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 since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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:

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Lett's talk about Crocus, Katz and Confusion

In the same way you retire to the sofa after a heavy Thanksgiving meal, so we had to sit and digest Dan Lett's Crocus turkey in the pages of the Winnipeg Free Press this weekend.

It's customary to praise the cook, and on Monday CJOB news director Vic Grant, for one, raved about the dish served up by Lett. But we have to wonder whether he plowed through all six pages of the Lett opus, as we did, because we reach a different conclusion.

Since we doubt anyone read the entire six pages, here's the abridged version of the Coles Notes of the summary of the story:

1. The Provincial Auditor's report on the Crocus Fund said that CEO James Umlah appeared to favour a certain company, identified only as Company A, by supplementing the initial investment with 37 further infusions of money. The Fund's own investment department said investment in Company A had gotten "out of control".

2. The Winnipeg Free Press says Company A is Maple Leaf Distillers.

3. The owners of Maple Leaf Distillers frequently made big announcements about big deals which turned out to be exaggerated. But Maple Leaf could always count on the Free Press to give the announcements big coverage which is why the only illustrations in Lett's story were Free Press file photos.

4. Maple Leaf could also count on Umlah to slip them hundreds of thousands of new "investment" whenever they hit a bad patch and needed some new capital.

5. That's it.

WHAT? THAT'S IT? But, but, but, there were six pages. That can't be it.

Sorry. That's it. Like a long joke with no punchline.

Despite all the court documents examined, the "sources" who leaked internal Maple Leaf business, the exclusive interview with James Umlah. That's it.

No kickbacks, no payoffs, no scandal.
The Lett stories had lots of details. But he failed to ask the most important question---why. Why did Umlah pour all that money into Maple Leaf Distillers?

Even in Tuesday's editorial echoing our call for a public inquiry, the Winnipeg Free Press says Premier Gary Doer and his government "owe Manitobans an explanation" for making "lavish contributions" to Maple Leaf Distillers to turn it into a profitable company, when there are doubts that it could have ever succeeeded.

If Lett had read The Black Rod, he would have known.

Nowhere in six packed pages does Dan Lett mention the word Mondragon. Or, for that matter, Sherman Kreiner, except to say that Shermy wouldn't reign in Umlah's credit cards.

In the good ole days, Kreiner and Umlah shared the glory that was Crocus. They were spoken of in one breath, like Rogers and Hart, like Brangelina. Yet now, Kreiner has been written out of the Crocus story, like a Soviet politician painted out of official photos.

Yet Kreiner was the voice of Crocus, the man who provided the "why". And the "why" was his devotion to the Mondragon model of co-operative business, socialist capitalism. It's that model that drove Umlah's investments in Maple Leaf and that we dissected months ago.

Remember the many bottom lines that Kreiner touted for the Crocus Fund. One of those bottom lines was "preserving jobs". They used to brag about how many jobs Crocus investment created or "preserved." A sure way of preserving jobs is to keep pumping money into a business, a local business like Maple Leaf Distillers, for example.

Why the Free Press refuses to report on the Mondragon model of Crocus investments, we don't know. However we are thankful for the Dan Lett opus for one thing---it provides us with the genesis of the failed Free Press smear against Mayor Sam Katz.

Imagine this scenario. After working on his expose at his usual glacial pace, Dan Lett finally turns in his six page clunker. The editors read it, look up in bewilderment, and say,"Is that it?" Lett nods.
"There's got to be something more," the panicky editors say. "Where's your notes. There's got to be something else."

" Well," says Lett,"there's this thing about Sam Katz, but that's pretty old."
"Sam Katz!" the editors cry in triumph. "Now we got something."

So the Katz smear made the paper. You know, how Sam Katz is friends with David Wolinsky, co-owner with Costas Ataliotis of Maple Leaf Distillers, and loaned Maple Leaf some money years ago, then, years later, after becoming mayor, he voted to let Salisbury House build a restaurant on a bridge, and Salisbury House guaranteed a line of credit to Maple Leaf, blah blah blah smear blah.

If the smear had taken hold, we'll bet that this six pages of facts and figures signifying nothing would never have seen the light of day.

Instead, The Black Rod exposed how the smear was expected to work, and the Free Press was forced to salvage something from the weeks of Lett's research, even if it did miss the crucial question Why.

