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, November 09, 2005

Two Free Press columnists, one right, one wrong

The dramatic collapse of Stuart Murray's leadership of the Manitoba PC's stimulated both daily newspapers, through their editorials and columnists, to discuss Manitoba politics with more urgency than usual.
Perhaps it is because they see the writing on the wall; it is so obvious that this province is beyond dysfunctional and that change is on the horizon, that the Free Press admitted it even while ignoring the warning signs in their own pages.

Columnist Allen Mills places much of the blame on the state of the local media.

His column, entitled 'President Doer' getting free ride as provincial politics whither away', is a far ranging analysis that went far beyond the usual "Doer strong, opposition weak" throw-away. By picking apart the conditions of what he calls "perfect political calm" (you know, the opposite of perfect storm), Prof. Mills explained how the media is played like a fiddle, as part of the formula that allows the NDP to rule Winnipeg like a fiefdom.

" Undergirding this mix of cautious politics and managerial centralization has been a highly coordinated media control-strategy; and also a calculated effort to keep provincial politics out of the news by actually reducing the sittings of the Legislature to an absolute minimum... This is scandalous and is intentional on the government's part. The provincial government is now an $8-billion operation and it is the Legislature that is supposed to ensure that public monies are well spent. Hide away and avoid examination is part of the government's strategy...
Also, the provincial government of what is increasingly the city-state of Winnipeg has many fingers in many pies, especially in the educational and cultural community and even in private economic organizations.
In a city-state, relations are always close and personal. It is hard to lobby the government for a special favour for a symphony orchestra and then in another capacity criticize the government's politics in general. You can but don't expect a favour next time. There is a lot of self-censorship in the province among the elites about the provincial government."

Wow. This is something we never expected to read in the paper, because it sure sounds a lot like how the Crocus Scandal unfolded, doesn't it? The one that was ignored and then buried by the press? (You know, like O'Learygate?)

But then Mills turns his sights on the local media and it ain't pretty. Mills sees the press as soft on the Doer government because newsrooms barely cover the House if at all, don't have reporting skill, lack institutional memory, and rely on NDP scripts to work from.

"But it gets better for the provincial government. The media in Manitoba are also complicit in this silence on the land.
CKY TV is not interested in provincial politics at all.
CBC TV has now only a half-hour of local supper-time programming and news -- Global TV the same -- and has lost its investigative capacity and instincts.
Global did not have them, ever. "

Imagine that. Even with new co-host Glen Kirby (or maybe because of him), City-TV, breathing down CBC's neck in the ratings, does not even register with a political science professor who helps teach college students where to turn for information.

Mills, no doubt to the horror of his University of Winnipeg boss Lloyd Axworthy, then utterly dismisses third place CBC - as having zero ability to sniff out and break news anymore. It's like the I -Team doesn't exist. ( CBC may put up a fence on Spence Street if they read what their neighbour said about them. )

Then he dismisses second place Global for never having any ability in political journalism to start with. ( Well, we think Mike Brown is trying hard at least.)

But that's Ok, because the far-and-away ratings leader may have changed its name to CTV, but has no interest in provincial politics either.

And that isn't the end of Mills take on the local media.

"The print media could cover provincial politics in greater depth and more extensively. Journalists in the province are largely young and inexperienced.
Noam Chomsky, in his famous theory of how governments use the media to deliver propaganda, claims that this sometimes occurs through the media's dependance on official sources.
There is amazement in hearing, periodically, local media essentially broadcasting, verbatim and unedited, the press releases and the political spin of the provincial government. "

Mills has, without realizing it, explained the rise of bloggers--- citizen journalists-- in the realm of the news business.

Blogs break stories the mainstream media tries to ignore or, alternatively, to bury. The MSM monopoly on deciding what is "news" no longer exists.

Blogs don't depend on press releases or government hacks to shape content. Blogs have an immediate relationship with their readers who can add their own expertise and knowledge of the facts to a story (need we mention Rathergate again)..

Blogs can get stories out with immediacy (which is what radio should do), and explain to the public the government's current spin on a story (and, regretably, the spin of media coverage).

All these factors help keep a story on track and the audience engaged. By contrast, the press lately has "distinguished" itself by indulging in feeding frenzies that have sent the public to the blogosphere to unravel.

In New Orleans, they tried to one-up each other with atrocity stories about murder and rapes, which turned out to be false. The panicky evacuation of the Kashechewan reserve in Northern Ontario was big news--until it turned out the water problems were easily fixed and didn't require an evacuation. And here the press was consumed by the suicide of a girl distraught at having witnessed her father roughly arrested in her own home.

Well, it turned out the suicide was an accident and that the girl wasn't in the home when her father was cuffed, and that all the stories blaming the police were wrong. We in the Black Rod discussed among ourselves how the media would report how they were wrong. The surprise was on us.

The biggest offender in the media suicide feeding frenzy was Free Press writer Lindor Reynolds whose maudlin columns put her in a category all by herself. We didn't write about her, or anyone else, in The Black Rod because we couldn't do a better job than our fellow blog Dust My Broom

Reynolds wallowed in the tragic aspects of the death in her columns. When it was reported that some of the pertinent details may have been manufactured, we (damn our cynical minds) were first surprised that she actually addressed the issue. But we were even more amazed at how Lindor tried to wriggle off the hook. She said it didn't matter what the truth was, just so long as the parents' feelings weren't hurt!

