Babs, Bublé, and Baghdad's next mayor

By Joseph Planta

VANCOUVER - Barbara speaks. Barbara Amiel that is. The New York Post had this quintessential headline yesterday: "Lady Black Blames Biz Backlash for Husband's Troubles." They picked up the Toronto Star exclusive interview with the wife of the former media baron, Conrad Black. Joan Crockatt and Arlene Bynon, working on a new book, landed an exclusive with Lady Black who's kept an uncharacteristic low profile when the shit hit the fan. Newsworthy is Lady Black's vow: "He'll be back. I'm not so sure about me."

In this latest episode of the Black saga, the most curious thing was what she told Crockatt and Bynon: "Marrying Conrad, it was a very big step backwards. I lost all my friends, all my work because of him." Without a soapbox to proffer her neo-conservative columns, Lady Black claims that it's akin to cutting off oxygen and blood.

Once the toast of the jet set and power brokers in Canada, Britain, and the United States, the Blacks despite their titles are held in disrepute. Once friendly with the likes of Prince Charles, Henry Kissinger, Brian Mulroney, and Margaret Thatcher, they are now "social pariahs." Though one of the gossip columns reported that the Blacks were in attendance of Donald Trump's wedding a couple of weeks back, and that Lord Black was promising anyone who'd listen, that he would be vindicated and that he would recover the ignominy he's suffered these past number of months now.

Detractors include spurned shareholders who thought that their lavish spending of Hollinger's largesse was egregious and appalling. It's reported that the $40,000+ tab rung up for Amiel's 60th birthday party at the posh La Grenouille in Manhattan, was billed to the company, as were a fleet of private jets, and a slew of expensive shoes and handbags, for which Amiel is infamous. She told Vogue in 2002, as she showed off the closets housing her Manolos and Hermes Birkins, "my extravagance knows no bounds."

Exiled in their mansion in North Toronto, Amiel admits to being anti-social the past little while. "People who lick your boots are the first to throw stones," Lady Black proclaimed about hers and her husband's detractors, as she lashed out at the so-called anti-capitalists, calling New York's crusading Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, a zealot, and part of this whole "corporate McCarthyism" that's taken out people like the Blacks, not to mention Dick Grasso and Martha Stewart. She told Crockatt and Bynon, "Don't write me off. I am about to become a corporate governance counter-terrorist."

She hopes to write a book, that one can already assume will shock and titillate, hoping that some good can come out of her nightmare, "I'm Jewish. I do believe in suffering but there is a limit," she says today. Years ago she said, "I am a north London Jew who has read a bit of history. That means I know this: in a century that has seen the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian, British and Soviet empires, reversal of fortune is this rich bitch's reality. One might as well keep working and have the family's Vuitton suitcases packed."

In his memoir, Peter C. Newman writes about Amiel's colourful parade of proclamations in the newsrooms he ran. She gave some co-workers the advice, that "If you want to get on, you must learn to frighten men." And of course the brazen doozy, that "Sex is no good without pain." Once when invited to dinner by a colleague she told him, "There's one thing I have to tell you: I won't be wearing any knickers." She'd show up at work, at an event, at dinner, whatever, in an outfit that couldn't contain her handsome and ample figure, yet blame the dress. Christie Blatchford recalls that once Amiel walked across the newsroom of the Toronto Sun, from the library to her office in an open trench coat, "under which could clearly be seen a black bustier, garter belt, and stockings."

As a columnist, she was a post-feminist polemicist, who abhorred liberalism, and who was a neo-conservative before the designation became fashionable. As consort to Conrad Black, she fulfilled his image of the all-too powerful media baron, as well, as Newman claims, his sexual proclivities. Asked today what her epitaph would be, she said: "I hoped I was shocking. I hoped I wasn't boring. I hoped that I was attractive. I hoped that I was sexy."


Kerry Gold had a nice front cover feature in the Vancouver Sun this past Saturday, on the Burnaby-born singer Michael Bublé, in anticipation of his new album, It's Time, which hits streets tomorrow. Some of us still remember first hearing Bublé records of his warbling of classic hits on the late Jack Cullen's program, or doing stage work at the Arts Club, or playing gigs at the PNE. Even then, everyone would root for the talented crooner, then in his early '20s.

