The Black Rod

The origin of the Usher of the Black Rod goes back to early fourteenth century England . Today, with no royal duties to perform, the Usher knocks on the doors of the House of Commons with the Black Rod at the start of Parliament to summon the members. The rod is a symbol for the authority of debate in the upper house. We of The Black Rod have adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

Name:
Location: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

We are citizen journalists in Winnipeg. When not breaking exclusive stories, we analyze news coverage by the mainstream media and highlight bias, ignorance, incompetence, flawed logic, missed angles and, where warranted, good work. We serve as the only overall news monitors in the province of Manitoba. We do the same with politicians (who require even more monitoring.) EMAIL: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Happy Anniversary Buckhead- Rathergate one year later

We know we're a few days late, but....HAPPY ANNIVERSARY.

Friday was the one year anniversary of Rathergate. As you will recall, that was the attempt by Dan Rather and CBC, a senior member of the mainstream media, to defeat George Bush by using forged documents to smear him just before a presidential election. An internet poster calling himself Buckhead caught CBS red-handed.

It ended with Rather humiliated and his career in ruins and a string of firings at the CBS show Sixty Minutes II, followed by the cancellation of the show itself. And it was the moment when the Blogosphere became a major player in news gathering and news dissemination in North America. It was also the inspiration for The Black Rod.

Since then, we've seen a dozen instances where bloggers have caught established news agencies--whether radio or television stations or major newspapers-- lying and forced them to issue humiliating corrections.

Not that that has stopped the MSM from publishing slanted "news". Indeed, it has made them more determined than ever to topple George Bush and, by amazing coincidence, they're making another attempt on the very anniversary of Rathergate. This time the entire mainstream media has united in a campaign to blame Bush for the destruction of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.

We've let that debate between bloggers and the MSM pass without comment---until now.

On Friday's, the Winnipeg Free Press turns its editorial pages over to its left-wing columnists Frances Russell and Bill Neville. Together they put out the latest talking points from their perspective. The headline on Russell's column was Ideological Madness' Exposed. The irony was just too precious to pass up.

Frances Russell and Bill Neville are the biggest ideologues in the newspaper. Most of their columns can be summarized as George Bush is evil and he can never under any circumstances do anything good because he is evil.

Russell's column on Friday was right on message. George Bush is evil. George Bush was warned the a hurricane could destroy New Orleans. George Bush didn't care, because George Bush is evil. George Bush cut spending on flood control in New Orleans so he could give his rich friends a tax break. Hence the headline's reference to ideology, only she meant tax-cut ideology. We suggest there's another ideological madness at work in the column.


She quotes from a handful of newspapers to support her arguments. Among them are the British papers "The Independent", "The Guardian" and "The New York Times".

* The Independent, after Bush's election victory, carried the front-page headline "Four more years" on a black page illustrated by pictures of a hooded prisoner at Abu Grahib and a detainee in orange jumpsuit at Guantanamo Bay.
* The Guardian encouraged readers to send letters to U.S. voters urging them to vote for Bush's challenger Sen. John Kerry.
* And the New York Times was one of only a handful of newspapers that tried to repeat Dan Rather's fictions as true stories.
Ideology, anyone?

But even the arguments of ideologues must be considered providing they support them with facts. On the other hand, do columnists driven by their own ideology have to be balanced in their arguments?
Consider these facts:

* The so-called warnings in the Houston Chronicle ( KEEPING ITS HEAD ABOVE WATER / New Orleans faces doomsday scenario, Houston Chronicle 12/01/01 ) and Scientific American (Drowning New Orleans October 2001 issue) were printed in December and October of 2001 respectively. Didn't George Bush and the rest of the world have something else to ponder those fateful months?

* George Bush spent more on hurricane control than his predecessor....over the five years of President Bush's administration, Louisiana has received far more money for Corps civil works projects than any other state... overall, the Bush administration's funding requests for the key New Orleans flood-control projects for the past five years were slightly higher than the Clinton administration's for its past five years.

Money Flowed to Questionable Projects/State Leads in Army Corps Spending, but Millions Had Nothing to Do With Floods Washington Post September 8, 2005

* More spending would have made no difference.

Lt. Gen. Carl Strock, the chief of the Corps, has said that in any event, more money would not have prevented the drowning of the city, since its levees were designed to protect against a Category 3 storm, and the levees that failed were already completed projects. Strock has also said that the marsh-restoration project would not have done much to diminish Katrina's storm surge, which passed east of the coastal wetlands.
Washington Post September 8, 2005

* Russell mocks George Bush for saying "I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees." Yet, he's not alone.
Army Corps personnel, in charge of maintaining the levees in New Orleans, started to secure the locks, floodgates and other equipment, said Greg Breerwood, deputy district engineer for project management at the Army Corps of Engineers. "We knew if it was going to be a Category 5, some levees and some flood walls would be overtopped," he said. "We never did think they would actually be breached." The uncertainty of the storm's course affected Pentagon planning.

