Everybody bleeds so have a care for Conrad and Barbara
|Toronto Star Photo|
|Black and Amiel during trial in Chicago|
Barbara Amiel authors a raw first-person piece in this week's Maclean's (Aug. 4) in which she describes the personal price she and her husband, Conrad Black, have paid for his trial and resulting conviction earlier this year (on 3 counts of mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice). The case and recent denial of appeal were widely publicized — over-the-top, Amiel would say — and he is serving a 6 1/2 year sentence in a Florida prison. (Sorry, I can't link the story without using the Star's own library paid services because Maclean's charges for a full read of its columnists, and I'll respect that.)
Understandably, there are a lot of digs in the story, including her comment that, with the bludgeoning of Black's fortunes, they were defended in Chicago "not by the lawyers we would have liked, but the lawyers we could afford. Major difference." Hmmm. Do the initials E.G. come to mind? I'm sure others who are mentioned would rather not be.
I found the piece sad and tragic. Sad in the sense of the bereftness Amiel feels and tragic in the evidence of the worst aspects of human nature she describes. Amiel recounts betrayal by people they had favoured in headier days. She writes of an emergency conference call with the Hollinger Inc. board of directors at a time when hostile invaders were putting a financial squeeze on the company, listing participants as Fredrik Eaton, Douglas Bassett, Maureen Sabia and Allan Gotlieb, former ambassador to the U.S. and a man for whom Amiel claims Black did many favours. The directors refused Black's request for more time to raise money, according to Amiel, and the conversation over, Black hung up. "I did not," writes Amiel and continues:
"Nor did the other directors who, believing both of us off the line, abandoned their serious tone and began laughing and joking about the stew they had put Conrad in. "I should get an Oscar for my acting," said Golieb in reference to his performance as a concerned director. "I could barely stop myself from laughing when Barbara referred to her concern for Conrad's reputation," said Fred Eaton. The woman I had recommended for the board, my old schoolmate from St. Catharines, Ont., Maureen Sabia, sarcastically replied, "All she's worried about is her own reputation," and joined happily in the dissing of us both. Here, writ plainly, was the future. These people were among Conrad's oldest friends."
I can't comment on the case because, as Amiel herself points out, one would have to read all the court transcripts and judgments in order to reach a conclusion. She repeatedly dismisses her own take on the case as that of "the wife" — and what else would a reader expect than for a wife to defend her husband? I found that touching and honorable. But the behaviour of people Black and Amiel thought they could depend on — that's another matter.
I haven't always agreed with Amiel. Years ago, I interpreted the premise of her book, Confessions, to be that everybody is created with equal opportunity and those who fail, who don't pull themselves up by their bootstraps, have only themselves to blame. From life experience, including my work, I know that to be untrue. Moreover, in this essay, she argues that if the rich can't get justice, the poor are doomed. It's an argument that, just personally, I find distasteful and think it weakened the power of the piece.
However, the betrayal she describes is Shakespearean. It's universal and demeans us all when people behave in the manner she has described. Where were the better angels? I don't have a thousand friends and my Facebook entry is purely for my job and not a scavenger net. I believe in my gut a handful of people, friends all my life, would not betray me when I needed them. (Let's not get sidetracked into Sophie's Choice questions here.) Nor would I betray them. The conversation Amiel says she overheard was savage and one can only hope she and her husband have friends — true friends — upon whom they have been able to depend, apart from their own bond.