Just before he left town, he was being interviewed locally, saying he had reached the limit of fame in this area, and that all he could only hope for some steady lounge gig in Las Vegas covering Sinatra or Bobby Darin. Even at that, he said, he'd be happy. Little did we know he'd be make Katie Couric swoon or be made fun of by Letterman. Who knew famed gossip columnist Liz Smith would be his biggest booster, and that local fans would be following his success in her column. It's actually terrific seeing someone locally succeed so internationally. He's not only refashioned what is old fashion, but at the same time made it bankable as his star is on the rise thanks to his ability to not just mimic the folks who've gone before, or tack his own talents to old arrangements. He's mixed it up, and invented something new, really.

The new album is a perfect follow-up to his earlier self-titled release. That first release was a great project put together by David Foster and Paul Anka among others, and made for a great introduction worldwide. I haven't heard the new album yet, as The Commentary isn't in Bruce Allen's good graces, thus not in receipt of a copy of the disc. But one of the records on this forthcoming album, "Home," which he actually co-wrote, is absolutely terrific. I downloaded the single this past weekend (legally, I assure you), and it sounds like a wonderful love letter to the Lower Mainland that's long rooted for the Burnaby Bublé. "Home" has gotta be a hit record.


My previous column regarding President Bush's State of the Union address, besides getting over three thousand hits in the first 18 hours it was posted, has elicited a few interesting e-mails. If you listen to the interview segment's I tape for THECOMMENTARY.CA, you'll know I dealt with an e-mail from one Clive Gibbons, who's a technician at the McMaster School of Geography and Geology. He was appalled at my rather rapturous summation of that hug that Janet Norwood gave the Iraqi woman, Safia Taleb al-Souhail. Gibbons writes: "Come on, fella!" suggesting that the embrace was orchestrated by the likes of Karl Rove. The Norwoods were on Good Morning America saying it wasn't staged, and they weren't asked to do anything. Frankly, I believe her. That mum, Janet, she's lost a son. To think that she was complicit in some plan of Rove or Andy Card is specious. It was a lovely moment, and frankly, I find it distasteful if not disrespectful to the Norwoods to suggest that this 'magic moment' was prearranged.

Another e-mail came from (name removed) of Kanata, Ontario. I haven't checked it out, but he sent along some stuff he's come across on the internet. (name removed)'s spadework indicates that as al-Souhail sat next to Laura Bush, her sister, Nora had long planned on suing Saddam Hussein for the murder of their father, and that as part of the lawsuit she charged that the United States was a "virtual accomplice" in the murder. (name removed) notes that al-Souhail's prominence at the State of the Union could be just the beginning of some payback that the administration is doing "to cover some behinds." He also suggests that CNN's Bill Hemmer probably isn't too far off when he said al-Souhail "will soon be the Mayor of Baghdad."


This Saturday night, Rachel Marsden will have on her talk show (CiTR, 101.9 FM in Vancouver), the former CBS News correspondent turned whistleblower Bernard Goldberg as guest. On her last broadcast, Ann Coulter was on. The three of them were each interviewed for a fifth estate piece that aired last month, which drew the ire of Bill O'Reilly. The program was really, a hit on FOX News. What I found shocking, which prompted Marsden to make an appearance on The O'Reilly Factor a night or two after, was the fact that the fifth estate had the temerity to bring Marsden's own past into it. It was cheap and facile on the fifth estate's part.

I happen to like Marsden. (She appeared on my interview segment, and I'll always be appreciative.) I think she's a refreshing voice in this country, and I know that bugs many people because it's not mainstream here. I don't agree with everything she says; and if you ask me, she often appears to be downing a bit more Kool Aid for my liking. Then again, were we to believe the fifth estate's assertion that it's a hot time politically in the United States, and that the discourse of political debate is at a fever pitch, then a dose of refreshing reality is apt. Why do you think Dr. Phil is doing boffo on television and in book sales? It's because he tells it like it is. I happen to think Dr. Phil is a bit obnoxious, and I'm a little frightened of Bill O'Reilly, but they're refreshing, and at this point that counts for a lot. Don't miss Goldberg on the Marsden show on Saturday night. It'll doubtless be interesting.


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