"The truth will eventually come out, but the credibility of the parents took a serious hit.
It continued because a hard lesson about being forced into the public eye is that someone always turns up a piece of your dirty laundry.
There is plenty of that in the Beardy home and many suggested the parents look into their own souls rather than blaming the police or society at large.
Christina Beardy said only some of that version of the truth is accurate and all of it is unkind.
"It doesn't just hurt me," she said yesterday. "It hurts the whole community. We live in poverty. We are on social assistance and we struggle every day."

Reynolds ignored the fact that it was the Free Press and notably her own column that forced the family into the public eye. The parents both being arrested and charged is not "dirty laundry" - it is public record. No one would have ever heard about the arrests anyways if the Free Press had remembered why Winnipeg media traditionally did not report on suicide - in case it wasn't.

Her first column was designed to make the focus on a family victimized by poverty, race, or whaever label fits as long as in the end, the police arrest of the father caused a 12 year old to kill herself and great overwrought copy resulted.

Her second column was designed to blame the public for having second thoughts about her first column.

Readers have the right to make up their minds about what happened with the parents and the police, starting with maybe the little girl didn't see her dad beaten and arrested in the first place, and maybe she wasn't even trying to commit suicide.

Silent about what may have been a false portrayal of their actions and their supposed "role" in the "suicide", Lindor Reynolds owes the police an apology.

The worst hit of all is to the credibility of the Free Press whose policy seems to be for columnists to get a free ride in the truth department because telling the truth might undermine their victim du jour.

Another advantage of the blogosphere is that mistakes get corrected without fuss.

It turns our we may have misunderstood Charles Adler. Not him personally, but his hints.

His written missives about his new post-Free Press print opportunity used the word national with a capital N (actually a capital everything). Given the symbiotic relationship between the Freep and the National Post, we made the natural assumption.

But now we hear that Adler is going back to the Sun chain-- as a syndicated columnist.
A big difference between that and "NATIONAL", as in Post. Back to the platform from whence he came.

Adler does have his fans and we welcome diversity of opinion. Why, here is letter of support for Adler.

Mr. Black Rod:
Good work lately. Look, if you're following the Free Press, and you always are, ever explore why the Freep yanks Adler's column but retains Harold Buchwald, Val Werier, Frances (plagariast?) Russell, any of the so-called Issues Network writers? Now I know you dislike Adler, but his column was chatty, sometimes witty and easy to read, even if it was a bit juvenile.

How about Buchwald? What a dreadful bore! On Tuesday he slammed the U.S. method of picking supreme court judges as creating a circus, yet fails to point out that if Harriet Miers is a bad pick, the U.S. Senate can reject her. In other words, the circus is a check and balance on Bush's powers. Martin could name a downtown panhandler to the Canadian supreme court and no one could do a bloody thing. There wouldn't be a circus. Is that what Buchwald wants. The guy totally contradicts himself. Is this the kind of guy who should be given a column in the venerable Free Press?

So you have to ask yourself, is Buchwald a Freep columnist because he is buddy with people like Bob Silver, maybe Ron Stern? If so, talk about cronyism. My guess is he is buddies with at least Silver. You can dislike Adler, but I guarantee he had greater readership and read response than than boring old fart Buchwald ever will. So maybe check this out. Cheers, and thanks for reading this note. Still love your blog.

{ BR says - Today, Adler dismissed bloggers as delusional for thinking they had any impact outside their basements. But he was sheepish when CTV news honcho Robert Hurst pointed out Adler's own bluster included delusions of grandeur ( Adler Nation, anyone) and Adler agreed the delusion didn't fall far from the microphone. }

And the topic of delusions makes us think of the office of Governor General, where the previous incumbent occasionally slipped into the delusion that she was the Queen and not the Queen's representative. The New GG, thankfully, has not drunk that Kool-aid. And she has her fans, as well.

Hey Black Rod, the Governor General may be a biased CBC type, but her jokes on Andre Boisclair were hilarious, and even Jean's sister (a PQ member) is pissed off. The GG just won me over (somewhat) by mocking Boisclair and his coke-sniffing past. She deserves a bit of love for that one. cheers,(faithful reader)

{ BR says - While we have been critical of Michaelle Jean this reader gives her credit for giving him a good laugh at the expense of the PQ. For those who missed the joke, at a speech to the annual Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner, Jean quipped that the front-runner in the Parti Quebec leadership race "always follows the party line." }

We want to thank all our readers and supporters who voted for us in the national blog awards "The Bloggies", that was conducted by

We were honored to be the only Manitoba blog nominated in the poll, and we congratulate the other nominees Angry in the Great White North, who won the contest for Best Whistleblowing Blog, and Captain's Quarters , who finished second.

The Black Rod finished only 7 votes behind Captain Ed, and we are grateful to be recognized in such respected company ( also a shout out to Brian Malony of Radio Equalizer who was the other nominee in our category.)

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