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.

Name:
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

Saturday, February 25, 2006

The Plot Thickens: Cindy Klassen joins Stephen Harper in the Winner's Circle and Sam Katz plans a parade

Once upon a time:...

...a new government squeaked into office. They immediately proved to be a bunch of hypocrites and so the people rose up against them. The defeated party has only to pick a new leader and they will be easily re-elected and order will be restored to the kingdom.

This isn't a plot for This is Wonderland, the recently cancelled CBC comedy. And it's not the next reality TV show.

It is, however, the latest drama being written by hundreds of authors across the country. Day after day we read in the newspapers and watch on TV how the Conservative leader Stephen Harper is under fire after the defection of Vancouver Liberal David Emerson. The shamed Liberals, we are told, are chomping at the bit to pick a new leader and regain the reins of power from the faltering Conservatives.

There's only one problem with this scenario--- it's a fantasy.

Says who? Says the Canadian public.

What's being reported is literally a scenario, a plotline created and followed meticulously by the country's mainstream media journalists.

National Post columnist Adam Radwanski says they can't help themselves. In a piece earlier this month (Biased---in favour of a good story Feb 3), he wrote how journalists have a bias, alright; a bias for "an easy narrative." It's a pack mentality, he says, that agrees on a storyline and then slants every news element to fit.

During the election campaign it was Liberal Stumblebums. After the election, it's obviously Conservatives Hypocrites.

But there's a counter-narrative out there. One that's supported by evidence that's deliberately not being reported. If the press is just out for a good story, you have to wonder why this story of 'change embraced' is being ignored. It couldn't be that fabled liberal media bias, could it?

The Conservative Party won election Jan. 23. Saturday, we learned courtesy of an Ipsos-Reid/Canwest Global poll that approval rating of the Conservatives has reached 59 percent.

Polling Data
Thinking about the recently elected Conservative government under the leadership of Stephen Harper, from what you have seen, read or heard , would you say that you strongly approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove of their performance so far?

Feb.18 Feb. 9
Strongly approve 14% 18%
Somewhat approve 45% 36%
Somewhat disapprove 17% 18%
Strongly disapprove 15% 14%
Don't know / Refused 10% 14%

Thinking again about federal politics, please tell me if you agree or disagree with each of the following statement: I believe that the Harper Conservatives will govern in a more ethical way than the Martin Liberals?
Agree 58%
Disagree 37%
Don't know / Refused 5%

And yet earlier this week we were told in the Winnipeg Sun:

Liberals more popular: poll
Lead governing Conservative
Ottawa-The honeymoon with Stephen Harper's Conservatives was over before it began, an SES poll provided to Sun Media suggests.

The poll puts the Liberals at 34 percent of popular support compared to 33 percent for the Conservatives. On election day the Liberals had 30 percent of the vote and the Conservatives 36 percent.

The rookie PM came under fire from within his own caucus when he decided to give turncoat Liberal David Emerson a seat at the cabinet table, passing over dozens of his own longtime loyal MPs.

(SES pollster Nik) Namos said many Canadians looking for an agent of change saw a leader who, in his first hours in power, mirrored the old-style polltics of his predecessors.

Well, that was certainly an interesting story. It was something new, which is, of course, the essence of news. And it's true to the dominant narrative.

If you read carefully, though, you might notice the poll was taken Feb. 4-9, and Emerson didn't reveal his party switch until Feb. 6. So the true impact of his defection may be more in the pollster's opinion than in the poll.

That appears to be truer today when you realize that the Ipsos/Canwest polling was done the same days as the SES poll. It shows the impact of the Emerson defection to be a drop of four percent in those strongly approving the Conservatives, and an increase of nine percent in those somewhat approving.

And especially considering the other polls that came out this week.Oh, we mean the polls the Winnipeg Sun didn't report on. The ones that contradicted the SES poll.

Thursday, an Ipsos Reid said the Conservatives have actually gained popularity since the election and would likely win a majority if an election was held now. Conservative support is at 39 percent with the Liberals dipping to 27 percent.

Oh, look. Two polls showing the exact opposite. That's known as conflict which, in other times, would make it 'news'.

Especially since the Ipsos Reid poll is consistent with the other polls released this month:
Strategic Counsel Feb. 19 Conservatives 39 Liberals 28
Decima Feb. 13 Conservatives 35 Liberals 25

And consistent with another Ispos Reid poll taken specifically to measure the impact of the Emerson defection. This poll showed that 59 percent of respondents believed the matter did not reflect on Harper's character or how he will run the country.

And what's even more significant is that these polls were taken a week to ten days after the SES poll.

By all accounts, then, it appears that the true narrative is that the public has accepted the election results and is willing to let the Conservatives govern.

They disapprove of Emerson's jumping parties, but voters, unlike journalists, haven't tarred Stephen Harper as a hypocrite. In fact, support for the Conservatives is growing, especially in Quebec where they might be displacing the Liberals. And its this power shift that may be fuelling the sideshow protests over the Emerson defection so lovingly covered by the mainstream media.

In the very early days of the election campaign, Stephen Harper commented on the bias of the media as he saw it. He said then that the press was on the lookout for the slightest disagreements within the Conservative party which they could seize on to spin the story of dissention.

