Oh dear. Once again current events compel me to interupt my three-part series on psychopaths and lying in order to show what may be precisely what I have been describing at work.
Former media mogul, Lord Conrad Black, 63, has been sentenced to 6.5 years in prison. He was found guilty of one count of obstructing justice and three counts of defrauding shareholders of one-time newspaper publishing giant Hollinger International Inc. The sentence is at the low end of federal guidelines.
Black was also fined $125,000, and ordered to forfeit $6.1m – the amount a pre-trial report said he stole to fund a lavish lifestyle. (Prosecutors put the amount at about $31m.)
According a selection of three news outlets,
here’s what happened at the sentencing.
First RTE News:
Black told the judge before she passed sentence that he wanted to ‘express very profound regret and sadness’ to Hollinger shareholders for the evaporation of $1.85bn in value.
Here’s CTV Canada:
He complimented the judge on her handling of the trial, and said he regretted the loss suffered by Hollinger International shareholders.
How about TheStar.com:
“I have never once uttered one disrespectful word about this court, your honour, the jurors or the process.”
He thanked the judge for her openmindedness, considering that he came in with an “almost universal presumption of guilt.”
The former newspaper executive also apologized to shareholders of the defunct Hollinger International newspaper group, the company he was convicted of defrauding.
Respectuful, grateful, apologetic – what more could one ask?
It all sounds quite proper and dignified.
The old boy has behaved well, acknowledged his guilt, and expressed remorse. But let’s look a little more closely at what he actually said. (And then wonder about what the above reporters had stuffed in their ears that stopped them hearing it.)
According to Andrew Clark of the Guardian newspaper, Black said:
“I do wish to express very profound regret and sadness at the severe hardship inflicted on many shareholders at the evaporation of $1.85bn of value under the management of my successors,” said the 63 year old peer, speaking in a husky yet confident voice.
Prosecutors had asked for a sentence as long as 20 years, citing his lack of remorse and his disdain the US judicial system – which included describing prosecutors as “Nazis” and “pygmies”.
“We have the verdicts we have and we cannot re-try this case,” said Black. “I would say, however, very emphatically, that I have never uttered one disrespectful word about this court, your honour yourself or the jury.”
Ah, so not so remorseful and respectful after all.
Let’s get this straight.
This not an apology; it’s not an admisison of guilt; it’s not an expression of regret. It may be a classic paramoralism – designed to win dignity, sympathy, and the chance of an appeal and to make the judge, jury, and his successors feel bad. Yet again, I won!
It may be, of course, that he is innocent, in which case it would be unreasonable to expect feeling of guilt. But there is something about the statement that causes pause.
At this moment of greatest shame, if not guilt – a unanimous public sentence for stealing millions from those who trusted him, only to fritter the money on parties, planes, etc. – at this very moment he chooses to make this statement of regret. Or at least that what his tone and vocabulary suggest.
His expresison of “very profound regret and sadness at the severe hardship inflicted on the shareholders” sounds good until – oops – it’s not for the millions he’s stolen; how does he feel about that?
Don’t be angry with me. I’m innocent. The company lost money because of this debacle of a charge against me – for that I’m sorry. It’s my accusers, they’re the real baddies.
He reminds the judge that he’s never said “one disrespectful word” about the court, the judge, or the jury. He had, however, described prosecutors as ‘Nazis’ and ‘pygmies’!
A classic sleight of hand?.
Let’s say he is guilty (he was found guilty, let’s not forget). Then, in cold print, his words are pathetic in their manipulation, fake-honorableness, and deflection of culpability.
Interestingly, the reporter notices what? – “The 63 year old peer, speaking in a husky yet confident voice”. This may just prove my point. It’s not that one has to be silver-tongued to mislead. One’s words may be poor excuses for argumentation and still persuade. It depends on ones’ manner, one’s brazeness, attacks, and reversals that can bamboozle even seasoned journos.
It may be that there are two doing this tango: a manipulating mogul leads the dance and manipulated reporters allow themselves to be led.
Incidentally, in case you are tempted to think it is only the Canadian media which is seeing Black through rose-tinted glasses (he is Canadian-born), here is R. Emmett Tyrell, Jr of the New York Sun. Notice how detailed his account is without saying anything about lack of remorse, etc. (I reiterate – Black had been found guilty):
Judge St. Eve asked Black if he cared to say anything. Coming forward, his fingers pressed together, palms apart, eyes set on the judge, Black said he could add nothing more than “what has already been said.” He mentioned his “profound regret and sadness at the severe hardship inflicted on all the shareholders” by these proceedings. He expressed his respect for Judge St. Eve, who, he said, had taken up the case after “an unbroken presumption of guilt,” presumably in the press, especially the British tabloids, who have been in a state of ecstasy over the downfall of one of their greatest competitors.
*A paramoralism is a psuedo-moral statement designed to get what one wants and to undermine the moral thinking of others. Paramoralisms, we have seen, are the stock-in-trade of the psychopath.
Reader, let me have examples of paramoralisms you encounter and I’ll write about real beauts.