Journalists or Hired Flacks?

How much does it cost to buy good will from George Will? And what’s the going rate to get a bucking-up from William F. Buckley? Ask Lord Conrad Black, the embattled media magnate under investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. Attorney’s office, whose recently published, long-winded, pedantic biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt bears fulsome blurbs from the above two journalists on its dust jacket. As Jacques Steinberg and Geraldine Fabrikant recently reported in The New York Times , in the 1990′s both Mr. Will and Mr. Buckley were on the receiving end of Lord Black’s financial largess: As paid advisers to his newspaper company, Hollinger International, they received $25,000 each time they attended an advisory board meeting. And the book blurbs were not the first time these two prominent journalists have showered praise on Lord Black: As The Times noted, both men have lauded him in their columns, though without ever mentioning the fact that they’ve deposited checks from Lord Black in their bank accounts. Now when it comes to journalists using their public position to praise someone who once employed them, there are no gray areas: The profession’s ethics demand that the journalists let their readers know that they’ve profited financially from a past association with their story subject.

But Mr. Buckley and Mr. Will seem to think that their celebrity armors them against such petty concerns. Mr. Will haughtily told The Times , “My business is my business. Got it?” All well and good, but if that’s your business, you have no business calling yourself a journalist. And when asked by The Times why he had not disclosed his financial history with Lord Black in a column he wrote for The National Review, Mr. Buckley-who received approximately $200,000 from Hollinger-replied, “I didn’t think that had any bearing whatsoever.”

It seems statesmen are as easy to purchase as some journalists these days: Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger-who gushes on the back of Lord Black’s book, “No biography of Roosevelt is more thoughtful or readable”-also served as a paid Hollinger adviser, as well as being a director of the company. Indeed, Mr. Kissinger did quite nicely thanks to Lord Black: Hollinger also paid about $200,000 a year to The National Interest , a publication whose editorial board was co-chaired by Mr. Kissinger and Lord Black. As you can imagine, Hollinger shareholders don’t find any of this particularly cute.

It’s no wonder that Lord Black-a man who gave up his Canadian citizenship because the Canadian government wouldn’t allow him to join the British House of Lords-spent a few bucks courting famous media and political personalities. After all, in addition to Mr. Buckley, Mr. Will and Mr. Kissinger, Lord Black packed Hollinger’s informal advisory board with the likes of Margaret Thatcher, Paul Volcker and Valery Giscard d’Estaing. This well-compensated board would gather once a year to debate the world’s problems-a high-falutin’ agenda for a newspaper board, but one that allowed Lord Black to fancy himself a sort of intellectual celebrity. And when he published his 1,360-page Roosevelt biography, he knew just whom to call for a blurb.

Mr. Buckley and Mr. Will should have known better. Both men have had long and illustrious careers and had no need to cozy up to Lord Black, other than for a few dinner parties. And there’s not too many of them in Sing-Sing.

Clear Sailing Till Mother’s Day

Take a good, long look at that calendar, folks: From now until Mother’s Day in May, the weeks are blessedly free of holidays. This only happens once a year, so enjoy it while you can. Just think about it: That means no hauling yourself off to your parents’ house, no pretending to be thrilled that your children and grandchildren are coming home for a visit, no scrambled gift-buying and tip-giving. And it just gets better and better: You don’t have to spend weekends at your friends’ country houses (bad weather, icy roads, annoying and incomprehensible “house rules”); you don’t even have to spend weekends at your own country house (face it, you always have a more peaceful time in the city). You don’t have to “swing by” friends’ boorish holiday parties or make the round of business parties, you don’t have to scribble thank-you notes, and you don’t have to figure out how long you have to wait before throwing out that stack of holiday cards bearing photos of your friends’ adorable children.

But come Mother’s Day, this five-month idyll comes to an end, and the intensity builds to a blurred crescendo: After Mother’s Day comes Memorial Day, Father’s Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. Then in quick succession come the Jewish High Holy Days, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas and New Year’s (and if you don’t spend Christmas and New Year’s in St. Bart’s, Gstaad or Machu Picchu, don’t tell anyone).

And what good do these holidays do for us? If we didn’t have them, worker productivity would be up, the G.D.P. would be higher and the dollar would be doing better against the euro.

What about retail sales, you may ask?

Oops. Let us think-we’ll get back to you.