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There’s a study to be made of the Canadian press as it reveals itself in the coverage of the Conrad Black trial in this most American of cities, Chicago. I won’t make it — but from time to time I will hold up for your reading pleasure outstanding passages inked by the scriveners to our north. Most have been sent my way by my sister Dixie in Vancouver, along with a note that so-and-so — whom invariably I’ve never heard of and neither have you, perhaps to so-and-so’s sense of cosmic injustice — is a must-read and always fabulous.
For instance, Rex Murphy observing (subscription required) in the Globe and Mail that a new Canadian federal budget had been eclipsed by “The Great Chicago Litigation of Lord Black of Crossharbour,” the prime minister having failed to compete with “Lady Black’s stage-wise and shattering remarks through a closing elevator door about certain journalists as ‘sluts’ and ‘vermin.'” Murphy went on to insist that while “Lord Black is too frequently singled out for his polemical virtuosity, the sheer exuberance and gothic luxuriousness of his diatribes, Lady Black is no slouch either. Barbara Amiel [Black’s wife] has a more concentrated thrust, a more disciplined wit.”
The matter of polemics is vital because the outcome of the Conrad Black trial, as it’s being rendered in Canada, will be determined neither by the lawyers nor by the evidence but by Black’s uncertain capacity, when he directly addresses the jurors, as everyone is certain he must, to not sound so utterly arrogant that they immediately vote 12-zip to toss him in a tumbrel and cut his head off. “Conrad Black is famous at least as much for how he speaks, as how he earns,” Murphy reasoned. “He is at a trial that threatens to take all that he has earned, and one of his major worries is that jurors may very much not like how he speaks. He must mute one gift in hopes of keeping, so to speak, the other.”
Unless certain Canadian writers get hold of themselves, they will soon be describing those jurors (six alternates included) as rabble rounded up under Chicago’s drawbridges. At this moment they’re being construed as ghastly specimens of the American petite bourgeoisie. “The lawyers tried, bless their condescending little hearts, to talk like the real Americans in the jury box,” wrote Christie Blatchford (subscription required) in the Globe and Mail. “There are 18 of these, middle America in her full flower –four men and 14 women, each of whose thighs appears to weigh more than all of Barbara Amiel on a fat day, many garbed in the improbably cheerful colours (royal blue, baby blue, lime green, coral, turquoise) of this continent’s big-box malls.”
Blatchford went on, “On behalf of the lean young prosecutorial team, assistant U.S. attorney Jeffrey Cramer took the ‘keep it simple, stupid’ approach.”
Romina Maurino, covering the trial for the Canadian Press, made the same observation. Citing as her authority a Toronto law professor, Maurino reported that “federal lawyers will bring forth numerous witnesses in an attempt to simplify the case and help the jury understand its finer points.”
When a case is simplified its finer points don’t get understood — they get lost. But no matter. The point Canadian reporters keep making is that the financial matters this trial is about are incomprehensible, so the lawyers are dumbing down the issues for the jury. But maybe the Canadian press is doing its own dumbing down, for its readers. American papers can get away with covering the trial on their business pages, but in Canada it’s page one. An on-going page one courtroom drama has got to be easy to follow and teem with vivid personalities.