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:

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Year End Awards and New Year's Greetings

As tradition has it, the year-end is the time to proclaim our Newsmaker of the Year and Story of the Year.

The Black Rod's editorial board was unanimous this year in choosing Manitoba Auditor General Jon Singleton, and his report into the Crocus Investment Fund.

No story had as much impact on Manitobans as the collapse of the Crocus Fund, a house of cards that toppled as soon as Singleton's report unveilled the unvarnished facts.

And how the mighty have fallen.

From a day when a visit from Crocus representatives could intimidate legislators and still criticism in the press to receivership, a class action lawsuit, and an RCMP investigation.

* Tens of thousands of Crocus investors watched the value of their retirement savings evaporate.

* The credibility of the NDP government was shredded.

* The leader of the Opposition admitted he backed down under Crocus pressure, and before year's end, he quit.

* Waves from the collapse extended to the Workers Compensation Board where some of the same players as at the Crocus Fund ( Wally Fox-Decent, Sherman Kreiner) came under fire.

* The Winnipeg Sun and the Winnipeg Free Press called for a public inquiry.

* Former NDP Premier Ed Schreyer added his voice calling for a public inquiry.


The Black Rod wishes a HAPPY NEW YEAR to....

* Tom Brodbeck who deserves an award for the best journalism in the province.

* Richard Cloutier, who took over from Charles Adler and made morning talk radio listenable again.

* Bob Cox, who is still on probation with us. The new editor at the Winnipeg Free Press hasn't made any noticeable changes yet. And there are as many typos as ever (they even called him Box Cox once). And shuffling beats is not the same as getting rid of deadwood which is the first step in bringing back readers who have been deserting the paper in droves . Maybe next year...

* Bruce Owen and Mike McIntyre, who were generous with their questions to The Black Rod about the Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada connections to a continent wide ephedrine smuggling ring, but who were stingy with credit when it came to their multi-part story about crystal meth.

* Paul Egan, who scalped one of our Crocus stories without attribution, and left before blog became a common word in the Free Press.

* John Gleeson, editor of The Winnipeg Sun, who was the first to mention The Black Rod in print. Unfortunately he got the name wrong, misquoted us and then wouldn't make a correction. Sigh.

* Sam Katz, who narrowly escaped having to resign after botching his "war on mosquitoes". He backed Taz Stuart's refusal to fog for mosquitoes until it was too late and people began showing up with West Nile Fever. Nobody died, but the number of people who got West Nile in Winnipeg is still Top Secret.

* Rod Bruinooge, the Chumbawamba of the Conservative Party. You know.... I get knocked down But I get up again You're never going to keep me down I get knocked down But I get up again...

* Peter Kent, who called their bluffs.

* Bruce Vallance, who had the courage to stand up for Canada against FLQ sympathizers in the highest political office in the country.

* Bernie Bellan, who got the last laugh.

* "A. Journalist", who wrote us lamenting we were too tough on the broadcast media which, he said, is constrainted by "rules" from doing the same reporting we do. He said he wanted to continue a dialogue with us, but has since disappeared.

* Kate McMillan of Small Dead Animals who inspired our work all year.

* Brad Pitt


Friday, December 30, 2005

Anatomy of the Yonge Street shooting

Don't you hate it when you're interested in a story but there aren't enough details for you to fully understand what happened?We do.

And like you, we were transfixed by this week's tragedy in Toronto. We know that shots were fired in downtown Toronto as Boxing Day crowds filled the street, a 15-year-old girl was killed, and six people were wounded. Still, we wanted to know more.

So, as an exercise, we trolled for information and tried to put it together a better picture of what transpired on Yonge Street.We know that about 5:19 p.m. shooting broke out in the vicinity of the Footlocker store on the west side of Yonge Street, just south of Elm. Witnesses estimated eight to ten shots were fired. The circumstances of who fired the shots is still murky, so we'll leave that till last.When the firing stopped, one person was dead and six were hurt, two of them critically.

* Since the shooting was centred on Footlocker, we'll start there. Jane Creba, 15, had been shot in the upper body. She had been shopping with her 18-year-old sister, Alison, on the east side of Yonge, near Sam the Record Man. She crossed the street to go to Footlocker and stepped into the middle of the gun battle. Jane died of her injury.

Helen Yiu, a 20-year-old visa student from Hong Kong, and a classmate at the University of Windsor were walking past the store when they heard a shot and saw people drop to the ground. When Yiu tried to stand, she couldn't; she had been shot in the thigh and ankle.

And her friend (identified in the Toronto Star only as Jeyice) a business major from Malaysia, was wounded, too. To the south, according to one media account, a 15- or 16-year-old boy, shot in the leg, was taken away by ambulance from the area of Eaton Centre.

Another shooting victim, with a bullet hole in his upper right thigh, had run into the lobby of the Atrium on Bay, then into the Red Lobster restaurant inside complex. The manager administered first aid, with the help of two security guards."For someone who had been through what had just happened, he was rather calm," a restaurant spokesman said.

Just north of Footlocker, a black male with a gunshot wound in the back of his leg was down by the Pizza Pizza shop near Yonge and Gould. A 41-year-old off-duty police officer shopping with his wife was nicked by a ricochet, but he didn't need to go to hospital.

And a block further, near Gerrard Street, a severely wounded man collapsed after running for his life. "He was lying on the ground covered in blood," said Matt, a homeless youth who gave only his first name. "He was bleeding and his chest was full of holes," he told reporters.

"He was bleeding pretty badly," he said, adding that the man was able to pull himself up and move around a corner. An ambulance called to the Delta Chelsea Hotel on Gerrard took him to St. Michael's Hospital where he was admitted in critical conditon.Two of the shooting victims were originally reported to be in critical condition. If the man at the Delta Chelsea was one of them, who was the other?

By the process of elimination, it would be Jeyice, Helen Yiu's friend. Helen, home from the hospital, told reporters she couldn't get a straight answer from nurses as to what happened to her friend. Witnesses said they saw a woman shot in the head, and it's possible this was Jeyice and not Jane Creba as everyone assumed.

* With the shooting victims accounted for, the question remains, who shot them?

Witness John O'Brien said he overheard two men arguing behind him on Yonge. He said he then heard a volley of shots and saw four victims on the ground, two in front of the Foot Locker store, and two by the neighbouring Pizza Pizza shop. (Winnipeg Sun)

Vikram, 22, a clerk at Future Shop, rushed out into the street in time to see two men in a dark navy or black BMW firing out the windows. "They were both firing and people were screaming," he said. He couldn't see what kind of guns they had but said the sound was incredibly powerful. "I saw two girls drop. ... I don't know what happened to them." (Toronto Star)

Toronto police are looking for as many as 15 suspects in the Boxing Day gunfight that sent bullets flying through a throng of shoppers, killing a 15-year-old girl and wounding six other bystanders. (The National Post)

Two men in the crowd. Two men in a BMW. 15 suspects. Take your pick.

Well, absolutely nobody said they saw 15 youths with guns shooting it out on Yonge Street, so you can cross that one out. The figure probably comes from a witness who said that about 45 minutes before the gunfire he saw a group of ten youths on one side of Yonge staring down a group of four on the other side.

Police have denied Vikram's story about two men shooting from a BMW. There was a BMW in the area. A 12-year old boy who was staying with family at the Delta Chelsea was interviewed by the Globe and Mail: "Right after the shots I heard a car with an import muffler speed off," said 12-year-old Tristan Perry, a fan of modified foreign cars. "It did a little burnout and sped off."

Two young men were later arrested at a subway station near the shooting scene. Like most people, we though that meant they were in the station waiting for a train. So did CTV: A young man and teenage boy arrested on foot at Castle Frank subway station shortly after the gunfight now face firearms-related charges, but the pair have not been charged in connection with the shootout, police said.

But the Toronto Star on Monday said that "police arrested two male suspects, a young offender and a 20-year-old, in a BMW a few kilometres away at Castle Frank subway station."The newspaper said witnesses were telling them "that one person pulled out a gun and began shooting on the busy shopping street, then others began firing back before two men sped off in a BMW."

Today CTV reported that the adult male arrested at Castle Frank was "20-year-old Andre Thompson ... recently released on probation after serving 30 days for a convenience store robbery. Thompson now faces eight firearms charges, including firing a weapon. He has not been charged with the teen's murder."

* So we're back to the other individual shooters.Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said two men who were standing on the street opened fire for reasons that were not immediately clear. He did not say if the two were shooting at each other or targetting people in the crowd. (Toronto Star)Authorities are careful to say they are treating the wounded as potential witnesses, for now. But what they really mean is that one or more are being considered as shooting suspects.

Top of the list is the chest-shot man near the Delta Chelsea. His wounds indicate he was shot at close range by someone trying to kill him. But where's his gun? Police could follow his blood trail to every trash bin in the two blocks he ran. Were the men in the BMW his accomplices who fled with the weapon?

And if he's one shooter, who's the other? If the police find a gun hidden in the Atrium, then Mr. Cool-and-collected Red Lobster steps up. Or, going by Winnipeg precedents, could it be the shooting victim who walked into Mt. Sinai Hospital all by his lonesome later the day of the shootout? Only one newstory ever mentioned him.

We may get the answers sooner rather than later.

Toronto police chief Bill Blair told the press that investigators knew "within 20 minutes" what led to the Boxing Day shootout on Yonge St. He said they are "aggressively building a case to ensure all the people involved - even associates of the shooters - are brought to justice."
The Black RodBy Referrals

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

CTV caught red-handed

It's a case of the worst of the news media and the best of the blogosphere.

Throughout the current election campaign, The Black Rod has been taking the Peter Kent Challenge and monitoring the press, primarily in Winnipeg, for an alleged anti-Conservative bias. But here's a case from a national news service that's so blatant it must be recorded.

