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:

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Winnipeg Sun leaves out the best parts

The most important story of the week appeared deep within the Winnipeg Sun last Wednesday.

The editors apparently either didn't recognize how big the story was, or, more likely, were too busy filling the white space between the ads to care.

They buried it under an irrelevant headline, then, as The Black Rod discovered, cut out the best parts.

Right tools for the job?
by Stephanie Rubec
Senior Political Reporter
OTTAWA -- The military is set to scrap major equipment purchases announced by the Liberals that are considered by brass to be lemons or irrelevant.
The Canadian Forces, with the blessing of the Conservative government, is also reviewing its hardware shopping list in an effort to find extra funds to pay for expensive Tory priorities.

A top officer involved in the large-scale review of equipment said Prime Minister Stephen Harper's military spending priorities, especially icebreakers for Canada's North, are proving to be significantly more costly than the Conservatives expected.
During the election campaign, Harper promised Canadian shipyards would build military icebrakers.

The officer said brass see the change in government as the perfect oportunity to put an end to questionable Liberal-championed projects in favour of hardware the military needs.
"There's a lot of positive energy from the Conservatives," the officer said.
"The Conservatives are making a whole bunch of right decisions."

Meanwhile, Canada's top general is denying media reports that the new Conservative government asked to approve his speeches.
And Prime Minister Stephen Harper also says there's no move to censor Gen. Rick Hillier, chief of the defence staff.

Wow, we said. The Canadian military says the Liberals were foisting equipment "considered lemons or irrelevant" on them. They want to scrap "questionable" Liberal projects and replace them with equipment the military "needs." Why wasn't this on Page One?

Or was it?

Maybe it had been covered properly in other cities, we thought. We went looking. And we discovered, instead, a textbook case of story spinning.

It seems, as far as we could find, that this story was printed in four newspapers--The Winnipeg Sun, the Ottawa Sun, the Toronto Sun and the Edmonton Sun. And it was rewritten depending on where it appeared.

To begin with, the headlines were better in Edmonton and Ottawa.

Tories and military are in tune (Edmonton Sun)
Liberal promises put on ice (Ottawa Sun)
Forces may ice ships (Toronto Sun)

The leads varied from paper to paper:

OTTAWA -- The military is set to scrap major equipment purchases announced by the former Liberal government. (Ottawa Sun)
OTTAWA -- The Canadian Forces is reviewing its shopping list to find extra funds to pay for expensive Tory priorities. (Toronto Sun)
OTTAWA -- The military is set to scrap major equipment purchases announced by the Liberals that are considered by brass to be lemons or irrelevant. (Edmonton Sun, Winnipeg Sun)

Ottawa doesn't find it interesting that the Liberal equipment purchases were considered lemons by the military.
Toronto wants to blame the Conservatives for forcing the military to scrap Liberal purchases to pay for expensive Conservative projects.

The rest of the story is the same until this paragraph:

During the election campaign, Harper promised Canadian shipyards would build military icebreakers.

The Ottawa and Toronto Suns included this explanation:

But the senior officer said Canadian shipyards lack the experience to build them, while the ice's thickness requires mammoth ships with a hefty price tag. (Toronto Sun)

But the senior officer said not only do Canadian shipyards not have the experience needed to build them, but also the ice's thickness will require mammoth ships with a hefty price tag. (Ottawa Sun)

More editing:

The officer said brass see the change in government as a chance to sink questionable Liberal-championed projects. (Ottawa Sun)
The officer said brass see the change in government as the perfect opportunity to put an end to questionable Liberal-championed projects in favour of hardware the military needs. (Edmonton Sun, Winnipeg Sun)

Only the Edmonton Sun carried the second half of the story, which was chopped from the Winnipeg version, and which provides important information needed to fully understand the story.

The first Liberal-fuelled promise on the chopping block for some senior officers is the $1-billion purchase of announced in 2003, the officer said, pointing out that the Americans have found instability and durability problems.

Another piece of hardware in question is the multi-mission effects vehicle, a piece of equipment to be attached to Canada's light armoured vehicles that can blow up a tank from about seven kilometres away.

A Defence Department official said the military's wish-list mirrors most Conservative priorities, with the replacement of Canada's oldest Hercules transport aircraft at the front.
The senior official said the military is studying buying six mammoth Boeing C-17 planes, with an eye to using the youngest Canadian Hercs for another five years before replacing them.

That would scrap the Liberal promise to spend $5 billion on the newest generation of Hercules planes. The military wants to cut some pet Liberal projects.

What projects?

Only the Edmonton Sun gives the answer.

* 66 U.S.-made eight-wheel mobile gun systems
* the multi-mission effects vehicle
* Hercules C-130J aircraft

The "mobile gun systems" would be the combat vehicle called the Stryker by the U.S. military. The Liberals planned to spend $500 million on 66 of them with first delivery this year. It's no coincidence that the Stryker armoured vehicles are built in London, Ontario at the General Dynamics Canada factory.

The eight-wheeled armoured vehicles are to replace the army's fleet of Leopard tanks. When announced, Lt. Gen. Rick Hillier spoke highly of the switch.

