Conrad Black has unleashed his legendary capacity for vitriol once again. Only this time, he has taken aim at one of his own columnists in Britain, comparing a recent article by the writer to the anti-Semitic diatribes of Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels.
"I don't think we're going to stay friends any more," said Panayiotis (Taki) Theodoracopulos, the playboy columnist for Mr. Black's Spectator magazine, who set off the battle with the boss in his High Life column last week.
"I'm sort of pissed off. I don't like to be called names," he said yesterday in an interview from the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad. He denied he is anti-Semitic. "Is it anti-Semitic to say the Jews have a tremendous lobby in Washington or to say that soldiers shouldn't be shooting rock-throwers?"
The columnist, heir to a Greek shipping fortune, revels in his politically incorrect views of Jews, Arabs, blacks and Puerto Ricans.
The Spectator column that angered Mr. Black dealt with the pardon granted to fugitive financier Marc Rich by former U.S. president Bill Clinton. Taki (as he is always known) accused Mr. Rich of using his influence in Israel to buy his way inside the White House.
"Marc Rich has done us a favour. By bribing everyone and sundry, he managed to expose the side of Clinton so many leftists and liberals refused to see," Taki wrote.
"He also proved what we, soi-disant [so-called]anti-Semites for daring to protest about soldiers shooting at kids, always knew. The way to Uncle Sam's heart runs through Tel Aviv and Israeli-occupied territory. Rich and Clinton deserve each other. Both make everyone around them seem bigger."
That was too much for Mr. Black, who controls The Spectator, the bible of Britain's ideological conservatives. In a two-page riposte in the latest issue, titled J'accuse -- a reference to the famous essay written by Emile Zola about the Dreyfus spy case a century ago -- Mr. Black writes that "my friend Taki has gone too far," accusing him of uttering "a blood libel on the Jewish people wherever they may be."
"In both its venomous character and unfathomable absurdity, this farrago of lies is almost worthy of Goebbels or the authors of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion [a notorious anti-Semitic screed]"
Mr. Black goes on: "The Jews, according to Taki, have suborned the U.S. government, direct the country's military like a docile attack dog, and glory in the murder of innocent or mischievous children. He presents the universal Jewish ethos as brutish, vulgar, grasping and cunningly wicked."
Mr. Black also accuses the British Foreign Office and many of that country's leading media, including the British Broadcasting Corp., The Independent, The Guardian and The Evening Standard, of being "rabidly anti-Israel."
"I doubt that most of the people involved would be hostile to someone merely because that person was Jewish, though some would, but they are almost all, wittingly or not, stoking the inferno of anti-Semitism," Mr. Black wrote.
He blames Palestinian leaders for the Middle East crisis, saying the West Bank is "now governed by groups of thugs" and calling the Palestinian Authority "a brutal dictatorship and one of the most financially corrupt regimes in the world."
The British love a good intellectual bun fight but, so far, this duel hasn't inflamed many passions. The country is preoccupied with foot-and-mouth disease.
Mr. Black, who controls The Daily Telegraph in London and half of Canada's National Post, did not return a phone call yesterday.
Taki, who has written his High Life column for 24 years, is well known as a jet setter and womanizer. In the 1980s, he spent a brief period in jail for cocaine possession. He has frequently been accused of racism in his column, having used the terms "sambo" and "nigger" to describe blacks.
In 1997, he let loose on New York's Puerto Rican community after their annual parade through Manhattan: "There never has been, nor will there ever be, a single positive contribution by a Puerto Rican outside of receiving American welfare and beating the system."
"They were fat, squat, ugly, dirty and unbelievably loud," he wrote of participants at the popular event, adding that they "turned Manhattan into Palermo faster than you can say spic."
Taki's outburst led New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to call on Mr. Black to fire the columnist, which he refused to do.
Taki's column in the latest edition of The Spectator responds to Mr. Black's article nearby in the same issue. Taki agrees with his proprietor, in part -- writing that Israel has a right to exist in peace and that the West Bank is governed by "corrupt thugs." Still, he goes on to note that he remains critical of Israel and its "unyielding settlers."
"I do not and never have wished the Jews any harm, and it is outrageous to hint that I do," he writes.
Boris Johnson, editor of The Spectator, said yesterday that Mr. Black has not asked for the columnist's resignation.
"I do defend him [Taki]but I don't defend him from the very eloquent article that appears under Conrad Black's byline," Mr. Johnson said in an interview. "It's clear that this column did cause a great deal of offence and the proprietor has made his feelings known."
As for Taki, he says he has no intention of toning down his views. "I'm going to give it a week or two and then start all over again."