Last week the Conservatives objected to a Liberal attack ad that used a photo of Tory leader Stephen Harper speaking with BQ leader Gille Duceppe to imply they are colluding against Canada and only the Liberals can save the country. carried a story about the row-a story that included this paragraph.

"But Harper stopped short Friday of vowing his party would avoid negative campaigning in its bid to mislead the public in his bid to form a Conservative government. "Anything we will be saying in this campaign will be factual and accurate. I can't promise it will all be pretty."

This wasn't a typo. It was a deliberate insert.

Bloggers quickly spotted the story and posted it on the Internet. As the heat rose, CTV quietly rewrote the offending paragraph as if nothing happened. But screen captures of the before and after versions of the story were already circulating and they were CAUGHT REDHANDED.

Some bloggers offered an explanation: Charles Bird, a senior vice-president at Bell Globemedia which owns CTV, is the chairman of the Liberal Party of Canada's Ontario campaign.

But it's a stretch even to imply that Charles Bird could somehow slip anti-Conservative phrases into CTV stories. But someone did. And as far as we know, that someone is still working at CTV.

Until that person is identified, and fired, the reports on must be considered tainted until proven otherwise.

The rapidity by which the offending phrase was discovered and a correction forced on is evidence of the blogophere doing what it does best---filtering out the truth.

This, of course, flies completely over the heads of most mainstream media reporters, even Canwest's designated blog reporter Carly Weeks.

She demonstrated her continuing befuddlement about blogging with her response to the tempest over tasteless comments on a blog run by Mike Klander, the executive vice-president of the Ontario branch of the Liberal Party of Canada. He resigned Monday.

Klander's blog took cheap shots at Olivia Chow, the wife of NDP leader Jack Layton, by comparing her name and picture to a photo of a Chinese dog called a Chow Chow. The NDP got wind of it and fed the story to Toronto Star reporter Bruce Campion-Smith. He contacted Klander for a comment. Spooked, Klander shut down his blog. The Star carried a story about it as a brief in its Election Notebook segment on Dec. 23.

But that's when the blogosphere picked it up. The story went around the country in minutes and the Liberals began getting feedback. It's the bloggers who made this a national story, one that was picked up by the national news media four days later.

They used to say that newspapers published day-old news that had already been reported on television. Now they publish week old news that's been on the blogosphere for days.

Carly Weeks hasn't noticed this. Her take on the story was how bloggers post embarassing comments which can bite them if they ever run for office.

The Winnipeg reporters who've written feeble stories about blogs in the context of the election campaign, Lindor Reynolds and Mary Agnes Welch, ignored the impact of bloggers on the campaign, even though Klander, not content to mock a Chinese-Canadian, also mocked a disabled Canadian, Conservative Party MP Steven Fletcher.

Quadriplegic Conservative MP invites health minister to "take this outside" ... This is funny so stop pretending that its not...stop being so politically correct will you?

We also note that none of the Liberal MPs from Manitoba, especially Anita Neville, has said a word about their fellow Liberal's attitudes toward women and the disabled.

Neville, you will remember, couldn't wait to get out a news release condemning Conservative Brian Pallister for his joke about adopting a "woman's answer" with his refusal to say yes or no whether he would run for the leadership of the provincial Tory party.

"we're trying to engage more women in politics, to be addressed in such a disrespectful, derogatory way is absolutely astounding," she blustered.

You don't think it can't be that she wasn't -- she's not just a cheap politician using the news media to score cheap points because she has nothing to say about anything that truly matters? Nawwww.

Now here's a story that gave us a laugh.

Liberals fighting uphill media battle
Dec. 27, 2005. 08:59 AM

OTTAWA-The federal Liberals, much to some people's surprise, do not have the media advantage as they enter the next half of the campaign.
With the election currently in an on-hold phase, all parties will be reviewing how they are faring in the media coverage to date before the more intense campaigning begins in the new year. Of all parties, the Liberals appear to have the most worries on the media front.
Few would call it an outright media backlash against the governing Liberals. Still, there's a subtle but persistent warning hum for the Liberals emerging in media commentary. Here's just a sampling from the half-time campaign summaries in other news outlets over the past week.
"If anybody has any momentum, however slight at this point, it is the Conservatives. The Liberals seem stalled," CTV's Craig Oliver told his viewers last week.


Susan Delacourt has obviously not been reading the Winnipeg Free Press.

Tuesday's paper was classic.

The Polls. How Volatile is vote? Polls Try to Tell read the headline over the newspaper's weekly poll story. Oh, look, evey poll has the Liberals ahead. Missing, coincidentally, was the Saturday Ispos Reid poll reported in the National Post under the headline: Tories neck and neck with liberals, poll says. One point difference. Conservatives make big gains in Ontario.

The Free Press had a story about Mike Klander's resignation, right next to a banner reading: Stephen Harper's foray into the same sex issue has some Conservative voters reconsidering their support. A11. None too subtle, there.

Especially when you turn to A.11 and find out that the story about " some Conservative voters reconsidering their support" has exactly zero Conservative voters reconsidering their support. Not one. Nada. This is what passes as fair election reporting in the Winnipeg Free Press?

And don't forget the Free Press' take on Newsmaker of the Year. That story appeared just under the Klander story. The Free Press editors picked Justice John Gomery.

"His scathing indictment of the Liberal government under Jean Chretien is basically the reason we will all trudge throught the snow to vote next month," noted assistant deputy editor Margo Goodhand.

Under Jean who? Nice try Margo.

If you paid attention to the facts, you would know that the payoffs and kickbacks took place when Paul Martin was a cabinet member of the Liberal government, before and after Martin was personally asked in writing by a Quebec Liberal official to investigate the dirty dealings (he didn't), and, who was it that lead a standing ovation for Jean Chretien? Uh, oh ya, Paul Martin.

And what Manitoba Liberals were engaged in the coverup of the theft of taxpayers money by Liberal organizers?

Does the name John Harvard ring a bell, Margo? How about Reg Alcock, who claimed Sheila Fraser didn't know what she was talking about, that a "special audit" proved only $13 million was unaccounted for, not $100 million. Maybe you need to trudge to the library and read up on the details of the Liberal kickback scandal, Margo.

And, of course, what's a story about the sleazy Liberal scandals without an attack on Stephen Harper?

"His failure to emerge as a strong decisive leader almost guarantees we will be looking at another minority government," said sports editor Julian Rachey.

That's right, Julian.
It's not Liberal Party corruption that's the issue.
It's not the leadership of the governing party that's rebuilt the fortunes of the separatists in Quebec.
It's not the leadership of the NDP that propped up the party of kickbacks and payoffs.
It's Stephen Harper that's to blame.

We're certain the Free Press braintrust is burning the midnight oil tonight, trying to figure out how they will address the exploding Income Trust scandal coming from the federal Department of Finance. The paper has ignored the story since the election was called, and ran only a single short brief, buried on a back page, when it first emerged a month ago.

Even though Reynolds and Welch couldn't find a blog that had influence on the election, bloggers kept digging into mysterious trades that pointed to a leak from Ralph Goodale's office, and is reporting that the RCMP "informal inquiry" is now a full-fledged criminal investigation.

Maybe Carly Weeks can file a story explaining how the Free Press got scooped by the blogs on a story right under its nose. The Mounties are acting on a complaint from Manitoba MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. Maybe the Free Press was hoping to ignore it, the same way they ignored the Adscam connections to the 1999 Pan-Am Games and the Dauphin Ukrainian Festival that were raised by another NDP MP, Pat Martin.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Christmas week, and especially Christmas Day, are long known as "slow" news days - that is reporters and their editors coast to their days off with plenty of year-end reviews in the can, the obligatory Santa, weather and shopping mall stories dominating what passes for coverage, and reporters and columnists trolling for stories of human despair and hope, whatever makes the front page or gets on the air.

But yesterday may have been the last time we will see the long-standing Christmas truce between Winnipeg newsrooms hold.

All-out war is about to break loose in the local TV market in the coming ratings period, because of a shift in the schedule that will see all 4 local newscasts compete in the 6 PM slot for a dwindling viewership.

And as we all know, in every war, there are winners, and losers.

Last week Global revealed that in March, they will flip-flop their news block, moving their national broadcast with Kevin Newman to the 5.30 PM slot and the local newscast to 6 PM.

It is no surprise that Global National is being moved to the 5.30 slot which is, of course, when all the US network newscasts start. It makes Newman look like he is a viable alternative to the American anchors and Canwest look like they are leaders in journalism.

No one should underestimate the collateral effect of the move, which creates an opportunity for the Aspers to take a head-on run at the coveted #1 dinnertime TV crown long held by CKY. They're not building a brand-new media centre off Portage and Main to hold the number two station.

The now-rebranded CTV evening newscast has held the top spot ever since CBC's disastrous shift to 5.30 in the mid-90's, which greased the skids for every CBC anchor since. Despite a hasty return to the 6:00 o'clock slot, viewership fell from over 100,000 to 17,000, far enough that A-Channel (now-rebranded as City-TV) was breathing down the Corpse's neck when the lockout killed off whatever momentum host Krista Erickson had built.

Meanwhile Global held a solid if distant second at just under 50,000, and slowly built a roster and style they feel can take a chunk out of CTV's 140,000 plus viewers.

A CTV insider spoke to The Black Rod about the prospect of going head-to-head with Canwest and sent a message:

"Tell Channel 12 to bring it on."

With that in mind, we took a close look at the evening newscasts on Christmas Eve and analyzed whether the front-runners are over-confident, if Global really has what it takes, or if this 4-way dance will bring genuine changes to the numbers and thereafter, to the newscasts themselves. (Well, truth be told, we missed CBC's show because it aired at 5 PM due to hockey, but we've watched plenty lately anyways, as our regular readers can attest.)

