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, January 14, 2006

Exhibit F: Brandon reporter-turned-blogger makes the Peter Kent Challenge

The Liberal Party's Harper hate-ads are already having an effect on the election.

Today, with slightly more than a week still to go in the campaign, the Globe and Mail endorsed the Conservatives.

Even they couldn't stomach the Paul Martin gang's tactics any longer. The Liberal die-hards are now left to fight an increasingly desperate rear-guard battle.

At week's end we had ethics professor Arthur Schafer telling entertainer/interviewer Charles Adler that attack ads which hint that Stephen Harper is a stooge for George Bush are legitimate, and Winnipeg Free Press 'Voice of the West' columnist Bill Neville lamenting the fact Stephen Harper isn't more obviously "centrist" (read: liberal, like me) then whispering in conclusion 'he's scary.'

With the daily discussions of the Liberal attack ads blurring the lines between bias in reporting and reporting on bias, The Black Rod was getting ready to shelve our Peter Kent Challenge, in which we accepted his call to monitor the news media for an alleged bias against the Conservative Party. But as we did our daily scan of election stories on the Net, we found one more piece which can't go unmentioned.

Saturday, Jan. 14: The Peter Kent Challenge Exhibit F: Curtis Brown, political reporter for the Brandon Sun.

Brown not only writes for the Brandon Sun, he also writes a blog.

In his latest posting, he boasts he's not going to do a story about an attempt by some Brandon Liberals to mislead the public because-wait for it---the story was first exposed by supporters of the Conservative Party.

He admits the facts of the story are true. The former Liberal Agriculture Minister, Bob Speller, is running for election in Ontario (Haldimand-Norfolk). He has a website. On his website he posted an endorsement headlined:

Western Farmers Want Bob Back

The so-called "western farmers" who signed the endorsement are:
Murray Downing, a Liberal candidate in Brandon-Souris,
Andrew Dennis, the Vice President of the Brandon-Souris Liberal Riding Association and
Daryl Knight, Murray Downing's campaign manager.

Bloggers, including some from Manitoba, spotted the deception and reported on it. Curtis Brown notes the blogs where the fake endorsement is reported, then adds with a flourish:

Where you won't read it: The local news section of the Brandon Sun.

"Big freakin' deal," he says. Nobody cares. It's not news. It's not relevant to the real lives of people.

With every justification he digs his journalistic grave a little deeper. Brown exposed his true reason for ignoring the story in the very beginning of his post when he denigrates the sites that carried the story:

* Strong World, "whose author obviously supports Speller's rival, Diane Finley, and wants to embarrass the former ag minister as he tries to reclaim his old southwestern Ontario seat"
* Bourque Newswatch, "who has made it an unfortunate habit of publishing every little tidbit of made-up dirt spewed from the blogosphere in this election."
Hacks and Wonks which has "a great big C on his banner"
* Drew's News whose author, according to Curtis Brown, shills for the Republican Party.

That should be a clue. Brown, the "objective journalist", can't resist a crack about the Republican Party, which, in liberal circles, is code for everything evil the right-wing (read Stephen Harper) stands for. And, of course, Bourque publishes "made-up dirt" about Liberals. To quote Brown, more about that later.

If there is a poster boy for the MSM (mainstream media), it's Curtis Brown.

He says flatly that it's not news until he says it is. He, the professional journalist, is the gatekeeper. He will decide. It doesn't matter if other people think it's news, only Curtis Brown has that right - and he bears the burden heavily.That makes it even more disturbing to realize how poor Brown's news judgement is.

This election is not about the price of gas, or Brown's paycheque, or surgery wait lists.

It's about integrity.

It's about electing the people who will make the decisions about all those things.

It's about secret slush funds which could have gone to reducing wait lists being used to channel hundreds of millions of dollars to Liberal party supporters, who then kicked back some of it to the the Party.

It's about keeping taxes high and Curtis Brown's paycheque low, to bribe the NDP to support the coverup of the Adscam Scandal a little bit longer.

It's about raising gas prices through new Kyoto taxes to give to Liberal-friendly associations to endorse the Liberals.

And, yes, it's about a former Liberal Minister of Agriculture trying to pull a fast one over on voters with the help of Brandon Liberals.

What does it tell about the integrity of the Liberal candidate and his campaign manager who went along with this scheme? Shouldn't the public be allowed to ask that question?

The Brandon "farmers" scam is a local hook to a national story -- what every reporter wants, especially every political reporter during an election campaign.

A government beset by proven corruption, allegations of bribery offers, RCMP investigations into leaks to benefit Liberal friendly corporations, and the Brandon Sun finds a local angle about Liberal Party workers pretending to be ordinary voters to deceive real voters, and the paper decides it will ignore the story because it will likely help the Conservatives. Some might call this media bias.

