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:

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.