Generally CKY's newscast is a plodding affair. Anchor Janet Stewart has a perpetual scowl and in her holiday absence, co-host Gord Leclerc acted extra-grim.

By comparison Global's broadcast moves more quickly and Derrick Oliver seems more personable. Their reporters try to inject some style into their reports (with varying success) and if there is one person who may become a star player in the run for first it's Mike Brown.

We're still laughing at the time he hunted down the elusive cabinet minister Tim Sale, who was hiding from the press while the Auditor roasted the NDP's "investigation" into the million dollar Hydra House scandal.

Brown prowled the halls of the Legislature seeking his prey, then literally staked out Sale's office and waited to pounce. Clever and imaginative. Brown's reports are literate, full of life, and look at angles the rest of the press corps don't grasp.

* But Global's Friday newscast was almost like watching a comedy. Not all of it intentional.

They led with a story about how travelers heading west were faced with closed roads due to dangerous ice - so of course Lisa Hrytsak was driven to Portage la Prairie to stand around and speculate about the fate of others. We were left to speculate why Global doesn't hire a reporter in Western Manitoba already.

Next up was Mike Brown at the airport looking at that end of the holiday travel story, capped off with a lame joke about people having to bear with it, with a visual of the Carebear now situated at the airport in the foreground. Ha ha ha.

Third was a holiday shopping story from the mall by fashionista Connie Tomoto, rendered as a poem. Uh, let's just say it was a little light but nothing we didn't expect given the time of year.

The fourth story was the obligatory "community brightens Christmas for a bad-luck family" story, about a Charleswood family and the hardships they have faced because of their teenage daughter's horrible illness in the past ten months, including temporary blindness, brain surgeries, financial ruin.

Truly awful stuff, yet here is what TV loves, a story with a focus and with great optics- her friends from high school led by a local radio station marching to the house with gifts, good cheer, fellowship...except the story didn't mention the station's call letters, any of the stations on-air personalities, hell we weren't even sure the school's name was mentioned either.

And after a break, Oliver read a brief about the previous days tragedy in Anola, that RCMP confirmed that it was a murder-suicide, the estranged parents dying, their 2 sons in the house. No details, no reporter.

* CTV, on the other hand had the Anola story as their lead item at 6 PM. And here is where CTV can claim to have an advantage in dinnertime news.

Crime Reporter Kelly Dehn may have outdone himself with his work in the small town Friday, getting lengthy, detailed interview clips from both the brother of the deceased father, and from a friend of the mother who had wanted to end the 17 year marriage.

Dehn had a family picture, got background from the boss of the woman who died, and produced a story that didn't exploit the tragedy but rather let the people close to the situation decribe the troubles which may have led to the final confrontation. Leclerc then provided details of the trust fund set up for the children.

This is why CTV feels it has the advantage over Global. They have a beat reporter who can blow away anyone else on the air when it comes to serious news coverage, anchors who are seasoned presenters, and they are cloaked with the mantle of being a major part of the community when tragedy strikes.

But otherwise their newscast is slow, bloated and sloppy. Dishonorable mention goes to Rachel Lagace who did a holiday shopping story that mentioned Wal-Mart was open around the clock---then failed to point out only the Regent Avenue Wal-Mart was experimenting with the new hours.

Her francais-ification of every name and town she encounters in a script results in viewers actually calling to ask what the hell she is talking about and where Saah Baw-ni-Fass is.

And unfortunately, CKY has made the weather- 2 specialists mind you, and about 10 weather segments a night- the real star of the hour.

If they continue to rely on that strategy, they may find that bored viewers will discover Global's Kate Stutsman and take a liking to her. Her reporting skills take her out of the studio and into the community with a fresh style. By comparison, KY's John Sauder and Sylvia Kuzyk come across like - well, yesterday's weather.

In the old days, the supper hour battleground was defined by news and sports coverage. When CBC downsized their sports, they gave up the news race to CKY and CKND. Now it's Shawn Churchill vs. old pro Joe Pascucci, and they spend most sportscasts interviewing Blue Bomber receiver Milt Stegall about fashion, rehashing the Moose game, honouring a local amateur standout, and really have given up on trying to attract sports fans as viewers. Now it's all about news and weather.

* That's why CBC comes up short in a big way.
Their only advantage is Krista who is stuck reading both news and weather - from behind a desk. The braintrust don't use her biggest strength - the in-depth interview, as exemplified by their total lack of capitalizing on L'affair Alcock. As for sports, if you blink you miss it and it doesn't draw a single viewer.

The only appeal of CBC News nowadays is the host. People tune in to see what Krista is wearing, what color her lipstick is, if her hair has gone blonder, and what hue of pink have the spotlights bathed her in today.

In fact, CBC's only chance to gain viewers in the coming war, would be to defy the Mother Corp. handbook and reformat the half-hour as The Krista Erickson Report. Give her a weather sidekick she can smile at, and let her out from behind the desk.

* Which leaves poor City-TV.
Once within fewer than 500 households of overtaking CBC , they sucked the life out of their newshour by hiring a former CBC reporter to be their co-host. You could count on the old A-Channel to be everywhere with a camera covering the city; their niche was they didn't try to break stories but they covered everything that happened in town that day. That was then.

Now you can tune in to City-Tv to see 2 anchors with no chemistry together, throwing to reporters with no polish, doing stories that have been done better on the other channels. Mind you they did a better story on the beleagured family in Charleswood, but didn't mention the radio station that organized the benefit-- FREQ 107.1 FM -- either. That wouldn't have happened at community-friendly A-Channel.

Co-host Glen Kirby is an albatross around the neck of a game Lisa Saunders, who showed she could do the job with the best of them when she was doing it solo. If you tune in to the middle of the news, you see Lisa and weathergirl Adrienne Silver and think, this is a team that works. City should think about spinning off Glen Kirby a la Mike Brown, a more suitable role for him.

So here's our forecast.
Stormy times ahead.

CKY has the experience of how to draw viewers, but will have to do something dramatic to hold them. It's too bad that the weekday show doesn't have the same spark that weekend anchor Camilla Di Giuseppe and sportsgirl Leah Hextall have together on weekends.

Global is being exposed to a brand new market - the 6 PM crowd- and will certainly make gains from the other stations while no doubt holding most of Newman's lead-in.

Channel 8 has the most to lose because their momentum stalled and City-TV viewers are most likely to go to something that has the energy that A-Channel used to have.

CBC has a loyal audience and those viewers who switch will feel real-l-l bad--- for about 4 weeks --- about missing Krista's new trademark brown leather outfit. The only thing that could win the viewers' attention during sweeps, would be exclusive footage of the rumoured impending nuptials between Krista Erickson and her freshly-divorced fiance, senior Crown attorney Bob Morrison.

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Holiday 12-Pack of Election News You Haven't Read in the Papers

Turncoat MP Belinda Stronach features in two election stories that ran in the local dailies Thursday.

In the story that appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, she was the centrepiece.

In the story that appeared in the Winnipeg Sun, she was not mentioned. Only readers who knew the entire story from the blogosphere knew of her role in it.

Yet these two stories speak volumes to readers about the newspaper election coverage they're getting.

The coveted Page One spot above the fold went to Free Press reporter Paul Samyn for his national exclusive about the trouble Belinda Stronach was in. He reported that the Elections Canada is "reviewing" her 2004 campaign for breaking the law on spending limits.

For a Liberal cabinet minister responsible for her party's democratic renewal policy, this is more than embarassing, especially during another election campaign. She denies she's being "investigated or probed" (her word, not ours, honest.)

Samyn, the Free Press correspondent in Ottawa, said he's sticking with his account.
"We stand by the story and we're continuing to follow it. "

Unfortunately, we're betting the Winnipeg Sun won't be following their story. They only managed to squeeze in three paragraphs for a story that was smaller than the picture of Paul Martin on the same page.

Yet their story is a bigger scandal than what appeared on the Front Page of the Free Press.

It's a story about the major election themes: the Liberal Party's sense of entitlement, the co-mingling of Liberal Party interests with public interests, the use of taxpayers money to fund Liberal election campaigns.

You would hardly know it from the truncated version of the story that showed up in the Sun, "Grit Staffers Back on Public Payroll for the Holidays, PM Says."

Read the story and you get the impression that some of the people working on the Liberal campaign will have to go back to their jobs over the Christmas holidays and Paul Martin is going to make sure they do some work on public business and not goof around.

Uhh. ..sort of, but not quite.

The actual story is that

* the Liberal Party plans to "lay off" campaign staff who have taken a leave of absence from the civil service to work on the election campaign.

* The layoff will last a week, during which the staffers will be paid by the taxpayer.

* This results in the Liberal campaign saving the cost of their salaries.

* The staffers will, by law, get paid for five days even though they will be at their offices for only three.

You can guess how busy they will be on government business in the week between Christmas and New Year's.

And how does Belinda Stronach fit into this? As the Human Resources Minister, she defended the plan while a guest on an election broadcast, saying -surprise!- it met with Treasury Board rules.

How do we know this? We read it on the blogosphere.

In fact, we read many important stories on the Net which never make the daily newspapers.

The Free Press has room for election stories about Kreskin the Mentallist and why a columnist can't find a candidate to talk to, but no room for a story about scamming the taxpayer for Liberal party salaries.

That's the story the papers have been missing. They don't understand the internet's role in news dissemination.

Find a good site and its a one-stop shop for the day's election news. And the ability of blogs to cross-reference sources and do research means that stories not only break immediately, but if facts are missing or misinterpreted they are corrected in short order, and not in an "Our mistake" entry hidden on page 2 the next day.

