It can be a heartwarming sight when the next generation steps up — depending on what you thought of the first generation. Word comes that a string of nine small newspapers in Rhode Island is being sold to a company headed by Melanie Radler. Her father, David Radler, started out with his own little papers in Canada and wound up publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times and COO of Hollinger International, where prosecutors say he and his longtime (until recently) pal Conrad Black pocketed money hand over fist. In March Black goes on trial on corruption charges in federal court in Chicago. Radler has pleaded guilty and turned state’s evidence.
Melanie Radler is a 1999 Northwestern law school grad who went to work as a litigator for Winston & Strawn, the law firm chaired at the time by Jim Thompson. Back then the former governor was on cordial terms with Radler and Black — in fact he presided over the Hollinger board’s all-important audit committee. Today that’s all history Thompson would probably rather forget, and Melanie Radler has surfaced as president of RISN Operations Inc., the firm buying the Rhode Island papers. The vice president is Roland McBride, who might be described as an old crony of her dad’s. He’s CFO of Horizon Publications Inc., of Marion, Illinois, a small newspaper chain that Radler still controls and that Black used to own a large piece of. Horizon shows up right in the middle of the Hollinger scandal. According to the 2005 indictment, noncompete payments written into the deal when Hollinger sold some publications to Horizon for more than $43 million in 1999 meant that Black, Radler, and a third defendant “had, in essence, negotiated an agreement with themselves . . . not to compete against themselves . . . resulting in them paying themselves . . . approximately $1.2 million.”
McBride was also CFO of the American Publishing Company — a Hollinger subsidiary that by the end of 2000 had sold off virtually all its newspapers. Nevertheless, the indictment says, in 2001 four Hollinger officers were paid a total of $5.5 million (in checks backdated to 2000, with almost all the money going to Black and Radler) in return for their promises not to compete with the APC if they left Hollinger. They took the money, the indictment marvels, not to compete “with a company that was, for all intents and purposes, no longer in the newspaper business.” A special committee of the Hollinger Board investigating the scandal would identify McBride as the APC officer who signed the checks and characterize the explanation he gave as “completely nonsensical.”
McBride and Melanie Radler couldn’t be reached to talk about their new adventure. A Rhode Island journalist tells me the outgoing owners, the Journal Register Company, “bled these newspapers down to a fraction of what they used to be.” If Melanie Radler has inherited any of her dad’s genius — or if dad’s lurking in the background of this deal — she’ll show them. David Radler never saw a turnip that wasn’t a little plumper than it needed to be.