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

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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: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Thursday, December 01, 2005

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.

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