In half an hour on the Web, The Black Rod found a dozen stories that should have been reported in the daily papers:

1. The Liberal Party is having the public pay civil servants working on the Liberal campaign for a week while the campaign gears down before New Year's. This was revealed first on CTV's Countdown with Mike Duffy, but it was reported first and extensively by bloggers. It took a couple of days before the story got widespread coverage, and even then the MSM version hardly made sense. See

2. The Liberal riding association president in Oakville resigned after sending a contemptuous email to a constituent who objected to Paul Martin's pledge to ban all handguns.

Mr. Elie Betito e-mailed back: "take your NRA , GUN LOVING ASS BACK TO THE U.S. WHERE YOU BELONG, E. BETITO." It sounds a lot like the beer and popcorn comment by Liberal strategist Scott Reid, which revealed what the Liberals really think when they're not reading from the script.

The post that started it all is here

3. The Liberal insider trading scandal is all but ignored by the mainstream press, but bloggers continue to dig up suspicious trading activity that preceeded the government announcement on taxing income trusts.

4. One blog reports that the Ontario Securities Commission is planning an investigation of the allegations, which will put pressure on Finance Minister Ralph Goodale to step aside until the investigation is complete.

5. Was Paul Martin's spat with the U.S. over Kyoto a set-up? It appears the Liberals had ads of "ordinary voters" applauding Paul Martin's defence of Canada shot and ready to go well before the leaked stories about Canada's ambassador to the US, Frank McKenna, being summoned to Washington to receive a "dressing down" from the Bush administration over Martin's comments on December 7th.

It turns out McKenna himself requested the meeting---with the head of the Council on Environmental Quality, who had no authority to deliver any kind of rebuke.

6. A blogger has posted the storyboards for the Liberal attack ads that the Liberals plan to launch in the new year.

7. The Liberal Party is faring so poorly in Quebec that Paul Martin may well lose his own seat.

8. Liberal insiders aren't hiding the fact that if the party doesn't win a majority in the election, Paul Martin will be replaced as leader.

9. The CBC is forced to remove a "Nazi" image of Stephen Harper from its website.

See also our related story:

10. Bloggers get to the bottom of a report that a Liberal candidate in Ontario made a victory speech in which he allegedly exhorted his audience, "This is a victory for Islam! Islam won! Islam Won! ... Islamic power is extending into Canadian politics". Digging shows the candidate was telling the truth when he denied making those statements.

11. The Abotech Affair: An employee of Public Works used a technicality to claim his computer company was "aboriginally owned". He then got uncontested contracts from the department.

Even though he claimed to have divested himself by selling the company to his wife and 2 (minor) children, he continued signing documents as a director. The company ran from his kitchen table the whole time, even after his election as a Liberal MP in Ontario in 2004.

Now in the middle of the election ethics czar Bernard Shapiro has cleared him, seemingly not knowing that a key bureaucrat that Shapiro interviewed - is also the MP's cousin.

"Why was he a director at a company for almost a year after he was supposed to cut ties?"

12. The press in Quebec is going gaga over the support being given to Stephen Harper by Liberal Premier Jean Charest and ADQ party leader Mario Dumont. Outside of Quebec, there's hardly been a mention. Zander is furious.

( And just to show how this all fits together, just missing our dirty dozen is a story about good ol' Belinda and her brother, whose company is recruiting scantally clad girls for his internet... aw, here it is. )

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Exhibit 'E' - "No Media Bias" story backfires due to bias

The last place you would expect to find bias in the media is in a story about bias in the media.

You'd think the reporter and editors would be doubly careful about anything that would even hint at a bias.

You would be wrong.

The Winnipeg Free Press has been stung by The Black Rod's stories citing its reporters and editors in the Peter Kent Challenge. Last week the paper decided to address the issue in a circuitous manner--by printing a story that says the Canadian public believes the news media coverage of the election is fair and honest. So there.

The story was headlined "Most Canadians think media giving it straight." Written by Canadian Press reporter Stephen Thorne, it was a story carried across the country.

But today, reporter Stephen Thorne and Canadian Press become Exhibit E of The Black Rod's continuing Peter Kent Challenge.

Thorne bases his story on an online poll being conducted by Decima Research, with the help of Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication. We don't know if Carleton took up Peter Kent's challenge to monitor the major news media for anti-Conservative bias, but we think not, based on the interpretations of their own poll data.

The CP story highlights the main point of the poll---40 percent of Canadians believe most journalists want the Liberals to win the election, yet 73 percent of Canadians say the media has done an "excellent or good" job of covering the campaign.

The implication is obvious.
Journalists may be personally biased, but they're true professionals who never inject their own bias into their stories.
So there.

And just in case you missed the point, Thorne interviewed pollster Bruce Anderson to give the proper spin to the data.

"Sometimes, what people describe as their perceptions or their criticisms of news coverage is really a reflection of their own personal preferences," said Anderson.

Got it, yet? Journalists may be biased but their stories aren't . And people who see a bias in the news do so because they're biased themselves.

Decima Research says in its news release about the poll that "most (Canadians) don't perceive any institutional bias within leading media outlets" (basically the two national newspapers, the television networks, CBC radio and daily newspapers).

Interesting, except that it's wrong.

Their own poll shows, under the heading Impressions of Bias of Each English Media Source, that a small minority of Canadians (about six percent) sees no bias; they replied None to the question. However, a large plurality, often half of the sample or higher depending on the news source in question, answered "unsure". Unsure is not the same as "don't perceive any institutional bias."

The problem of answering the question may lie in the wording, which for a school that has Communication in its title, is excessively vague.

"Do you think the (media source in question) most often leans toward the Liberals, the Conservatives, the New Democrats, none of the parties or you don't know."

Well, how do you define "most often"? Fifty-one percent? Four stories out of seven? Do columns count? Editorials? No wonder most people said they didn't know.

And that's exactly what also happened with the poll's major question.

"If you had to guess, which party do you think most journalists covering this election want to see form the government after this election: the Liberals, Conservatives or the NDP?"

The unfortunate use of the word "guess" makes this question pretty suspect. Did they really mean "guess". If the respondent took them at their word, then the answers have as much validity as the answers off a ouija board.

Or was "guess" used colloquially to put the respondent at ease but really meaning "in your opinion"?

Whatever they meant, the answer they got was a tad different from the one reported in the CP story. Yes, 40 percent of respondents said they "guessed" that journalists wanted the Liberals to win. But 35 percent were unsure.

In other words, of the people paying attention and holding an opinion, slightly more than 60 percent believed journalists wanted the Liberals to win.

It gets even more confusing when you see how Decima split up the sources for the answer.

* They divided the respondents by politics: Left, Centre-Left, Centre, Centre-Right, and Right.
* They boiled down those responses into: Left, Centre, and Right.
* Then Decided and Undecided.
* Then by Liberal, Conservative, NDP, and Bloc voters.

Unfortunately we have no idea how they defined the political leanings, so we assume they simply asked how people designated themselves. Nor do we know how many voters fall into the decided and undecided categories. Or how many centre-left voters are voting Conservative and how many NDP. It's all pretty much a mishmash.

And what of the 73 percent who thought the election coverage was either good or excellent? Well, there's an order of magnitude difference between the two, isn't there?

Decima says BQ voters were most satisfied with the coverage (81 percent) , and Conservative supporters were least satisfied (70 percent).

Were these satisfaction values for "good" or "excellent" coverage?

Noticeably missing from Decima's news release was how Liberal voters felt about the coverage. Why? Surely knowing how Liberal voters feel about election coverage is more important than how BQ voters feel.

We suspect the 35 percent who said they were unsure of a political bias, plus the six percent or so who said they couldn't see any, voted "good." And the Liberal voters (both Left, Centre Left and Centre) who like the pro-Liberal reporting of their pro-Liberal journalists, voted "excellent."

So much for not finding any bias.

And, as if to underscore our suspicions, good ol' CP journalist Stephen Thorne added his two cents. Near the end of his story, he wrote:

"The numbers tended to reflect the left or right leanings of various media. Predominantly right-wing readers of the National Post and talk-radio listeners, for example, tended to feel overall media bias for the Liberals while CBC-TV and -Radio listeners tended to see less pro-Liberal bias."

Compare that with the same information in Decima's news release:

"The perception is strikingly divided along ideological lines: 58 percent of those on the right believe reporters want a Liberal government. This view is also more common among National Post readers and talk radio listeners."

The pollsters did not use the term "right-wing readers of the National Post and talk-radio listeners."
This was a concoction by Thorne, reflecting, we suspect, his personal opinion.
Why do we say that?
Well, we notice that somehow he fails to mention any "left wing watchers of CBC-TV" and "left-wing listeners" of CBC-Radio.

This sort of reporting was best dissected in the 1996 book Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News by Bernie Goldberg.

Left-wing reporters see themselves as centrists. To them the left is the Socialist Workers Party, not good liberals like themselves. So right-wing is used as a perjorative, rather than a descriptive term, and left-wing is never used.

The Winnipeg Free Press may have thought it could dismiss The Peter Kent Challenge by running Thorne's CP story. But they should have read Bernie Goldberg's book first.

Before leaving the topic of news media bias, what can you make of the strange divide in local news coverage of a new get-out-the-vote campaign announced Tuesday.

CBC News and the Free Press reported it as a straight ahead campaign to get more natives to vote. FP reporter Mia Rabson wrote that the Grand Chief of the Southern Chiefs Organization, Chris Henderson, said he was planning to spend $10,000 on billboards and news media ads to encourage aboriginals in Winnipeg's core area to cast ballots in the federal election.

Rabson said he wasn't endorsing any party. "He just wants people to vote, period," she wrote.

CBC's story was a carbon copy.

Henderson says the campaign doesn't endorse any candidate or party. Regardless of who wins the election, he says, he just wants to see more First Nations voters at the polls.

How then to reconcile the same story in the Winnipeg Sun. Their headline:

" Natives Exhorted to Vote
But not for Tories: Chiefs

Reporter Tamara King reported from a parallel universe, one where Henderson was launching native voter-missiles at Conservative candidates.

