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, June 25, 2006

What Krista is doing on her summer vacation

Ongratulationscay, Krista.

Okay, our Gaelic is a little rusty, but the news won't wait.

When CBC television host Krista Erickson told viewers on Friday she was going on summer vacation - oops, "annual Summer leave", she forgot to add she had something more than barbecues and beaches on her to-do list.

Like getting hitched.

A little birdie tells us that Krista's plans include jetting off to Scotland to tie the knot with swain Bob Morrison.

Krista was still a bouncy baby reporter when she met veteran Crown attorney Morrison in Brandon at the the 2003 murder trial of two men who shot RCMP officer Dennis Strongquill.

She was just at the start of her meteoric rise from researcher to host when the still-married Morrison caught her eye and fell under her spell.

Fittingly enough for Winnipeg T.V. royalty, the nuptials will be at swanky Skibo Castle, where Madonna wed her beau, Guy Ritchie.

We can hardly wait to see the pictures of long and lean Bob in his wedding kilt.

Built as a retirement home for steel magnate Andrew Carnegie and his wife, this century old estate about 200 miles north of Glasgow sits on a former Viking settlement. The Ericksons of old, do ya think?

A BBC reporter covering Madonna's wedding called Skibo "the ultimate fairytale castle".

Skibo Castle is the home of The Carnegie Club, a 6-year-old social club whose members enjoy access to some of the world's most luxurious resorts for an annual fee of about $5,000 (U.S. of course).

A bagpiper rouses the guests every morning at 8. And they still follow the tradition started by the Carnegie's that guests dine together each evening, be they kings or commoners, to encourage a spirit of community.

Sadly, once again it appears our invitation was lost in the mail.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Rather leaves, Cox says sorry, Taz fogs and more

He was the man who launched a thousand blogs.

Nay. Ten thousand.

Dan Rather got the formal boot out the door at CBS yesterday. Nothing personal. Best of luck on your future endeavours. Now, scram.

Since his foiled attempt to cause the defeat of George W. Bush in the presidential election of 2004 by using forged documents in a smear story, Rather has been persona non grata where he was once worshipped as a superstar.

We wondered how the mainstream media would treat the scandal, that will forever be known as Rathergate, in their career post mortems. Gingerly, it turned out --- except for one news outlet.

Washington Post/Reuters
...And it was Rather's small but visible role in the reporting of the now-discredited story on President Bush's National Guard service that put a cloud over the latter stages of his career.

It was also his large role in attacking the critics of the story who were proved right.

New York Times
Representatives for Mr. Rather and CBS had been talking since at least 2003 about when he might end his time in the anchor chair with Mr. Rather preferring to set a date of March 9, 2006, which would have been his 25th anniversary in the job. But his hand was effectively forced in the fall of 2004 when the network backed away from a report Mr. Rather had done for "60 Minutes II" that sought to raise new questions about President Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service. Network officials said then that they could not authenticate documents that underpinned the report.

Nevermind that real reporters would authenticate documents before going to air with a story based on them.

Los Angeles Times
According to network sources, the decision to end CBS' relationship with Rather was not directly tied to the furor that erupted in fall 2004, when he reported a story that questioned President Bush's service in the Texas Air Guard.

Rather eventually apologized for the reporting flaws in the piece, which an independent panel determined as based on unsubstantiated documents. He stepped down from the anchor desk in March 2005. While network executives believe the news division has largely recovered from the controversy, the incident shadowed Rather's reputation after 44 years at the network.

Don't mention that he has repudiated his apology since.

Washington Post/Tom Shales (emphasis ours)
As most of those who follow such events know, Rather was removed as anchor of the "CBS Evening News" a year short of his 25th anniversary after the airing of an apparently flawed "60 Minutes II" report on George W. Bush's alleged special treatment while in the Texas National Guard. Rather was the correspondent on that report. One producer lost her job, others are suing

Apparently? The report was based wholly on forged documents.

Last year, he stepped down as anchor of the network's evening newscast after controversy erupted over a 60 Minutes report that raised questions about President George W. Bush's military service record.

After the report was broadcast, CBS acknowledged that it could not verify all of the information presented on the program."...could not verify all of the information..."

