‘You need to see the man’

Maclean’s Newsmakers: A Murdoch family feud, Roger Clemens’s comeback and Conrad Black would like to make an appearance

by Aaron Wherry, John Geddes, Nicholas Köhler, and Patricia Treble

Newsmakers

Chris Young/CP

His inimitable voice

The advisory council pondering whether Conrad Black should be stripped of his Order of Canada would prefer to just peruse the former press baron’s written arguments. But Black’s lawyers were in Federal Court last week asking Justice Yves de Montigny to instruct the council to let Black, who’s noted for his grandiloquence, make his case in person. “You need to see the man,” said Black’s lawyer, “to believe him or disbelieve him.” Black was named to the Order in 1990, but was later convicted of fraud and obstruction of justice in the U.S., where he served 42 months in prison before returning to Canada last spring. De Montigny did not say when he’d make a decision on Black’s special request.

Serenity now

Touching off a rush of musical snobbery and Twitter one-liners, Nickelback frontman Chad Kroeger and pop star Avril Lavigne announced their engagement last week. The easily mocked new royal couple of Canadian pop have apparently been dating for six months. Kroeger proposed in Los Angeles, where the two are collaborating on Lavigne’s fifth album. According to the precedent established by Bennifer, the new couple has been dubbed Chavril. Guests at the wedding will no doubt include former Seinfeld star Jason Alexander and former Baywatch beauty Brooke Burns who, both apparently eager for work, star as a lovelorn barista and his customer in the new video for Nickelback’s Trying Not to Love You. The video pairing is odd, but perhaps no weirder than the one in real life.

A soldier speaks

For shooting a critically injured, unarmed Taliban insurgent in Afghanistan, Capt. Robert Semrau, a Canadian infantry officer mentoring Afghan troops at the time, received a conviction of disgraceful conduct. He did not testify during his 2010 court martial, but breaks his silence in an upcoming book, The Taliban Don’t Wave. The book, a gritty account of his 2008 tour of duty, describes Afghan troops “passing around what could only be described as King Kong joints and . . . puffing away, their glassy eyes not really taking anything onboard.” As for the facts of the so-called mercy killing, he writes, “The truth of that moment will always be between me and the insurgent.”

Now she’s really feeling the love

Serena Williams is going into the U.S. Open as the hands-down favourite—a fact she likes, by the way. “At Wimbledon I wasn’t the favourite and I was shocked. I actually got angry”—and her formidable serve seems to be improving with age. The 30-year-old breezed through the Olympics, adding two golds (the single title and doubles with sister Venus) to her 18 single Grand Slams, 13 doubles, two mixed-doubles and two previous Olympic golds. But put that ferociously ripped body in a skin-tight red dress, add some Louboutin heels, and watch the media go wild. Williams’s appearance on David Letterman had the late-show host’s eyes popping—“and that’s not all,” he told the tennis star indelicately.

Going, going, gone

As head of the B.C. Asian Restaurant and Café Owners Association, David Chung coolly advocates for the continued availability of shark-fin soup. But as owner of the Jade Seafood Restaurant in Richmond, B.C., which along with Vancouver, is considering a ban on shark fin, Chung gets hot under the collar when animal-rights activists appear at his door, reporters in tow, demanding DNA samples of his fins. “I don’t want to have a shouting match,” Chung told Marley Daviduk, Brooklyn Fowler and others as restaurant-goers squeezed by. Chung said he’d hand over fins only if he and the advocates agreed on which shark species are endangered. The tide may be turning anyway. The delicacy has already been banned in California, Oregon and Hawaii as well as Toronto, North Vancouver and Nanaimo, whose mayor, John Ruttan, called the practice “pathetic and disgraceful.”

In the minor leagues, a star

On the mound, Roger Clemens looked like just another slightly overweight 50-year-old, though one who throws a 140-km/h fastball. Five years after his Major League Baseball career ended, the seven-time Cy Young pitcher joined the Texas-based Sugar Land Skeeters of the independent Atlantic League. The signing came less than two months after Clemens was acquitted on criminal charges of lying to Congress when he testified he’d never taken performance-enhancing drugs during his professional career. Back on the mound in Texas, he efficiently threw three scoreless innings before retiring to the cheers of an overflow crowd. There may have been just 7,700 fans, but it was music to Clemens’s ears.