But there's one question the Free Press still has to answer. In the aborted attack on Sam Katz, reporters Dan Lett and Mary Agnes Welch are on the record as saying that city councillor Harvey Smith was sending a request Oct. 4 "to city auditor Shannon Hunt to review Katz's role in the Esplanade Riel vote and determine if there was a conflict of interest."

Well? Has he? There has been no follow-up story in three weeks.

According to the story, Harvey Smith was going to the city auditor (the day before the story ran in the newspaper).

Did he? If so, why wasn't it reported.

Or was that part of the story not true?

And if it wasn't true, was it recklessly inserted in a story to smear Katz? By whom? Has any editor been called on the carpet over this?

We hope to answer these questions soon.

We know the Free Press pays attention to The Black Rod. Take, for example, a correction that ran Monday about the date of a movie by the Governor General consort Jean-Daniel Lafond.

The original story about his address to students in St. Boniface mistakenly said the documentary was released in 1991, when the actual date was 2003.

Small point, and we didn't make a big deal of it when we pointed it out to The Free Press. Not, that is, until we researched the documentary more and realized the significance of the dates.

2001 was when Lafond made his now-infamous documentary about poet Aime Cesaire, a Martinique legislator, who was a major influence on Quebec separatists. It was in this movie that Michaelle Jean makes her toast to Quebec separatism.

2003 was the year Lafond made a documentary about Jacques Ferron, the founder of the Rhinoceros Party. The Rhinos are seen as a joke in the West. But when the party was created in 1963 it was fundamentally anti-federalist, using irony and parody to ridicule Canada and its symbols.

Ferron has been described as the "godfather" of the FLQ. He knew the terrorists well--the Vallieres, the Rose brothers, Francis Simard-and he negotiated the surrender of the men who murdered kidnapped Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte in the final act of their terror campaign.

Funny how the Free Press never reports what these documentaries by Lafond are all about, even when he's still extolling the virtues of Quebec separatists in 2003.

The Free Press has also belatedly discovered Dr. Brian Postl after being alerted to him by The Black Rod. In an editorial Monday on the wait-times controversy, the paper quoted Postl for the first time. Postl, it said, believed the provinces could come up with acceptable wait-times for surgeries as promised by the deadline of Dec. 31st.

We found that amusing, since it was Postl who sparked the recent controversy in the first place in an interview published on Thanksgiving. In that story he said that he doubted the provinces could meet the deadline.

But after a few hours of being tied to a chair and reminded by trench-coated Liberal minders of what he really thought, Postl issued a clarification - he didn't believe what he believed, he now believed the opposite of what he believed.

The Black Rod caught the sudden 180 reverse and reported it.

The Free Press carried three paragraphs on Postl's original musings, but
- cut any mention of his name out of the story;
- failed to report his change of mind; then
- waited until the provinces, the doctors, and the federal health minister all joined the debate

before pretending it was big enough to warrant an editorial and a passing reference to Dr. Brian Postl.

Our question is why the paper still hasn't interviewed Postl, who is, after all, Manitoba's health care czar.

And while the Free Press notices us, we've been noticing others in the news field.

We notice, for example, that the chilly autumn has driven CBC host Krista Erickson back to wearing her leather outfit. Or is it the chilly atmosphere in the newsroom? CBC news employees have exchanged notes over the coffee machine and agree that the only time their hostess with the mostess made an appearance during the seven week lockout was once at the side of Uberhost Peter Mansbridge (who dropped by the picket line when he was in town because his daughter was having a baby) and once to vote on going back to work.

Reminds you of a song, doesn't it. But is it Ice Ice or Star Star?

And we noticed the new haircut on CITY-TV news host Lisa Saunders. The sexy factor in local news is ratcheting up.

Unfortunately for co-host Glen Kirby, Lisa's new haircut makes him look 10 years older than he already did, which is 10 years older than he already was.


Confusing, isn't it, when we break a story and then pull it only hours later. That's what we get for trying something new.

When we exclusively revealed Sunday that the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs was planning to build a First Nations Governance House on Manitoba Hydo property near Polo Park, we expected the announcement on Monday. But then the news conference was scrubbed. When we post time sensitive bulletins we will be taking them down when the time passes.

In this case, the time wasn't even coming yet, so we removed the story and maps and didn't realize how hot this topic is with our readers.

But kudos to CKY-TV for confirming our story in their exclusive interviews Tuesday evening with AMC's Ron Evans and Hydro's Bob Brennan. It just goes to show you, MSM can benefit by paying attention to the blogosphere.

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