I have no recollection
Q: You are John Robson? A: I might be.
Q: You are a professional journalist?
A: If it says so on my tax return.
Q: You have read stories about the Conrad Black trial?
Q: What do you think of it?
A: Well, maybe we shouldn’t say read. As a professional journalist, if I am one, maybe I skimmed those stories. I don’t recall. I have no idea how my initials got on those clippings.
Q: Aren’t journalists supposed to read the papers carefully?
A: All that fine print hurts my eyes.
Q: Don’t you think you should have paid attention if you wish to be paid money?
A: Ridiculous. If you’ve been skimming the clippings, which I neither confirm nor deny possibly having done, you will be aware that under oath a number of prestigious former associates of Lord Black of Crossharbour, glittering members of society of the sort to whom I am literally transparent at parties, now insouciantly declare they had no idea their buddy was a grasping wretch because they were out of the room while their e-mail was being read or some such.
Q: So you have been following the stories.
A: As I might have said, I don’t recall.
Q: Aren’t you insouciantly denying responsibility.
A: Insouciance is only for the rich. If I did it, it would be insolent.
Q: Weren’t these audit board members paid up to $5,000 for telephone meetings?
A: I don’t recall.
Q: Is there anything you feel you should disclose?
A: Like when Conrad Black purchased Southam, it led to my being plucked from obscurity in the Ontario backwoods and installed in obscurity on the Citizen editorial board? No. Instead I wish to state without prejudice that Conrad Black did a signal service to journalism in Canada by investing money and believing in us. Especially me. Unless he didn’t. I don’t recall. He paid my salary. I paid no attention. I’m not sure there is a Conrad Black. Unless you have pictures of me groveling before him.
Q: Wouldn’t it feel good to see Conrad Black dragged down here with the rest of us? Wasn’t he supercilious, grandiloquent and self-indulgent? Shouldn’t he be compelled by law to use short words?
A: I do not wish to kick a man when he’s down, especially if he might get up and kick me back. But I will stipulate that Conrad Black was a tycoon. He not only became very rich through complex, massive high-stakes transactions, he openly enjoyed it. He enjoyed the money. He enjoyed the risk. He enjoyed being larger than life. Whereas when I got that way I had to go on a diet.
Q: What about the woman some British journalist tagged Attila the Honey?
A: Let me also stipulate that some of his wife’s unguarded comments were unhelpful to his public image. Not that either of them seemed to care much. And why should they? A gentleman, it is said, is one who does not unintentionally offend others, but --
Q: How would you know?
A: [Ahem] My point is, if you openly don’t care what people think, there’s no issue of non-disclosure.
Q: Isn’t being rich crass?
A: In some hands, yes. But life is not a popularity contest. At least I hope not. For my sake and that of Lord Black, who I fear has discovered that money brings fairweather friends. I wouldn’t personally try to buy happiness even if I possessed sufficient resources. Think of the paperwork. Besides, right now I’m trying to rent misery and even that’s coming a little steep.
Q: So what’s your beef?
A: I have no recollection of possessing cow products. I’m just saying it’s repulsive for people to traipse about in high society trailing money, fame and prestige, then testify that the former colleague who paid them luscious fees to sit on corporate boards was a slime for “secretly” doing things described in documents they couldn’t be bothered to read carefully even at rates approaching $1,000 an hour.
Q: Not by any chance bitter, are you?
A: Moi? I know in a recent survey journalism was inexplicably listed as a sexy job by people who I can only assume don’t get out enough. But in my years on the Citizen editorial board I attended innumerable meetings at well below $5,000 per, yet was expected to pay reasonable attention to the proceedings and even read preparatory documents sent by editors icily unimpressed by any admission or involuntary disclosure that you had failed to do so because you were busy, they were dull or for any other reason.
Q: In short, Conrad Black should have put you on the Hollinger Board.
A: Look, I told you, I may not know any Conrad Black. But if I did and he had, I’d have read the fine print a lot more cheaply than the people he did hire, whose conduct now strikes me as cheap in the least attractive sense of that word. Maybe. If I have principles. I don’t recall.
[First published in the Ottawa Citizen]