"The Southern Chiefs Organization kicked off the campaign yesterday by telling aboriginals to vote to prevent Stephen Harper from becoming the next prime minister." she wrote.

"Henderson said the difference between this year's campaign and the 2004 campaign when two prominent aboriginal groups publicly endorsed Paul Martin, is that the SCO is not telling natives who to vote for, only to avoid the Conservatives."

Did the Free Press and the CBC deliberately avoid mentioning the anti-Tory intent of Henderson's campaign?
Or did Tamara King get an exclusive interview where Henderson revealed his plans only to her?

Is this good reporting?
Or excellent?

Well, certainly not excellent. Not surprisingly, none of the reporters mentioned the the $5 billion the Liberals promised the Assembly of First Nations just days before the election or how this might influence the opinions of Chiefs who can't wait to get their hands on that booty.

Mia Rabson made sure to mention Henderson's remark that if Iraqi citizens can defy death and destruction to exercise their right to vote, then "there's no reason our people can't get out and vote".

She failed to ask the question, of what kind of "democracy" First Nations voters live under, knowing their leaders - who control the issuing of families tribal cheques and payments, and who decide on much of the hiring for scarce jobs on-reserve - have made clear that anyone who even suggests they may vote Conservative isn't following orders.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

CTV crime reporter uncovers entrepreneurs

Mayor Sam Katz owes a debt of gratitude to CTV Crimewatch reporter Kelly Dehn.

And, no, its not because of the three-time losers that Dehn profiles on his cheesy Winnipeg's Most Wanted bits.

The mayor owes Kelly Dehn for making it so easy to sell Winnipeg to potential investors and new businesses. No wonder Katz has no use for the Chamber of Commerce plan to hire a "chief marketing officer" for the city.

Last month, half the reporters in town showed up at a fire at Young's Trading Company on William Avenue. They covered the obvious angles: smoke blanketing downtown, a school evacuated, a cornerstone of the community lost.

But Dehn slipped away from the pack and did a little digging and came up with a juicy exclusive---there was more than cinders in Young's basement, there was cash, bags of it, two or three hundred pounds of long green to the tune of two or three million dollars.

Think about it. The owner of a grocery store in the Inner City has life savings of nearly three million dollars. That's after taxes and living expenses. How much is the markup on fireworks, after all? Store owners Moc and Phong Trinh should be giving pointers to The Bay. Forget Donald Trump; Red River students should be fighting to be their apprentice.

And the Chamber of Commerce says it needs help selling Winnipeg to investors. What's a better sales pitch than Young's Trading Company?

In Winnipeg, a businessman obviously can make a fortune, even in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the city. Sam Katz should be plastering the faces of the Trinhs on billboards all across the country with the message: They did it. You can too.

But the billboards may have to wait a bit longer. Kelly Dehn put another feather in his reporter's cap last week with another scoop on Young's Trading Co.---the RCMP have started an investigation into the source of all that money.

Of course it's only a matter of time before the Trinhs' lawyer sorts it all out and gets the family's life savings back in their basement where it belongs.

Still, the RCMP are paid to be suspicious. And never more so than now. Thanks to all this trumpeting about the NDP's new anti-gang strategy, the police have to be pro-active.

The city force spent the year rolling up dozens of marijuana grow operations and the RCMP swept up a few big ones of their own. Funny thing how so many of the people arrested had Oriental names, and despite the enormous worth of the pot seized by police, no pots of money were among the seizures. So it's natural that the RCMP would think of putting two and two together.

After all, they remember what happened in Montreal in 2001.

A massive police raid on the Hell's Angels turned up $5.5 million in private outlaw banks. The police said their planted microphones picked up the sound of money counting machines running all day and all night as couriers brought a steady stream of drug profits to apartments seeded throughout the city to be counted, and stashed away.

We've combed all the news stories, and there hasn't been a single mention of a counting machine recovered from the rubble of Young's. So it's only a matter of time before tax and sales records convince the police to release the cash to the Trinhs. And the selling of Winnipeg as a great place to do business can get started.

And all thanks to Kelly Dehn.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Holy Cow Blogman! How did The Black Rod become Exhibit 'D'??

While preparing the latest chapter of the Peter Kent Challenge for The Black Rod we were thrown a curve by the Winnipeg Free Press.

They discovered the blogosphere.

Will wonders never cease? we cried aloud.

But can a leopard change its spots?

The newspaper's exploration of the world of election blogging was as clueless (to be charitable) and unbalanced (to be realistic) as Peter Kent predicted when he challenged journalism schools to monitor election coverage.

Still, not even we could imagine today's topic: The Peter Kent Challenge---Exhibit D: The Black Rod.

What??? Waitaminit!!! Us????

Calm down, we told ourselves. There's a logical answer.

The Free Press made two journeys this week into the world of blogging.

"...the battle for the hearts, minds and support of a new generation of voters is increasingly being fought not on the doorstep but in cyberspace. Blogs are the fresh medium and they're proving to be a freewheeling, enteraining method of spreading the word," wrote columnist Lindor Reynolds on Sunday.

"Comedian Rick Mercer has one. Prime Minister Paul Martin's speechwriter has one. A Tory MP from Medicine Hat has a surprisingly good one. But few Manitoba candidates have tapped into the power of the blog", said reporter Mary Agnes Welch on Monday.

It was like watching your children put on pith helmets and walk through the jungles of Disney World. It was obvious that neither writer had ever read a blog. And both were working from the same clipping (probably the Dec. 7 story Election War Hits the Blogs, by CP reporter Michelle Macafee), because they both referenced blogs by speechwriter Scott Feschuk and Tory MP Monte Solberg.

What was missing was exactly what you expect in a daily newspaper--- the local angle.

Two reporters scour the Internet and the Free Press couldn't find a Manitoba blog to write about.

Oh, wait. Mary Agnes Welch made a mention of "the only decent local blog I could find" which turned out to belong to Mark Wasyliw, the NDP candidate in Winnipeg South Centre. As veterans of the blogosphere, we can truly say we've never heard of Wasyliw or his blog, which demonstrates his reach and impact in the local market of political opinion, perhaps because his "blog" consists of a series of news releases and party line speeches.

Welch did manage to work in Wasyliw's favorite bloggers-Paul Wells, the left-liberal who writes for Macleans magazine, Liberal party die-hard Warren Kinsella, and, who describe themselves as expressing the opinions of the left and centre-left community.

So, according to the Free Press, the only Manitoba blogs worth reading belong to an unknown leftwing NDP candidate and his leftwing inspirations. How surprising.

What's more surprising is how easy it is to find local blogs talking about the election.

Lindor Reynolds and Mary Agnes Welch had only to go to their backyard. The Black Rod is well read in the Free Press newsroom, as our feedback from their reporters and editors tells us.

We understand why neither reporter wanted to mention the Peter Kent Challenge and expose the anti-Conservative slant to their election coverage. But it's that blatant oversight that's made The Black Rod exhibit D in the ongoing Challenge coverage.

What's inexcusable is the paper's refusal to recognize the work of so many other local bloggers -- Dust My Broom, Hacks and Wonks, Anarchy Might Be Nice , even Endless Spin Cycle in Brandon.

The Black Rod (and many of the aforementioned locals) have been cited and linked by the nationally known blogs such as Small Dead Animals, Antonia Zerbesias, and Western Standard, and these and others such as Angry in the Great White North and CalgaryGrit have contributed to the national election coverage.

"Blogs sometimes uncover stories and issues before the mainstream media get around to them," wrote Lindor Reynolds.

You mean like the insider-leak scandal that's brewing around the federal Liberal Party and which is being ignored by the Free Press?

The FP has carried stories about voter apathy, about Kreskin the mentallist, about Lindor Reynolds' attempts to find a candidate to talk to, two stories about mailouts from MPs, but the scandal swirling around Finance Minister Ralph Goodale isn't important enough to be reported next to those gems.

Certainly not when the integrity of the Liberals is an election issue in a year that voters learned to say the words Liberal Party, kickbacks, payoffs, convicted and awaiting trial in the same sentence.

Before the election call, the Free Press carried a newswire story about Winnipeg MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis and her call for an RCMP inquiry into suspicious trading in the hours before Goodale made a major announcement affecting the value of income-trusts.

After the election call, the only mention of the alleged income-trust leaks was not in the election news pages, but in the business pages, on the back page. Apparently, the RCMP announcement that they would look into the matter to see if they should start a formal criminal investigation into Goodale's office wasn't election news in the eyes of FP editors.

But other news services haven't let the story die.

* CTV and the Financial Post found witnesses who told of getting advance notice of Goodale's decision. Then they reported the desparate arm-twisting of Liberal backroom boys to get the witnesses to change their stories.

* Bloggers posted graphs of abnormal trading spikes in the hours before the announcement. Here are the most suspicious income trust trades:

* Others ( discovered strange trading in Medisys, the stock of Paul Martin's personal physician.

* And still others ( ) uncovered the Liberal ties of the head of the Ontario Securities Commission, which has shown no interest in investigating the suspicious trading.

All this is being discussed widely on the blogosphere but not in the Free Press. And certainly not in the stories by Reynolds and Welch.

Whether the Free Press wants to admit it or not, blogs have already had an impact on the election. Ask yourselves- would there have even been an announcement about surgical wait-time benchmarks yesterday, if this blog hadn't caught Winnipeg's Dr. Brian Postl admitting that health ministers were going to break a Liberal election promise by not establishing benchmarks by years-end? Opposition critic Stephen Fletcher used our research to corner Ujjal Dosanjh in Question Period and get a commitment from him reversing Postl's position, sending him back to work with orders to get a deal done.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Free Press and CBC play name games

Say it ain't so. We refuse to believe that the Winnipeg Free Press has a double standard when it comes to naming names.