Government Saw Flood Risk but Not Levee Failure By SCOTT SHANE and ERIC LIPTON New York Times Sept. 1, 2005
"I don't think anyone anticipated the breach of the levees. George Bush, President
"We never did think they would actually be breached." Greg Breerwood, Army Corps of Engineers
Close enough?

* It was environmentalists who prevented the most effective defences.

FrontPageMagazine.com September 8, 2005
Environmentalist activists were responsible for spiking a plan that may have saved New Orleans. Decades ago, the Green Left - pursuing its agenda of valuing wetlands and topographical diversity over human life - sued to prevent the Army Corps of Engineers from building floodgates that would have prevented significant flooding that resulted from Hurricane Katrina. Why was this project aborted? As the Times-Picayune wrote, "Those plans were abandoned after environmental advocates successfully sued to stop the projects as too damaging to the wetlands and the lake's eco-system."

* Russell quotes a source saying the White House slashed spending on hurricane and flood protection while approving spending on a $231 million bridge in Alaska. Of course, no amount of approved spending on a bridge not yet built would make the slightest difference to New Orleans this month. It was just a cheap shot thrown in for good measure.

When the New York Times' former public editor (ombudsman), Daniel Okrent, left his job earlier this summer, he took a shot at one of the paper's most ideological columnists Paul Krugman, but concluded: "I also believe that columnists are entitled by their mandate to engage in the unfair use of statistics, the misleading representation of opposing positions, and the conscious withholding of contrary data. But because they're entitled doesn't mean I or you have to like it, or think it's good for the newspaper."

The editors at the Winnipeg Free Press know about the contradictory evidence to Russell's column because they made passing reference to them in their editorial on Sunday, but they appear to have adopted the same stance toward columnists rights to mislead the public that the Times has.

But its another newspaper policy that intrigues us---the proper use and identification of sources.

Like true bloggers, we examined Frances Russell's sources. There appear to be three main sources.

The story by AP reporter Ron Fournier in the Winnipeg Free Press Sept. 1 (identified by her colleague Bill Neville), a story in The Independent Sept. 4, and a story in the Globe and Mail Sept. 3 referencing an Op-Ed column in the New York Times the day before.

We were puzzled by the reference to the Houson Chronicle, a story which has circulated on the internet since Aug. 29 but which we couldn't trace to its initial appearance or subsequent discovery. Then we got a clue from Russell's quote from the piece. She includes metric conversions which do not appear in the original.

That led us to a reprint of the original article in Australia's The Age, metric conversions and all, and that led us to Commondreams.org, a website which carried most, if not all, of the stories used by Russell in her column. Commondreams.org calls itself a site for 'Breaking News and Views for the Progressive Community' or as one acolyte writes"...despite a mainstream media dominated by corporate and right-wing viewpoints...there is no more important website than Common Dreams."

Once we had identified her sources, we compared the stories, looking to see if the context was accurate. Instead, we noticed something strange, a consistent cut-and-paste technique of using sources of information suspiciously similar to what got Free Press sportswriter Scott Taylor turfed a year ago. Examples:

1. 09/04/05 "The Independent"
Warnings ignored as Bush slashed flood defence budget to pay for wars By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
In early 2001, at the start of Mr Bush's presidency, his Government's Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) warned that a hurricane hitting New Orleans would be the deadliest of the three most likely catastrophes facing America; the others were a massive San Francisco earthquake and, prophetically, a terrorist attack on New York.

Frances Russell Sept. 9/2005
Actually, Mr.President, your own government's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) not only anticipated it, but in early 2001, months before 9/11, warned your administration that a New Orleans hurricane could be the deadliest of the three major catastrophes most likely to befall America.

2. 09/04/05 "The Independent"
Fema's then director, the Bush appointee Joe Allbaugh, said that the warning caused him "great concern". But the President emasculated the agency, subsuming it into the Department of Homeland Security set up after the 11 September 2001 attacks, which concentrated on the terrorist threat.

Frances Russell Sept. 9 2005
FEMA's then director, Joe Allbaugh, your appointee, Mr. President, said the warning caused him "great concern."

3. 09/04/05 "The Independent"
But the President emasculated the agency, subsuming it into the Department of Homeland Security set up after the 11 September 2001 attacks, which concentrated on the terrorist threat.

Frances Russell Sept. 9 2005
FEMA was emasculated and subsumed into the new Department of Homeland Security.

4. Earth to the President: Warnings Ignored at Your Peril by Andrew Sullivan
Published on Sunday, September 4, 2005 by The Australian re Houston Chronicle
Read this prophetic passage and weep: "The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all. In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet (6m) of water. Thousands of refugees could land in Houston. Economically, the toll would be shattering ... If an Allison-type storm were to strike New Orleans, or a category three storm or greater with at least 111mp/h (178km/h) winds, the results would be cataclysmic, New Orleans planners said." Katrina was category four.

