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Free Press hatchet job on Sam Katz

The smear campaign against Mayor Sam Katz went into overdrive on the weekend. From the screaming headline on Page One of Saturday's Winnipeg Free Press, you would think they had pictures of Katz caught red-handed with his hand in the cookie jar.

Saturday Special...mayor voted in favour...a company partly owned by a friend...owed money...Here are the facts. Should KATZ have VOTED?

Only...there were no pictures. No hand. Not even a jar. But there was a "Free Press photo illustration" of a scowling Katz superimposed in front of the dink bridge Sals.

The "scandal" was thinner than Hurricane Hugh McFadyen's credibility or party-jumpin' John Loewen's loyalty. Reporter Dan Lett would be advised to leave this one out of his scrapbook, unless he's compiling a scrapbook of shame.

Placed prominently in the week's top-selling newspaper, you could expect it was well-read. Or, well started, at least, since we'll bet few readers finished the story or understood it. But they read the headline, which, after all, was the newspaper's intent.

The story itself was so convoluted as to be impenetrable, with conjecture piled upon speculation twisted around a maze of names spottily connected to one another, and with the Crocus Fund thrown in like a cherry added for effect.

The Black Rod has deconstructed Dan Lett's story as best we could:

* Sam Katz is president of the Winnipeg Goldeyes baseball team.

* In 2003, Katz approved a loan to Maple Leaf Distillers.

* Shares in Maple Leaf Distillers are held by Protos, a holding company.

* Thirty percent of Protos belongs to David Wolinsky.

* David Wolinsky is a friend of Sam Katz.

* Sam Katz became Mayor in June, 2004.

* In February, 2005, Katz voted, along with all the other members of Executive Policy Committee, to let Salisbury House restaurants put a Sals on the Esplanade Riel Bridge.

* Protos holds shares in Salisbury House.

* In June, Salisbury House shares were pledged by Protos as security to get the Crocus Fund to keep a guarantee on an overdrawn million-dollar line of credit for Maple Leaf after the distilling company bought back its shares from Crocus.
(Okay, make this simpler.)

Summing up the FP spin, we get:
Katz puts a Sals on the bridge so Sals shares go up in value so they can be used as security on a line of credit for Maple Leaf which owes Katz money.

All together: Oooooooh.

The paper noted that Katz talked to a lawyer about whether he had any conflict of interest in voting on the Sals deal and was told he had none. Lett wrote that Katz got "professional legal advice", suggesting....what? We don't know.

But its in quotes, kinda suggesting something's wrong.
All together: Wrong. Oooooh.

The Free Press must have noticed how badly their story sucked because they had a folo the next day, which, if anything, was even weaker.

Headline (not on page one, oh no, page 3 for this classic):
Note to Mayor: blind trust way to go.
A picture of a frowning Sam Katz with a cutline: questions raised.
All together: Oooooh. Quesssstionsssss.

Reporter David Kuxhaus wrote:
"Mayor Sam Katz should put his holdings in a blind trust to remove speculation he is benefitting financially from decisions he makes at city hall, says a University of Manitoba political studies professor."

He quotes Professor Paul Thomas, who, as a veteran source for the news media, should have known how he was being used by the paper. His direct quotes are very general, raising the possiblity that Kuxhaus put words into his mouth to create the lead.

Even Donald Benham, the mayor's arch-foe on council, said the Sals deal was the best the city could get. But he, and only he, slipped in a dig that Katz should have skipped the vote because of "questions" over whether he was making decisions to benefit his business dealings.

So much for widespread public "speculation".

The best the paper could squeeze out of Paul Thomas was some general quotes about a perception of bias. The only bias we could find was a newspaper using a headline to create a perception, which is then cited as proof that Katz did something wrong.

And the con worked on at least one person, CJOB talk show host Richard Cloutier. Monday, he had the mayor on his show to talk about--what else-- conflict of interest laws for city council.

Richard, nobody said the mayor was in conflict of interest. Because he wasn't. There was no issue about conflict of interest. The city clerk had said so, not that the Free Press bothered to quote them.

The real story was why the Free Press was trying so hard to create a "perception" that there was. The Winnipeg Free Press knew what it was doing. It was launching a pre-emptive strike on a very popular mayor.

The newspaper had in its hands a poll it commissioned - showing that Katz's approval rating had only gone up, despite every cheap shot and smear the FP could toss at him in the past year.

Such as the June story about Katz's first year in office, in which Mary Agnes Welch tried to bury Katz as ineffective and blamed him for the demise of the upscale bistro concept for the bridge - in favor of a lowly burger joint. Of course at the time, how could she know the Sals would be standing room only from Day 1 and no one cares anymore about a bistro ?

Then on September 20th - the same day the poll on the mayor's approval began, we note - columnist Gord Sinclair viciously labeled Katz "taking from the people to give to the privileged... Hood Robin" over his idea to build condos in Assiniboine Park. But how was he to know that Katz would still see his approval rating grow by another 5% ?

So Saturday they took the smear up a notch, and the poll was "saved" to Monday, when readership, is, well, less. But this latest escapade takes the anti-Sam campaign to a new level of animosity. Forgive us for suspecting that the Free Press commissioned the poll expecting it to show a huge drop in popularity, and provide the paper with more ammunition to fire at the mayor.

Imagine the looks around the editorial table when Mayor Sam's approval rating topped 76%.

Just when we thought the campaign couldn't get any lower, the Free Press editorial today calls for “responsible authorities” to investigate their unsubstantial allegations, only so they can next report 'Katz under investigation.' It appears they will stop at nothing in their smear campaign.

And its got us wondering what, exactly, is behind it? Why is the Winnipeg Free Press so determined to destroy Sam Katz? It's gotten to the point we're about to start speculating that there's something personal involved.

And if somebody is using the newspaper to carry on a personal vendetta, that's news.

Are you listening Richard?

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