Despite the evidence.

Anyone who read deep enough in Friday's paper saw that Maple Leaf Distillers is suing reporters and editors at the Free Press. But who is being sued?

The newspaper won't say.

That's right, the paper that professes to be so dedicated to naming names refuses to name its own.

It doesn't take a mentallist to figure out who is being sued by Maple Leaf.

Dan Lett, who wrote the six-page opus about Maple Leaf, editor Bob Cox, city editor Steve Pona... shall we go on?

But the paper isn't always so reticent to identify people.

For example, the FP has gone to court to overturn a ban on publication of the names of eight police officers accused of beating three men.

The men -- let's name them: Marc Fillion, Larry Stringer, and Alex Chung - filed a LERA complaint which was being heard in court until the judge decided they needed the services of a real lawyer to help them with their case.

So obviously naming police officers is a public good, but naming reporters who are accused of defaming a company is a public bad.

The Free Press is joined by the CBC its it fight to wrest the names of the police from the hands of the courts. Of course the CBC has already sidestepped the ban by naming the police officers under the guise of reporting on---hold onto your hats--- a lawsuit filed by one of the trio. You see, information in lawsuits is public and not restricted by the law.

But the public broadcaster may have been too clever by half, because they stopped using the names after a couple of newscasts.

Maybe they got some legal advice from an unexpected source, someone close to CBC host Krista Erickson, someone like her boyfriend, Manitoba's senior Crown Attorney, Bob Morrison.

It should make for some interesting dinner table talk when Krista reports on the CBC in court arguing for the names of the police, and the Crown, maybe even Morrison himself, rising to oppose the motion.

To make it more interesting, they could turn dinner into a threesome with CBC reporter Marisa Dragani, whose Blind Eye -Team reports on the LERA hearing are always suitably dramatic. We note, however, that as she emotes about the (cue cliche) "brutal beating" administered by the police (allegedly, of course), she always fails to mention that the three were allegedly babysitting a marijuana grow operation when police showed up.

She always points out that her boys were never charged with anything after the (cue cliche) "brutal beating." And that always leaves us wondering who the grow op belonged to, and what relationship the trio had with that person, or persons.

But that's information we don't expect to hear on CBC or read in the Free Press. These news agencies have applied the all-important "victim" test and found the men worthy. That means nothing can be reported which reduces their new exalted status. Not even any questions about what Child and Family Services thinks about child care worker Larry Stringer sitting around puffing weed with his buddies in a grow op? Imagine what the CBC and Free Press would do if Stringer had been a police officer and was found hanging out at the place.

Fillion, Stringer and Chung were presenting their own case against the police and doing a wretched job by all accounts. The Free Press said the men were acting as their own lawyers because they were refused Legal Aid.

Oops. That never happened. It seems they never even applied for Legal Aid. But it's something that could have happened because, they're victims, you know.

Rather than dwell on its mistake, the Free Press is leading a campaign for public funding for everyone who complains about a police officer (CBC joined in with interviews with outraged defence attorneys). Can tens of thousands in "compensation" be far behind?

If they do the job right, Justice Minister Huff 'N Puff Gord Mackintosh could find himself spending more money on people with beefs against the police than on his announced plan for beefing up police in their fight against gangs and drug traffickers.

That's New Democonomics in action.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Does Grand Forks hole foretell Bombers bottomless pit?

We're betting your momma told you the simplest way to test something past its best-before date is---smell it.

Maybe that's why we decided to take a closer look at the latest story in the Free Press about a hotel and water park complex planned by Canad Inns for Grand Forks.

This deal has smelled bad for a long time. And when the Free Press said it smelled roses, we thought we needed to sniff around some more.

Good thing we did.

The story that ran Dec.2 in the Free Press was headlined "Ground broken in U.S. for Canad Inns complex." It was by Tu-Uyen Tran who's been following the project tenaciously for the Grand Forks Herald.

He wrote: "Grand Forks, N.D. --- Construction on a much-anticipated $30 million US Canad Inns hotel and waterpark in Grand Forks, N.D. has begun. Yesterday, excavators began digging a hole in the area immediately north of the city-owned Alerus Centre where the new complex is going to be built."

Now it just happens that Tran wrote about the excavators for the Grand Forks Herald, and that story, which also ran Dec. 2, had some fascinating details missing in his Winnipeg story.

"City residents Thursday saw the first physical sign of progress on Canad Inns' Grand Forks hotel and water park.
A milestone that went without fanfare, an excavator was digging a hole in the area immediately north of the city-owned Alerus Center where the $50 million complex is to be built.
For now, the work is limited to relocating water lines entering the center, according to the city inspections department. Canad has not yet picked up a permit that would allow construction of the foundation or the rest of the complex."

Soooo......its the City of Grand Forks that's started digging and not Canad Inns. This isn't the long-awaited, much postponed ground breaking. It's the city trying to create the impression that the hotel-slash-waterpark is not a mirage.

Which only makes sense. Nobody has as much political capital staked on Canad Inns as Mayor Mike Brown and his council.

"Every time you go on talk radio, it's always, 'How about the hotel?' It was always in the back of people's minds." he said.

When it was first proposed in 2002, the Canad Inns project was seen as a sign that Grand Forks was thriving. At 13 stories, it was to be the tallest structure in town next to the state Mill and Elevator. It was going to draw tourists like nothing before it, especially from the lucrative Winnipeg market.

Canad Inns originally wanted the city to build the 40,000 square foot waterpark. When it was put to a referendum, the people said "Nuts."

To keep the 193-room hotel alive, Canad offered to pay for the waterpark itself. But that threw the original budget of $16 million out the window. By the time city council approved the deal in spring 2004, the cost of the deal had risen to $35 million. It's since climbed to $50 million.

Grand Forks wants the project badly. They sweetened the pot with a 50-year lease on the land for $1 (U.S. of course). And some annual marketing money. And a five-year tax abatement. And a whole lot of patience,.

This year alone Canad said it would start construction in March, then October, then before the snow flew. In November, Canad Inn's project manager blamed the latest delay on a national shortage of steel and cement which was driving costs up.

People are getting frustrated. After an Oregon man won $340 million on a Powerball lottery, Grand Forks columnist Ryan Bakken put the Canad Inns entertainment centre on a list of things the winner could spend his money on:

2. A hotel, water park and movie theater to be attached to the Alerus Center, which has been held hostage three times longer than the detainees in Iran. The latest Canad Inns promise is to do ground work in October. With seven days left in the month, not a teaspoon of dirt has been turned.

No wonder the city wants it to appear as if the deal is on track at last.

But there's no doubt Canad Inns has been having financing problems, coincidentally right after their biggest booster - The Crocus Fund - went into the toilet. Grand Forks has transferred the lease on the land to a new limited partnership called Canad Inns Destination Center - Grand Forks L.P. If Canad can't finish the hotel, the consortium of banks will finish it for them.

Which is an interesting lesson for Winnipeg. Any day now the Blue Bombers will announce that they've completed their review of where to build a new stadium. They will say that the best site is still at the Red River Exhibition grounds where Canad Inns wants to build---you know it--- a hotel and waterpark in conjunction with a new stadium.

The lesson from Grand Forks is that if they want a high falutin' entertainment complex bad enough, they're going to wind up paying for it themselves, whether they want to or not.

That's something for Winnipeg City Council to ponder when the Blue Bombers come a'knocking.

And while we're on the topic of the smell test, it's time to face the truth and admit that the biggest movie ever filmed in Winnipeg, The Big White, is headed straight-to-video.

Filming ended a year and a half ago. Last year they said it would be released in December, 2005. Guess what. It's December, 2005. North American distributor Lion's Gate Films is sucking air after its latest big hope In The Mix, starring R&B star Usher, tanked. Who releases a winter movie in the summer?

And by next winter The Big White, starring some old guy with hairy arms, will be almost three years in the can. Something screenwriter and former Winnipeger Colin Friesen can't deny, even movies have best-before dates.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

It doesn't take Kreskin to figure out what's going on here

When Peter Kent challenged journalism schools to monitor news coverage of the federal election for an anti-Conservative slant, it didn't get much attention. Certainly not in Winnipeg, and this weekend is a prime example why.

The Winnipeg Sun continues to let the Toronto Sun do almost all of its election coverage. It also sees nothing wrong with putting a columnist's opinion pieces among its news stories. But what do you call it when a newspaper carries a gimmick item allowing two columnists to slag the Conservatives at the same time?

On Sunday, the newspaper carried a wire-story about the get-tough anti-crime plank in the Conservative Party campaign. That was overshadowed by the full page devoted to fringe parties, plus something headlined Blackberry Battle.

In the latter, Sun columnists Greg Weston, who has decided he doesn't like the Tory campaign, and Sheila Copps, the former Liberal cabinet minister, exchange attacks on Stephen Harper. This is roughly equivalent to having Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds write book reviews of ex-husband Eddie Fisher's biography, and expecting Fisher to be nominated for husband of the year.

The Winnipeg Free Press carried the same Canadian Press story under the headline "Harper targets Crime." The story opens with the words "Prime Minister Paul Martin took a break yesterday..."

Apparently, when the PM takes a break, so does the Free Press National Reporter Paul Samyn.

On the day the Conservatives outlined their platform on the hot-button issue of crime, did Samyn:

a. do a story about issues?
b. do a story about values?
c. do a story about policies?

'Fraid not. He did a story about Kreskin the mentalist.

When announcing the election, Paul Martin said: "I'm beginning to understand why we never hear Stephen Harper talking about the issues of our day. It's because he and his Conservatives are on the wrong side of every national issue."

Given that Samyn practically reprinted Martin's entire speech that day, he can't say he wasn't aware of this boast. So where was a story comparing Harper's stand on crime and the news release the Liberal Party issued as it official response?

