Pro-Conrad Black Web Site Fesses Up to Hoax

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By: Mark Fitzgerald — a Web site supposedly supporting deposed newspaper mogul Conrad Black with “symbolic” pledges of financial support and an “On-to-Chicago Caravan” for the opening of his federal racketeering trial next week — is a hoax created by the Canadian satirical magazine Frank, the current issue reveals.

The site was the subject of an online column in E&P last week that suggested the site could be satire. “They’re kidding, right?” the column asked. But it nonetheless concluded after an e-mail interview with its “creator” — one “Alastair Smith,” a 32-year-old with a vague position in Toronto’s financial markets — that it was a serious undertaking by people under the thrall of Ayn Rand.

“Mark [Fitzgerald], you were right the first time. We were kidding,” Frank Editor Michael Bate, signing himself “aka Alastair Smith” said in an e-mail to E&P. “As Lord Black is one of the few satiric assets we have left in this frozen backwater, we pray for his safe return.”

Frank has been a merciless taunter of Black for years, nicknaming him “Tubby” and “His Lardship,” and referring to the National Post newspaper he created and sold off as his “old vanity paper, the National Putz.”

In its just-released issue, Frank recounts the creation of the “Ad Hoc Committee for Conrad Black.” E&P’s role in publicizing the Web site is recounted at some length in the piece.

“We didn’t have much choice,” the article said. “We had to do something to try to inspire our major meal ticket in the most important battle of his chippy and bellicose life and to swing public opinion in his favor. Certainly, writers Tubby once bought and sold like, well, newspapers were mostly giddy with Schadenfreude at the prospect of his downfall. Moreover, most of his finely feathered friends had long since stooled him out or flown the coop. It was going to be largely up to us to generate some light at the end of Tubby’s dank tunnel.”

The 11-page packet of articles gleefully recounts people who accepted the invitation to show their support of Black. “All the while, the emails pour in to the website, mostly from people who would love to hold Tubby’s camel hair,” it says.

Among those who responded to site is Lord Black of Crossharbour himself. Responding to an e-mail from the “committee” hoping that it isn’t “embarrassing” Black with any aspect of its message, Black answered with assurances that he is pleased with the site:

“Many thanks for your message. Let me assure you that I am very affected by and grateful for your encouragement. The climate of developing opinion, and the facts of the case as it takes shape, justify great optimism that this outrageous persecution is finally going to be unmasked and ended, and those responsible for defaming the innocent and destroying good companies and enriching themselves, while masquerading as the shareholders’ friends, will have to account for their misdeeds. Your activities have not occasioned the slightest embarrassment. Yours sincerely, CONRAD BLACK.”

Some days later, though, Black concluded the site was a prank. “It is very clever of you, and I would enjoy it as a joke, but you will understand that it is a bit distracting right now,” he wrote, according to the magazine. “I do receive a great volume of supportive comment these days, and you passed under the radar screen.”

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