A Conservative criticizing a Conservative was the plum for reporters, he said. How right he was. Conservative MP Garth Turner is lionized for criticizing Harper and Emerson. Compare that to how the press has treated Douglas Richardson.

What's that?
What do you mean ?
Who's Douglas Richardson?

Oh, yeah. We forgot. The MSM has done its best to ignore Douglas Richardson.

Richardson wrote a letter to the Globe and Mail. It was published a week ago Friday. Here it is in full:

Liberal praises two new Tory ministers

As a past chief of staff to the leader of the Opposition, former chief of staff to a Liberal finance minister, a vice-chair of Paul Martin's leadership campaign at present campaign co-chair in Saskaatchewan, I am proud of my Liberal background, but clearly I have a bias on theis post-election period.

I am, however, somewhat dismayed at the series of attacks on two new Cabinet ministers: Gordon O'Connor and David Emerson.

Having worked with Mr. O'Connor, I am of the view that he is an honet individual who is most determined to continue the solid work that Bill Graham started. Given Mr. O'Connor's impressive credentials, it is my feeling that, whether Liberals or not, we should be giving this new minister a chance.

With regard to Mr. Emerson, many Liberals are disappointed to lose this capable person. We Liberals have to get over that feeling and allow him to do his job. His constituents may have differing views and all of us understand that they too may be disappointed. But in the past we Liberals have come to understand the value of key members crossing the floor. Occasionally, turnabout is fair play.

As a Westerner, I am aware that Mr. Emerson has made a major commitment to support Western farmers and producers, and all are hopeful that in his new role he will be able to meet those commitements.

Douglas B. Richardson, Saskatoon.

Where were the headlines?
* Prominent Liberal defends Emerson.
* Saskatchewan vice-chairman of Liberal campaign tells his party: Back off.
* Western Liberal puts faith in Emerson, trashes his own party.

That's not news? Instead the media pack creates a story to fit the narrative they want to tell."Emerson silent on killing softwood deal" reads the headline in the National Post, on a story repeated in every newspaper in the country.

The story implies there had been a deal with the U.S. over softwood lumber until Emerson told the Liberal cabinet that the B.C. lumber industry would suffer if it was signed.

The story is attributed to "industry and former government officials". i.e. Liberals. As in Liberals who want to get back at Emerson, and who want to smear him preemptively in case a deal is signed and the Conservatives get the credit for ending the longstanding dispute.

Why wasn't the headline Liberals Scuttled Softwood Lumber Deal?

Radwanski says there's really no political bias in the mainstream media. It's just a pack mentality. And it can turn on a dime to another narrative.

In the meantime, we suppose, we have to accept it because:

They are professionals.
They have editors.
Some even are editors.
And remember, they don't write in their pyjamas.

************
What did she say?

Journalism is more of an art than a science, and one of the most important skills is quoting people accurately. The trick is learning to listen closely and write it down immediately. But even then the odd word slips in or out even as the gist of the quote is true.

Both the Winnipeg Free Press and the Winnipeg Sun had the same quote from Cindy Klassen in Thursday's papers. The same, but different.

Randy Turner, Winnipeg Free Press
"I thought it kind of looked ridiculous, with the long blades and wearing a tight speed suit. I knew my friends would kind of poke fun at me because of that."

Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun
"I didn't even want to do it. Because I kind of thought it looked ridiculous, with the long blades and wearing a tight skin suit. I knew my friends would kind of poke fun at me."

This calls for a tie-breaker.

The same quote from CTV's late news
"I didn't want to do it because I thought it looked funny, with long blades and tight skin suit".

Skins win.

By week's end, the public discourse had turned to how the city of Winnipeg should celebrate the success of it's newest favorite daughter.

Friday's Free Press devoted the whole front page to the topic and the rest of MSM breathlessly followed suit. Rany Turner reported how Mayor Katz answered his phone call Thursday night and said "We want to do something big; maybe a parade, maybe a reception at Portage and Main." The rest of Friday saw the other media outlets follow the Free Press's seeming scoop.

Er, notsofast.

If people think the public picked up on the parade idea from the paper, think again. They had already been talking about it -- for 2 days.

What the Free Press didn't report, and the other outlets missed, was that this idea was suggested in a radio interview Wednesday, not by Mayor Katz, but by his interviewer, Citi-FM drive-home jock Cosmo.

"We have to do something and we have to do something significant," Katz said. "A luncheon is a luncheon, this has to be bigger than a luncheon". He then asked Cosmo and CITI FM sports director Scott Taylor if they'd " like to lead the parade".

* Stop the presses *

As in, dismissed former feature sports columnist Scott Taylor? No wonder it slipped the paper's attention.

After all, Taylor is persona non grata (what about when Marty York reported they interviewed Scott for the publisher's job?- ed.), and Cosmo's drive show is only the most listened-to in the city.

That's a secret rival station CJOB tries to keep, er, secret, to preserve the illusion that the days of afternoon dominance with sardonic DJ Allen Willoughby, baritone newsreader Jim Coghill and '25-after-the-hour' sports recaps by Friar Nicholson have never waned.

Here's hoping the Mayor will keep to his offer to have Cosmo and Taylor lead the
Olympian parade with Cindy Klassen, and force the rest of the media to give credit where it is due.

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