"I'm going to be talking about our promise and how we can achieve it. And of course, in the course of that campaign, I am going to be pointing out the differences between Stephen Harper and myself, the differences between the other leaders and myself. And I will be pointing our where their values are, and where their values differ," said Martin in his campaign kick-off speech.

On Saturday, Harper took up his challenge: "I want to talk about the values of a peaceful , orderly and safe society, and a problem none of the other parties seem to care about---the problem of crime and the threat it poses to our families and our communities."

Paul Martin said he relished discussing values. So where was he? If Samyn had done some research, or even read The Black Rod he would know that the Liberals are always missing when crime is discussed.

It may be they don't want to discuss their policy flip-flops, their gun control debacle, their plans to own anti-drugs programs or lack thereof. You would think a national reporter would want to know. And maybe he did ask Kreskin.

Liberal leader Paul Martin was certainly noticeable by his absence from the CP story about the Stephen Harper's policy statement. And Paul Samyn was noticeable by his absence with anything resembling a legitimate election story.

The Free Press did carry a crime story of sorts on Sunday, though. "Layton stands behind former MP" was the headline. It seems NDP leader Jack Layton has no problem attacking the Liberals for a lack of ethics while defending confessed thief , former NDP MP, and current NDP candidate Svend Robinson.

"You know, Svend Robinson took responsibility for what happened, he paid his price in full," Layton said with a straight face.

Robinson stole a $60,000 ring and admitted it---after learning he'd been caught on videotape. He cried crocodile tears in court and said he'd been suffering for years from a "mental disorder", (which was miraculously cured the day after he found out he wasn't going to jail.)

What Layton didn't mention, and Canadian Press reporter Tim Cook obviously didn't know, is that this wasn't Robinson's only criminal conviction. He has a history of thumbing his nose at the law despite professing to be a lawyer.

Prior to being exposed as a thief, Robinson spent nine days at a minimum-security work camp after being convicted in 1994 of criminal contempt of court - for defying an injunction against interfering with logging on Clayoquot Sound.

In 1999, on Parliament Hill, Robinson showed his infamous tolerance when he tore a sign from a Catholic priest and tore it up. The sign carried written quotes from Catholic teaching on homosexuality. Perhaps Christian charity prevented his being charged this time.

And how does this fit into the Peter Kent Challenge? Well, CP reporter Michelle MacAfee, who wrote the story that appeared in both newspapers managed to find and interview Jack Layton about the Tory crime announcement. (He's against it, by the way.)

But CP reporter Tim Cook looked high and low, far and wide and couldn't find Stephen Harper, or a single Conservative MP (not even the one running against Svend Robinson), or even anyone from the Conservative Party campaign to comment on Layton's judgement and Svend Robinson's criminal past.

And we believe he searched everywhere.

Far and wide.

Really far.

Really wide.

And high.
Oh, and low, too.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Gang Invasion footprints lead to "the new inner city" - River Heights

Once upon a time, newspaper reporters considered themselves representatives of their readers when they attended public meetings.

Their stories were expected to put you in the front row. As you read, you could see, hear and smell everything that happened in the room without having been there. That style of reporting can still be found outside the big city, especially at election time. In Brandon, Portage, Dauphin, a story about an election meeting is meaty; in Winnipeg, it's thin gruel.

Nature hates a vacuum. And it won't be long before bloggers step up to fill the void. Citizen journalists will do the job that those currently paid fail to do. The Black Rod was recently introduced to this future by one citizen journalist who went to the nomination meeting in Winnipeg South where Rod Bruinooge and Sandy Mackenzie faced off over who would carry the Conservative Party banner against Liberal incumbent Reg Alcock.

And the story he tells should have the so-called professionals hanging their heads in shame.

He started off by telling The Black Rod he was not pleased with our stories about Hurricane Hugh McFadyen. Regular readers have followed our coverage of Hugh as he ran against Bruinooge for the Winnipeg South nomination and won, then abandoned Winnipeg South after six months to run for nomination in turncoat John Loewen's provincial riding of Fort Whyte against---Rod Bruinooge.

His fan club isn't happy with criticism of his political judgement or his propensity to quit a tough fight the moment an easier race opens up, regardless of how much damage he does to either campaign.

Our correspondent said the McFadyen fans were peeved at Bruinooge for standing in Hugh's way in both of the earlier nomination races, and for turning each contest into a closer finish than they liked. This time they were going for the knock-out, by supporting Sandy Mackenzie.

"It was payback time," he said. "The last thing we wanted was to see Bruinooge signs up along with McFadyen signs in Fort Whyte."

And Hugh was taking no chances. He even had his Fort Whyte campaign manager handling Mackenzie's campaign. With a strong organization and a meeting peppered with Hugh McFadyen supporters, they were ready to win regardless of Bruinooge's party endorsements.

Until they heard Sandy Mackenzie's speech.

He came out raging at Reg Alcock, his fighting spirit front and centre. But his performance can only be compared to Howard Dean's infamous scream speeech during the U.S. Democratic primaries. YEE-AHHH.

"He looked like Charlie Chaplin in "The Great Dictator. Hugh turned white, Bruinooge's mouth fell open in shock, and we all wanted to crawl out of there."

Even the McFadyen contingent voted for Bruinooge.

"In the end we, including Hugh, were relieved Bruinooge had won." he said.

But the battle caused unintended collateral damage. McFadyen supporters are now rethinking his leadership abilities as a result of it, and for someone The Winnipeg Free Press said was being touted as the front-runner for Stuart Murray's job as party leader, that ain't good.

And that ain't a story you're likely to read in the Free Press, because they've forgotten how to cover an election meeting.


Former Tory John Loewen, meanwhile, is trying to rewrite history as he runs for election in the federal riding of Winnipeg South. His campaign literature mentions his service in the Manitoba Legislature, but conveniently fails to say he was elected and sat as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party.

Loewen does have his own fans, though. Such as Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair Jr.

* Loewen uses a quote from one of Sinclair's columns as the only endorsement in his campaign brochure.
* It is prominently featured in a banner running across the top of both inside pages.
* The attribution to the newspaper without giving the date of the column, makes it look like Sinclair, on behalf of the Free Press, is backing Loewen against Conservative incumbent Stephen Fletcher.


The Winnipeg South riding was in the news this weekend when a gang pepper sprayed some students outside Tuxedo Shaftesbury School. One boy was pistol-whipped when he resisted gang members who wanted to steal his cap. The gang reportedly said they would come back on Monday.

The intruders, supposedly members of the Mad Cowz, obviously haven't been intimidated by Justice Minister Huff 'N Puff Gord Mackintosh's high profile gang strategy. But seeing students from a ritzy school taken to hospital by ambulance, even for observation, might intimidate the NDP.

As one NDP supporter said after the incident, its different when a gang goes into a school "full of spoiled rich white kids." In the core, kids have street sense. In Tuxedo, " if somebody walks in there from a gang, they're all going like lambs to the slaughter because they've never been confronted with that before. They wouldn't know what to do."

Here's a tip: Reporters who stake out Shaftesbury School hoping to catch the return of the Cowz would be better off at Kelvin High School. They might catch some Winnipeg police coming to investigate the word among Shaftesbury students that the gang was from Kelvin.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Exhibit C - a story about voters with no real voters

We were going to pass on The Peter Kent Challenge today.

The Winnipeg Sun managed to squeeze in a tiny story about the RCMP review of suspicions that someone in government circles leaked the finance minister's plans for income trusts to the benefit of Liberal-friendly investors. Although the newspaper apparently couldn't find the Manitoba MP who took a complaint to the RCMP, NDP finance critic Judy Wasylycia-Leis, and settled for a wire copy story that barely mentions her, instead of an old-fashioned interview with the local angle.

Still, it ran under the Canada Votes banner and was an attempt at balanced coverage, the first hint in the nascent campaign, dominated so-far by attacks on Stephen Harper, that the Liberals have their own scandals to answer.

And the paper did move the latest anti-Harper column by Greg Weston to the editorial pages instead of pretending, as they did Tuesday, that it was "news". So, overall, we were going to give them a bye.

The Free Press main election story, about a poll predicting Liberal gains in Quebec, was a hodge-podge and nothing significant. But, just as we were about to go and start working on our weekend stories, we came across Exhibit C: Leah Janzen.
Janzen was assigned to do another story about Stephen Harper's radical plan to allow democracy in Parliament, also known as holding a free vote on whether Canada's elected lawmakers want to adopt the traditional definition of marriage in law.

Was her story about how the proponents of same-sex marriage welcomed the idea because they are confident they will win and that will put the matter to rest once and for all?

Uh, no. Ostensibly it was about the impact on Manitoba voters of Stephen Harper's decision to reopen the same-sex marriage debate. Given the unexpected role that the "values" vote played in last November's presidential election in the United States, this might have been a good story.

Instead, it read like Janzen wrote it while sleepwalking. And just as dreams reflect a person's subconscious, so Leah Janzen's story reflects her opinion of Stephen Harper.

No "real" voters appear in the story. Instead there's
- a university professor,
- a spokesman for a gay lobby group, and
- a spokesman for the NDP.

University of Manitoba political studies professor Paul Thomas brought no special skills in assessing values on voters, no studies in the works, no published papers to refer to.

Instead, he's a well-known media whore who appears in everybody's stories because he's always available to talk to anyone about anything at a moments notice. He brought no expertise, only opinion.

And his opinion? "My first thought when I heard that was, that was a stupid thing to do...It's not helpful for a party to be seen as intolerant..." The Conservatives are taking a risk, he said, a risk of appearing "close-minded and resistant to change." He did bring his expertise in buzz-words.

The gay lobbyist, predictably, was against the Conservatives and the NDP spokesman, predictably, was against anything the gay lobby was against. Their joint opinion was that the values of Conservative Party supporters "are not in line with the majority of Canadians."