But not Curtis Brown.
He doesn't believe in media bias.
It doesn't exist.
He's told us so in his blog.

when I was in journalism school

Hahahahahahahahaha. Sorry, that one always cracks us up when people say it with a straight face. Let's start again.

when I was in journalism school, no one showed up and suggested I buy a membership of any party or support any particular political movement. In fact, we were told (and have been told since) to stay utterly non-partisan. So why is it that right-wing people are convinced young journalists are brainwashed into being biased against them? Why do they always accuse reporters of being liberals or socialists? It's because by their own twisted logic, anyone who doesn't parrot the gospel according to them is an enemy.

Journalists are taught to question authority and give voice to the voiceless from from the moment they enter J-Schools. Traditionally, conservatives have authority and have a voice. So when the mainstream media does its job, they get their noses out of joint and start complaining about biased reporters.

(Okay, a slight interjection here. The Liberals have held office for 12 years. The NDP in Manitoba for the past six. Liberal stand-in Glen Murray was mayor of Winnipeg for six years. And the MSM reporters have to challenge conservatives because conservatives have the authority. Uhhh. Right.)

That's when they start going on about how they need their own voice to combat the dark forces of the CBC, Toronto Star and Globe and Mail by starting newspapers and TV stations that perfectly reflect their points of view.

Enter the Sun media chain, the National Post, Fox News, the Western Standard and other right-wing voices to cheerlead for Conservatives and their allies.

See? Journalism school graduates are non-partisan, unlike right-wing reporters for the National Post, Fox News and the Sun media chain, who are cheerleaders for conservatives.

Or, more simply,

conservative = cheerleader / non-conservative = non-partisan.

Brown believes that all complaints about media bias are really examples of media bias by the complainers. The news media is unbiased. Complainers see a bias because they can't accept the "truth" (or reported "truth", since reporters like Brown often choose which truth they don't want reported).

Last August, to prove his point, he crowed about a study by two economists - Stefano Della Vigna of the University of California-Berkeley and Ethan Kaplan of the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University which purported to show that the introduction of the "right-wing" Fox news had no measurable effect on influencing voters during the 2000 U.S. presidential election. To Brown, this proved that what people saw in the news simply reflected their own opinions.

Of course we're all awaiting the follow-up study about the influence of Fox News on the 2004 U.S. presidential election. That's the one where Fox was the only network to report on the Swift Boat veterans, the issue that proved the turning point in John Kerry's fortunes.

In Canada, the turning point for the Liberals may turn out to be Income Trust Scandal. You know, Curtis, the one that the mainstream reporters like yourself ignored, but which bloggers didn't, turning up more and more information about suspicious trades until the RCMP were forced to act.Brown doesn't hold bloggers in high opinion. The Brandon "faux farmers" deception is not news because

"outside the bubble of the blogosphere, where politically-active people with overbites and Vitamin E deficiencies from a lack of sunlight get worked up about this sort of thing, no one cares."

It's exactly this fallacy that's making the MSM more and more irrelevant.

The fact that the Brandon Sun doesn't carry the Brandon "faux farmers" story doesn't make it less of a story. It is already being read on the blogosphere from coast to coast.
Local reporters can't scotch a scandal anymore.

Once discovered, they're posted on the Web, like on, which acts like an internet news agency that can be accessed without an intermediary such as, say a newspaper.

Ministers are scrutinized within hours as word of gaffes gets around. The Prime Minister is punished, not only for his own faults, but for the statements of Anne McClellan, who tried to claim he didn't approve the military attack ad, for the farcical attempt of Tony Valeri to run from reporters who wanted to ask him about the Income Trust leaks, to an alleged bribery offer by a Liberal candidate in B.C. That's the power of the web, and it's why people are turning away from newspapers and television news to the blogosphere for their election coverage. And why the MSM is now reduced to chasing stories instead of breaking them.

People know if they click onto Bourque Newswatch, or blogs like
SDA or Dust My Broom, they will get today's election news.

If they read the Brandon Sun, or the Winnipeg Free Press, or watch the newly revamped CBC televison News at 6, they'll get a slice of today and a lot of yesterday, or the day before.

Some established journalists have recognized the sea change, even if Curtis Brown hasn't.

Here's what Peter Newman wrote in the Globe and Mail this week.

There is a consensual apathy adrift in the land that threatens not only the political parties and their hapless leaders, but the viability of the democratic system itself -- and that's the parlous attitude this country desperately needs to reverse.

Partial and largely makeshift salvation has emerged from an unexpected source: The Internet has been transformed into a giant blogosphere. Whatever else they represent, bloggers have emerged as an influential, if still primitive, force that has burst the political process wide open. Their messages relay this urgent war cry: "Here is what I believe -- judge for yourself."

They are changing the nature of political discourse, partly because most of the recognized pundits who blog save their best material for their informal jottings, since it's them speaking out, not their publications. It's all part of the scary fact that access to computer screens has become almost universal and almost indiscriminate: Warren Kinsella can have an effect on as many Canadians as The New York Times.

You can bet you'll be reading more about the impact of blogs following the election.

Where you won't read about it: the Brandon Sun.

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