow conservative Roger Hertog -- because the Supreme Court has ruled that he, along with other various abominated businessmen (including former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling), was convicted under a way-too-vague law.

Black, who ran one of the world's largest and most influential newspaper empires (the Telegraph in London, the Jerusalem Post, the Chicago Sun-Times), has no assets and faces many civil suits; even the Palm Beach house, which he once owned, is only being loaned to him for a few nights by its present owner.

If I were a novel-writing sort, I would consider Black as a worthy character -- not because of his fall, but because, even at 65 (in a sense, because he is only 65), he is bound to start again. Now Black is not a sympathetic figure (he and I have, on occasion, exchanged public insults and invective -- without, I assume, actual rancor). Foolish, pompous, comical -- even his supporters titter behind his back -- he was one of the greatest social climbers of our time. And yet he was curiously sincere. Where Rupert Murdoch, his arch-rival, has always been profoundly cynical, Black is a believer -- in his own importance, in the talents of his editors (a hands-off proprietor, his papers were always better than Murdoch's), even in his own prose style. An autodidact, he wrote biographies of FDR and Nixon.

What happens to a man who has everything taken from him but who utterly continues to believe in himself, no matter how unreasonably? Black will be a Petri dish of the self. He cannot but seek to reclaim and rebuild his reputation. There is no retirement, no retreat, no licking of wounds, no quiescence, or solitude for Black. He is the ultimate public man.

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