• Brian Kersey/AP
  • Former Sun-Times publisher David Radler pictured in 2005, right after he pleaded guilty to wrongfully diverting funds away from the paper’s parent company

“Seeker of truth and peace”

Beneath that headline the January 31-February 6 issue of the Economist eulogizes its former correspondent in Israel, David Landau, as “valued, courageous and insightful. . . a writer of wit and integrity whose thirst for justice for Palestinians and for a better understanding of Israel across the world was paramount.” Landau died January 27 at the age of 67.

The obit recalls that in 1990 he was managing editor of the then liberal Jerusalem Post, but “dismayed by the hawkishness of the new owners, he led a walk-out of the staff.”

This is of interest to Chicago because those new owners were Conrad Black and David Radler, who a few years later would buy the Sun-Times.

They owned dozens of nondescript papers in the U.S. and Canada, but a few mattered. The Sun-Times, I suppose was one, but the titles closest to Black’s heart were surely the London Telegraph, which he entered Britain’s House of Lords by owning, and the National Post, a Canadian daily he founded. Chicago was Radler’s responsibility, but his heart apparently was in Jerusalem. He was chairman of the board of the Jerusalem Post, and shortly after buying it in 1990 (for many millions more dollars than the Post was worth, according to the New York Times), he appointed as publisher a retired army colonel with no background in journalism.

Alarmed by an editorial shift to the right, the Post staff first appealed to Radler and then, led by Landau, walked out. Post-Post, Landau enjoyed an illustrious career, founding the English edition of the liberal newspaper Haaretz and writing biographies of Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon. Radler, in Chicago, racked up more honors for his faith than his journalism: in 2002 he received the American Jewish Committee’s Civic and Business Leadership Award, was feted by the Chicago Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, and was given an honorary degree from the University of Haifa.

A full-page ad in the Sun-Times announcing the Weizman dinner called Radler “The Man Who Tells It Like It Is” and further described him as “publisher of The Chicago Sun-Times and Chairman of the Board of The Jerusalem Post, two papers that print the truth about the Middle East and cut through the halftruths, distortions and lies that give aid and comfort to the enemies of Israel.”

I imagine Radler back then got a lot more pleasure from thinking himself a pillar of the Israeli right than from cutting cynical deals with Black in which they sold off almost all their newspapers and pocked millions in bogus noncompete payments. But in the years just ahead, both would be charged in federal court with fraud, Radler would plead guilty and testify against Black, and both would go to prison, Radler, however, for a mere ten months.

He’d given the University of Haifa $75,000. The university gave it back.

The death of Landau reminds me that the reign and fall of Black and Radler didn’t just happen in Chicago. They touched lots of lives in lots of places.