And what’s that, if not principle?

Elisabeth Murdoch, daughter of Rupert, and chairwoman of Britain’s Shine TV, blasted a hole through the world’s biggest media family during a keynote lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival. “Profit without purpose was a recipe for disaster,” she said at one point, excoriating both her father, founder of News Corp., and her brother James, a senior executive deeply embroiled in the phone-hacking scandal. She worries that the “unsettling dearth of integrity across so many of our institutions” will force strict media regulation. Meanwhile, her father isn’t helping. The day after her speech, his Sun tabloid splashed the infamous naked pictures of Prince Harry across its front page, not to make money, but because, the paper claimed, “readers have a right to see them.”

Bloggers of the world unite

As fights go, this one would appear lopsided but for the chops of the rhetorician on the right: Niall Ferguson, Oxford-educated author, historian and Harvard prof, one of the more important public intellectuals of our time. The other camp—the totality of the “liberal blogosphere,” online pamphleteers united in their loathing of Ferguson’s Newsweek cover story, “Hit the Road, Barack,” which describes President Barack Obama’s entire first term as a bungle. The libs say Ferguson’s piece is error-riddled, particularly one figure that inflates the cost of Obamacare. The ripostes are delicious: “As a Harvard alum I apologize,” writes James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly. “I guess they don’t do fact-checking,” winks Paul Krugman of the New York Times. Ferguson dismisses them all, saying the onslaught “looks suspiciously like an orchestrated attempt to discredit me.”

And she’s out

Helena Guergis’s quest for recourse will go on, but it seems less likely the former cabinet minister will find judicial redemption. A Superior Court judge in Ontario has dismissed Guergis’s lawsuit against Stephen Harper and various other individuals, ruling, in part, that the “actions of the Prime Minister, in relation to the removal of the plaintiff from cabinet, fall within the Crown prerogative,” as Judge Charles Hackland wrote. Guergis was tossed out of cabinet and the Conservative caucus amid a mess of accusations and innuendo in 2010. The RCMP eventually cleared both Guergis and her husband, Rahim Jaffer, but she was still exiled by the party. She will appeal the court’s decision.

Spare the beard, spoil the man

The head of a breakaway Amish sect never participated in the beard- and haircutting attacks for which he and 16 others now stand accused in a hate-crime trial that began this week in Cleveland, but the prosecution names Samuel Mullet Sr. as the group’s leader. Three different incidents saw some nine people from the mainstream Amish community suffer haircutting, a big deal for the Amish, who see the beard as core to a man’s identity and who do not permit haircuts for women for Biblical reasons. Authorities also say Mullet permitted those who ignored his orders to be beaten, and “cleansed” married women by having sex with them.

Down with art

Winnipeg’s Assiniboine Park had hoped to be building goodwill this month by moving its popular statue of Lt. Harry Colbourne and the real-life bear that was the inspiration for A. A. Milne’s storybook Winnie-the-Pooh to a more prominent location. Instead, the park is taking pains not to be portrayed as heavy-handed after a dispute with park officials led to police kicking out Graham Hnatiuk, a local street artist who had been decorating the park’s walkways with abstract designs and upbeat messages. Park officials say Hnatiuk’s ouster was all a misunderstanding, and they hope to patch things up, and have him back creating chalk art and putting out his hat out for donations—sort of like Dick Van Dyke’s character in Mary Poppins—soon.

Look who’s all grown up

She shrugs off comparisons to Britney Spears, but in a transition reminiscent of the ex-Mouseketeer’s, B.C.-born Carly Rae Jepsen is on the cover of Fashion magazine, looking rather sultry in a dress by Alexander McQueen. Jepsen got a tip of the hat from U.S. troops recently, via a remake of Call Me Maybe. It stars Afghan soldiers as backup dancers.




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