Janzen searched far and wide for the other side of the debate. She found a Conservative Party organizer in Manitoba and someone from something called the Institute of Canadian Values. (She got the name wrong. It's actually called the Institute for Canadian Values.)

The party organizer said that he's not unhappy Stephen Harper raised the issue at the start of the campaign. And Joseph Ben-Ami of the Institute for Canadian Values said: "It will become a hot-button issue in those areas where it was (in 2004)."

That was it for balance.
One side said Harper is stupid and has un-Canadian values.
And the other said something so bland you can't remember what they said.
At least that was it in Leah Janzen's mind.

There appears to be quite a different story that didn't make it into the newspaper.

To begin with, she never said what the Institute for Canadian Values was. A Google search shows this from their website (

The Institute for Canadian Values is a national think-tank dedicated to advancing knowledge of public policy issues from Judeo-Christian intellectual and moral perspectives as well as awareness of how such perspectives contribute to a modern, free, and democratic society.

And Joseph Ben-Ami is the former director of communications for B'nai Brith Canada who's not exactly a shrinking violet.

So, do you think that a strong spokesman for a think tank dedicated to studying the impact of Judeo-Christian values on public policy would have a strong opinion? Something beyond restating the obvious? The Black Rod thinks he would. But where is it? Why did Leah Janzen bowdlerize that opinion?

Because she could.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Free Press crime, Bruinooge primed, email time...

Newspapers usually love an exclusive, but the Winnipeg Free Press's new editor Bob Cox decided there was one scoop he didn't want to see in the paper.

So it's been kiboshed--- until today.

A man is in hospital following a vicious beating by a gang of intruders right in the cafeteria of the Free Press building on Mountain Avenue.

And the question circulating through the corporate offices yesterday was "how could this happen? Where was our night security when this was going on?"

The beating happened Sunday night/Monday morning. A Free Press mailroom employee was getting a ride to his early morning shift, and they pulled into the parking lot with another car in hot pursuit.
They dashed into the building to get away from the men chasing them. The employee knew the nooks and crannies of the building but his driver wasn't as lucky.
The gang of men that followed caught up to the driver and put the boots to him until they got tired of the sport and skidaddled the scene, leaving the cafeteria a blood-spattered crime scene.

Police were at the Free Press yesterday taking statements.


Liberal MP Reg Alcock woke up with a headache today, a headache named Rod Bruinooge.

Bruinooge will take his second shot at being a giant-killer after winning the Conservative Party's nomination to run in Alcock's riding of Winnipeg South. The last time he ran against Alcock in 2004, he took about 34 percent of the votes to Reg's 51 percent.

But the one thing that's giving Reg conniptions, is Bruinooge's attitude. Unlike most candidates running against cabinet ministers, Bruinooge is not intimidated. He's planning a fighting campaign, despite losing six months of preparation time when the Tories shunted him aside for a "star" candidate, Hugh McFadyen. That was when McFadyen thought he could waltz to a win, but after Liberal fortunes improved and it looked like a fight, Hurricane Hughie ran for the nearest exit, which happened to be John Loewen's "safe" provincial seat.

Bruinooge hasn't won many of the campaigns he's run within the Conservative Party, but you've got to give him full credit for having heart and never ducking a scrap. If he gives Alcock a run for his money, the biggest loser may be Hugh McFadyen, whose own run-for-the-hills attitude won't escape scrutiny.


Our recent review of the hypothesis of Hydro pricing didn't sit well with everyone we mentioned. Here is an email we received:

Re: A new brand for Ed Schreyer and one for Manitoba, Posted Saturday, November 19, 2005

Your post discussing the Frontier Centre’s work on energy policy was way off the grid. Such blatantly sloppy scribbling tarnishes your blog’s reputation for sharp, insightful and accurate writing.

The Frontier Centre does believe that means-tested, income-based subsidies are a better way to protect the poor from market fluctuations and price spikes than across-the-board subsidies. So does every free-market economist ever born.

Do we think we should subsidize the middle class, as the Black Rod says? Must have missed that thought when we wrote they should pay the full market rate for energy sources like electricity and natural gas.

Does that mean we want to “let the government change private behaviour for your own good”? If that means government gets out of setting prices of any kind, yes, we’re guilty.

What happened here? Perhaps the writer on shift you describe yourself as citizen journalists in Winnipeg who break stories ahead of mainstream media -- was playing hookey when the public school taught reading. In short, someone who can’t read and concludes from reading our energy materials that we want government to be larger or more powerful.

Peter Holle
Frontier Centre for Public Policy
All this goes to show that in the new paradigm, you can't easily tell who the socialists are without a program, as Ed Schreyer would be the first to admit.

The Peter Kent Challenge: Exhibit B

Winnipeg journalism students taking the Peter Kent Challenge had a wealth of material to work with on day two of the federal election campaign.

Newcomers to the Challenge can always catch up by reading The Black Rod's first day coverage to see how we assessed Kent's contention that mainstream broadcasters and daily newspapers slant their coverage to the detriment of the Conservatives in elections.

The Black Rod, helpful as ever, now adds to the Challenge with Exhibit B: The Winnipeg Sun.

The Sun carried three election stories Wednesday under the banner Canada Votes.
Three stories, three headlines.

One, over a story by Stephanie Rubec, the Toronto Sun's senior political reporter, reads "Martin's first punch".

A second, over a story by Kathleen Harris, of the Toronto Sun's Ottawa Bureau, reads "Race is 'wide open': Layton."

And the last, over a story datelined Ottawa by Toronto Sun columnist Greg Weston, reads "Into the Pothole" with the subhead "Harper fouls up on same sex."

For starters, do you think the buzz words in the headlines by Sun editors was intended to be subliminal? Or just coincidence?

The Liberals--- "...first punch." Rating: positive.
The NDP-- "...wide open..." Rating: neutral
The Conservatives-- "...Pothole..." and "...fouls up..." Rating: negative and double that.

And, apparently the Winnipeg Sun sees nothing wrong with the fact that the stories about the Liberals and the NDP are written by news reporters, but that the story about the Conservatives is by a columnist---who is allowed to advance his opinions rather than just report the facts.

We'd love to be in the journalism class where this is discussed.

Yes, we noticed Kathleen Harris managed to shoehorn a mention of Tory leader Stephen Harper into her story.
We also noticed that after she highlighted his reference to a free vote on the definition of marriage, she had a rebuttal from Tory turncoat Belinda Stronach.

Funny that Stephanie Rubec, in her story about Liberal leader Paul Martin, couldn't find a single Conservative MP to comment on his speech. Yeah, funny.

The Winnipeg Free Press didn't escape scrutiny on Day Two. How could it, after becoming Exhibit A on Day One. And wouldn't you know it, our old friend Ottawa reporter Paul Samyn is in fine form again.

Let's start with the headlines ( which are written by the newspaper's editors and not the reporter).

"Harper vows same-sex vote." Okay, that's accurate. But then there's the subhead "Conservatives would revive divisive issue."

Divisive, eh. Ooh. That's not good. Those damn divisive Conservatives.

The main body of the story continues with the same theme.

"Harper's revival of the contentious issue of gay marriage came as he tried to portray his party as a safe, mainstream option for voters..."

Samyn called it a "contentious" issue, which is certainly more neutral than "divisive". However the rest of the sentence is interesting. The subtext is that voters don't think the Conservatives are a "safe, mainstream option."

Can you imagine a story quoting Liberal leader Paul Martin "trying to portray his party as honest and trustworthy"?

Samyn could have couched his story in terms of a Conservative leader bringing true democracy to Parliament by asking for a demonstration of the will of legislators in a free vote denied by the Liberals. But that might sound too positive, so...

So let's turn to speculation. Obviously the Free Press has no qualms about reporting by ESP and "reporters intuition" when the facts are not enough.

- Samyn writes that Harper's mention of a free vote on marriage "appeared deliberate."
- Harper "didn't explain" how he would change the law if the vote passed.
- And "presumably" he would use the notwithstanding clause, a perfectly legal Parliamentary tool but one demonized by, guess who, the Liberals.

Oh, and for good measure, Harper "dodged questions", said Samyn.

Having used all the negative buzz words about the Conservatives at his disposal, Samyn turned to the Liberal campaign and, believe it or not, simply quoted large chunks of Paul Martin's speech.

Not a word of speculation about what Martin was thinking or whether he explained himself well enough.

The Conservatives get ESP, and the Liberals get their speeches reprinted verbatim.
* Paging Peter Kent. *

The Free Press also couldn't find room to report on the RCMP review of a complaint filed by Manitoba NDP MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis. On Monday she sent a letter asking them to investigate suspicious trading of income trusts and dividend paying stocks and whether there's a link to last week's announcement by the Liberals of plans to lower taxes on dividends.

Yesterday the RCMP began to review the trading information to determine whether to launch a criminal investigation. (For more on this under-reported spike in trading just before Finance Minister Ralph Goodale made his announcement see this at Small Dead Animals and this at Hacks and Wonks.)

But reporting on a possible RCMP investigation, could stir up a story that's mysteriously been allowed to die in the Free Press, and the Winnipeg Sun. too.

Amazingly, the Gomery Report has dropped off the radar in both papers.

Their reporters didn't mention it once.
Not in a single election story.

The scandal involving the theft of tens of millions of dollars by Liberal Party activists and the diversion of hundreds of millions to Liberal-friendly companies apparently didn't warrant a single line of copy - two days into the election campaign.

Finally, just for comparison, see the way the National Post reported on the same story as the Free Press and the Sun.

Headline: Harper would put gay unions to free vote

Lead: Stephen Harper outline his position on the volatile same-sex issue yesterday, promising that married gay couple would continue to be recognized if the next Parliament opts to repeal federal legislation that enshrines the controversial unions.

We think Peter Kent would approve.