Dr William Oddie, lately editor of the Catholic Herald, was appointed by Conrad Black, and kept on in the job after libelling, rather expensively, my friend Stephen Bates, of the Guardian. He was only forced to retire last year, through a combination of ill-health and homophobia: the strenuous unpleasantness of his writings on gay priests and bishops proved intolerable to one of the shareholders, a gay Catholic businessman. So Oddie has reason to be grateful to Conrad Black. Even so, his column today is bizarre:
Lord Black’s ordeal has elicited two quite distinct kinds of media reaction. The predominant tone, I note with contempt, is one of unabashed Schadenfreude, most obviously in papers like The Independent and The Guardian, whose pleasure at the difficulties of this great and lovable man is barely disguised. Most disgusting of all, however,, has been the action, reported in the Evening Standard’s Diary column, of a journalist who writes for one of the papers Lord Black still owns. The Standard does not name him, but it is fairly clear who it is; at any rate, he is a fellow member of the Beefsteak club, who has entered in the club’s betting book a wager of £100 that Lord Black will be behind bars by the end of next year.
When I see such stuff, my reaction is a horrid amalgam of impotent fury and a sinking feeling at the pit of my stomach. Can such a thing really be possible? I do not trust the American courts not to do to him what they have done to the surely entirely harmless Martha Stewart: there is currently an unhealthy lust for scapegoats drawn from the mighty of corporate America, as we saw with the. almost Jacobin glee with which he was humiliated recently by. the judge in his Delaware court appearance.
Such an outcome would be a horrible victory for everything in modem society which is mean and destructive, for all the nasty little creeps who resent those who are just bigger men than they are
You see, Dr Oddie knows Conrad, and talked to him often: “He said that if ever I had any difficulties, or simply felt depressed or discouraged, I was to telephone him at the Telegraph. When I. did, I was always put through straight away, except on one occasion, when he was out of the country. ‘ I mentally shrugged my shoulders and asked when he would be back, But the following morning, a call came through from Conrad’s limo; he was on his way to a meeting in downtown Toronto.”
It seems entirely to have escaped Dr Oddie’s attention that Conrad is not threatened with jail because he phones his editors too often, or even because he fails to answer when they ring him with their problems, but because he is accused of stealing something between twenty and a hundred and twenty million dollars from the shareholders. Obviously, this is a bagatelle compared to the virtue demonstrated by answering the phone whenever Dr Oddie rings him, but I fear that the former editor of the Catholic Herald will have to go to Delaware to make this point of moral philosophy in person to the jury, who may otherwise overlook an important facet of the case.