By: Mark Fitzgerald
Newspaper business columnists across Canada reached remarkably similar conclusions Friday about what motivated former Chicago Sun-Times Publisher F. David Radler to cooperate with U.S. authorities, presumably as part of an effort against his long-time boss Conrad M. Black.
As the headline over David Olive’s column in the Toronto Star put it: “It’s payback time for shunted Radler.”
Canadian columnists have been beating up Radler and Black since the days when the two were riding high. The reclusive Radler cobbled together an empire out of papers in Milton, Pa., and Monmouth, Ill. (*see correction below), while the voluble Black was socializing with Margaret Thatcher and lobbying to become a British peer.
With the news Thursday that Radler would plead guilty to charges he defrauded Sun-Times publisher Hollinger International and that he would cooperate in a continuing federal investigation, the columnists gleefully dissected the Black’s crumbled empire, and this final turn of the screw by an old associate.
“Conrad Black probably went from relief to despair in about seven seconds yesterday afternoon as he read the criminal indictments handed out by the United States Attorney’s office in Chicago,” Eric Reguly wrote in The Globe and Mail in Toronto. “In the first paragraph, Lord Black learned he was not on the hit list, or at least not directly…Then — kaboom! — on page 3 of the indictment, really bad news: ‘Radler, through his attorney, authorized the government to disclose that he is co-operating with the investigation and expects to enter a plea of guilty at a later date.’…The technical term for such behavior is ‘rat,’ as in ‘ratting out’ someone or something. It looks like the rumors chasing Mr. Radler were true.”
By flipping to the feds, Radler has dramatically shifted the relationship between himself and Black, Mark Sutcliffe wrote in The Ottawa Citizen.
“No matter what he does, it must be painful for Black to learn that in his worst hour, not even his longtime friend and partner, his co-accused, appears to be standing by him,” Sutcliffe wrote. “But why would he? To anyone who has studied their partnership, it was always more about money than friendship. They found many ways to profit together in good times, but with their empire in ruins, it shouldn’t be surprising that one should try to gain at the expense of the other.
“Black benefited often enough from Radler’s deft ability with the hatchet; soon he may find it buried in his own back,” Sutcliffe concluded.
The Star’s Olive notes that Radler’s cooperation will almost certainly spare him from the 35-yeare maximum prison sentence that accompanies the mail and wire fraud charges. “Self-preservation is a factor, of course…Resentment also plays a role,” he wrote.
According to Olive, Radler believes he never got proper credit for assembling the newspaper chain that once stretched from small-town America to Jerusalem. Black’s hobnobbing with “bold-face names” was also irritating to the executive who famously snapped to a Star reporter: “I am nobody’s right-hand man.”
“[T]hose bold-face names spread the word over the decades about their patron’s [Black’s] genius in building the world’s third-largest newspaper empire, scarcely mentioning Radler, regarded by the likes of Margaret Thatcher and Henry Kissinger as a trumped-up Montreal restaurateur’s son who earned a handsome salary as hatchet man overseeing [Hollinger International’s] prosaic newspapers in U.S. hamlets of which they’d never heard,” Olive wrote.
Radler is well-positioned not just by his inside knowledge of the alleged fraud, Olive notes, but by his own personality: “There may be more such smoking guns in the possession of Radler, a packrat whose collection of evidentiary minutiae includes the number of Sun-Times employees on vacation at any given moment during his tenure as publisher.”
For years “shunted from the spotlight of glory, it would be an odd turn indeed were Radler now to take the fall alone,” Olive wrote. “As an assiduous keeper of company secrets, Radler is now, for Black, the enemy within.”
* The original article incorrectly implied that the The Journal-Standard in Freeport, Ill., was once owned by Hollinger International’s old American Publishing Co. unit.