"... mounted with a "mobile direct fire system" (they) will prove to be "overwhelmingly successful," he said.
"Can it reach out and kill something when it needs to? " Hillier said at a news conference in Ottawa. "It can do that."

But military watchdogs have dogged the Stryker from Day One, saying it is "plagued with problems and fraught with dangers for crewmen." Strykers have been used extensively in Iraq, although they were outfitted with an extra layer of armor and a steel cage intended to offer more protection against insurgents armed with RPG's, which added another 5,000 pounds to their overall weight, making them less nimble.

Nevertheless, they've won over some critics for their surprising durability.

One Stryker was hit by a 500-pound roadside bomb in 2004. The Stryker flipped over one and a half times and skidded 30 feet, but none of the four soldiers inside was hurt. When flipped rightside up, it was able to move under its own power.

The multi-mission effects vehicle:
This was a new "fire support" vehicle designed to complement the Mobile Gun System (above). The MMEV is a missile launcher placed on a wheeled chassis instead of a track and which combines anti-tank and air-defence capabilities on one platform.

Not coincidentally, Oerlikon Contraves Canada of Montreal was to get the contract.

Perhaps military historian David Bercuson was channelling military planners when he wrote in the Legion Magazine (November/December 2004):

"The army is currently planning to spend some $600 million on converting its now virtually useless tracked Air Defence Anti-Tank System into a wheeled Multi-Mission Effects Vehicle (MMEV) to supplement the Mobile Gun System it is soon to acquire to support infantry on the battlefield.

Maybe it shouldn't.

There is a disturbing trend in Canadian defence spending: life extension programs and conversion projects have recently wasted billions of vital defence dollars... This hybrid might turn out to be a useful piece of kit, but the recent history of CF conversion projects warrants an outside, objective look, perhaps by the Auditor General, before the project proceeds any further."

And finally, the replacement of Canada's fleet of Hercules transport aircraft.

Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor has said it is his first priority. The Canadian Forces fleet of 31 Hercules C-130 aircraft has reached the end of the line. Within three years they will be so old as to be inoperable. The C-130 aircraft are used for everything from tactical transport to aerial refueling to search and rescue.

Replacing the fleet will cost $4-$5 billion. The Liberal government was planning on buying 15 smaller transport airplanes, most likely from Lockheed Martin which is marketing the C-130J version of the Hercules.

But Lockheed now says they won't have the planes available until 2010 and O'Connor won't wait. He's planning on buying at least three Boeing C-17 Globemaster aircraft immediately. The planes go for $200 million U.S. apiece.

The U.S. already has an order in for seven C-17s and is willing to give Canada "cuts" in line so we can have some of their aircraft and they'll wait until later for delivery of the rest.

And we're not finished yet.

Don't forget that Stephanie Rubec's story (in the Winnipeg Sun, at least) took a strange twist at the end.

She quoted Gen. Rick Hillier--- not about the military's equipment purchases, which was the subject of her story--- but about his relationship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

There was a reason.

You see, the "media reports" that the Conservative government (read Stephen Harper) was censoring Hillier's speeches were very familiar to Rubec.

She wrote them.

Maybe she was too modest to identify herself as the author , but let us give credit where credit is due.

PM Slaps Muzzle on brass
by Stephanie Rubec
April 15th

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has forbidden Canada's top military brass from speaking publicly for fear of detracting attention from his government's top priorities.

A top military officer said the Prime Minister's Office recently told Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier his speaking engagements had to be approved and his speeches would be vetted by Harper's staff.

Hillier was told to advise his top generals, admirals and commodores that the order applies to them.

A source close to Hillier said the general hauled in military brass to a closed-door meeting and verbally relayed the instructions.


The senior military officer who attended the meeting said Hillier told brass they were to clear all media interview requests with the PMO. So far all requests for interviews have been turned down by the PM's staff.

"They don't want anything to detract from their five messages or lead to debate or discussion," said the source, who asked for anonymity to avoid repercussions himself.

Lower-ranking soldiers can still answer questions on their responsibilities and the programs they work in without having to seek PMO approval, the senior official said.

You see, Rubec gets to work both sides of the street. Not only is she the "senior political reporter" for Sun Media, but she's a war correspondent too.

Oh, not the war in Afghanistan. The war on Stephen Harper.

As the Black Rod reported, the Parliamentary Press Gallery has declared war on the Prime Minister to teach him who really runs things on Parliament Hill.

Note how well sourced Rubec's story is.

A senior military officer. Unidentified.
A "source" close to Hillier. Anonymous.

Kind of like Dan Rather and his unimpeachable source for the forged George Bush documents during the last U.S. Presidential campaign, isn't it?

Only now, the Canadian media will be using unnamed "sources" to smear Stephen Harper leading up to the next federal election.

Or more instances of
skewed photo images that are all just a coincidence.

And the retractions will be buried in two paragraphs in an unrelated story that's carried in only four newspapers in the country.

That's how journalism is practiced in Canada today. But don't bother complaining to the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

Stephanie Rubec is the president.

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