Frances Russell Sept. 9, 2005
"The New Orleans hurricane scenario may be the deadliest of all. In the face of an approaching storm, scientists say, the city's less-than-adequate evacuation routes would strand 250,000 people or more, and probably kill one of 10 left behind as the city drowned under 20 feet (6 metres) of water...(A)category three storm or greater with at 111mp/h (178 kph) winds... would be cataclysmic, New Orleans planners said." Hurricane Katrina was a category five, weakening to a category four.

5. KATRINA AND THE WAVES: DON'T SAY NO ONE SAW IT COMING
September 3, 2005 Globe and Mail
"Scientists at Louisiana State University, who have modelled hundreds of possible storm tracks on advanced computers, predict that more than 100,000 people could die."

Frances Russell Sept. 9, 2005
Meanwhile, Louisiana State University scientists, using computer models of hundreds of possible storm tracks, came up with an even more calamitous prediction---over 100,000 dead.

6. 09/04/05 "The Independent"
Funding for flood prevention was slashed by 80 per cent, work on strengthening levees to protect the city was stopped for the first time in 37 years, and planning for housing stranded citizens and evacuating refugees from the Superdome were crippled. Yet the administration had been warned repeatedly of the dangers by its own officials.

Frances Russell Sept. 9, 2005
Funding for flood prevention was slashed by 80 per cent, work on strengthening levees to protect the city was stopped for the first time in 37 years, and planning for housing stranded citizens and evacuating refugees from the Superdome were crippled, according to the British newspaper, The Independent.

7. KATRINA AND THE WAVES: DON'T SAY NO ONE SAW IT COMING
September 3, 2005 Globe and Mail
Mr. Fischetti opens boldly: "New Orleans is a disaster waiting to happen," and then conducts a guided tour of the area to demonstrate why. Not only does the city lie "below sea level, in a bowl bordered by levees that fend off Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south and west," he explains, but "because of a damning confluence of factors, the city is sinking further, putting it at increasing flood risk after even minor storms."

Frances Russell Sept. 9, 2005
Below sea level and in a bowl bordered by levees holding back Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south and west, New Orleans is sinking and at risk of flooding even from minor storms.

8. Globe and Mail September 3, 2005
The article records a litany of human blunders, from the over-zealous construction of levees (as well as stopping floods, they prevent the Mississippi from depositing silt that would keep the low-lying areas from sinking) to the disastrous impact of the region's oil industry, which has cut a maze of canals for ships and pipelines that is accelerating the loss of the delta.

Frances Russell Sept. 9, 2005
A large contributor to New Orleans' plight is the oil industry and its maze of canals for ships and pipelines.

9. Globe and Mail September 3, 2005
Even worse, "the low-lying Mississippi Delta, which buffers the city from the gulf, is also rapidly disappearing. A year from now, another 25 to 30 square miles of delta marsh -- an area the size of Manhattan -- will have vanished. An acre disappears every 24 minutes." Each lost acre "gives a storm surge a clearer path to wash over the delta and pour into the bowl, trapping one million people inside and another million in surrounding communities. . . .

Frances Russell Sept. 9, 2005
...is destroying the Mississippi Delta wetlands at the rate of 25 to 30 square miles (78 square kilometres) a year, an acre (o.4 hectares) every 24 minutes. Each lost acre gives a clearer path to storms...

10. Globe and Mail September 3, 2005
The problem grew so severe that scientists and public officials finally overcame the objections of many competing interests and in 1998 devised Coast 2050 -- a series of 11 major projects designed to restore coastal Louisiana by the mid-21st century. Money soon became the issue; the cost estimate was $14-billion and the various parties couldn't agree who should pay what.

Frances Russell Sept. 9, 2005
In 1998, the federal, state and city governments agreed on Coast 2050 -- 11 major projects to restore coastal Louisiana. Its cost was pegged at $14-billion.

11. Newsview: Politicians Failed Storm VictimsBy RON FOURNIER, AP Political Writer Thu Sep 1,
Just last year, the Army Corps of Engineers sought $105 million for hurricane and flood programs in New Orleans. The White House slashed the request to about $40 million. Congress finally approved $42.2 million, less than half of the agency's request.Yet the lawmakers and Bush agreed to a $286.4 billion pork-laden highway bill that included more than 6,000 pet projects for lawmakers. Congress spent money on dust control for Arkansas roads, a warehouse on the Erie Canal and a $231 million bridge to a small, uninhabited Alaskan island.

Frances Russell Sept. 9, 2005
Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers requested $105 million for New Orleans hurricane and flood protection. The White House slashed it to $42.2 million while it and Congress rushed through a $286.4 billion "pork-laden" highway bill chock full of 6,000 pet Republican projects, including Arkansas road dust control and a $231 million bridge to an uninhabited Alaskan island.

Note how she changed the quote to turn "pet projects" into "Republican projects".

The Free Press policy on sources must be different for editorial page columnists than for sports page columnists. Otherwise one would think that if Scott Taylor had to attribute sources and practice good journalism, that no less would be expected from Frances Russell.

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