How about 'used false documents which were detected within hours by people not employed by CBC.'

Associated Press
NEW YORK -- Dan Rather, the hard-charging anchor who dominated CBS News for more than two decades but whose final months were clouded by a discredited story on the U.S. president's military service, is leaving CBS after 44 years, the network announced Tuesday...
Rather apparently hadn't even seen the report questioning Bush's Vietnam-era National Guard service before introducing it on the air in September 2004. When CBS News couldn't substantiate the story following questions about its sources, Rather became a symbol of the incident even as he escaped official blame.

Rather had no trouble defending the story in subsequent stories and attacking anyone who challenged the documents as authentic.

AP/David Bauder
Yet CBS was last in the ratings and without a transition plan even before the ill-fated September 2004 story about President Bush's military service. Rather narrated the report, in the midst of the presidential campaign, which CBS later concluded after much criticism it could not substantiate.

It could not "substantiate the report" because the report was entirely based on phony documents.

Rather, 74, presented the main evening news broadcast for 24 years before stepping down in March last year.
His retirement was marred by criticism of a report questioning President Bush's military service, based on evidence that turned out to be forged.
Correspondents said the incident gave ammunition to his conservative critics, who had long accused him of a liberal bias.

Wow. An accurate account.However, nobody, it seems, wanted to credit bloggers for exposing the forged documents and ending Rather's career.



Closer to home, the Winnipeg Free Press corrected a mistake in time-honoured fashion: make the correction so obscure nobody can figure out what you're talking about.

Wed Jun 21 2006
Our Mistake
The Canadian Ukrainian community is requesting $12.5 million in compensation for their internment during the First World War. Due to an editing error, an information box accompanying a story on the request yesterday provided incorrect information.

The mistake, it turns out, was not in the amount of compensation the Ukrainians want, but in when the internment took place. The newspaper on Tuesday said World War Two. The error was noted in the staff blog by Editor Bob Cox who explained that the reporter, Paul Samyn, had the correct war, but that an editor changed his copy. (MSM reporters are superior to bloggers because they have editors). Cox promised a correction in the next day's paper, but failed to mention it would not make sense unless you were among the tiny number of people who read his "blog" to get the true picture of what went wrong.

The continual practice of using notes on the internet to explain errors, instead of notifying readers of the newspaper in print, has to be addressed by Publisher Andy Ritchie. Unless, of course, he condones and encourages the deceptive practice.


What a difference a year makes. It's the first full day of summer and the City of Winnipeg has announced that fogging for mosquitoes will start Friday.

Last year at this time Mosquito Fighter Taz Stuart was ignoring pleas to fog while he promoted his chemical-free methods for mosquito control. By the time the province overruled him in mid-July and ordered citywide fogging as a health measure, the number of mosquitoes in the nightly traps was in the thousands, an unprecedented number Stuart had been hiding from the public.

More than a dozen people came down with the most severe form of West Nile Virus, and health officials have still never said how many were infected in Winnipeg.

They're taking no chances this year (what? election year?) and fogging will begin asap. But one thing to remember is that the timing is not unusual. Given the sky-high mosquito numbers, fogging should have begun last year at this time, too.

And that means that Winnipeg is simply wasting money on Taz's hippy-dippy non-chemical fish-and-dragonfly mosquito fighting measures.

Last year he had the excuse that it was too wet for his methods to work. Conditions this year have been ideal. Yet, lo and behold, the mosquito numbers are high in exactly the same week this year as last.


The debate over Manitoba's new brand continues to rage.

Okay, just kidding.

You can hardly call it a debate when its Laurie Mustard on one side and everyone else who can read and write on the other.

You might be interested in how "Spirited Energy" is playing outside the borders of Manitoba, though.

Strategic Name Development is, what else, a Minneapolis company specializing in naming businesses, products and brands. They have a company blog, and they recently wrote about the branding of Manitoba.
Check it out at:

Company president William Lozito was interviewed on CJOB by Richard Coutier and you can hear that interview at:


In yesterday's story about a new $4 million student centre being built by the University of Manitoba for aboriginal students, reporter Leah Janzen wrote "an elder-in-residence will be on hand to offer advice, traditional teachings and spiritual support."

Janzen didn't ask how the university justifies spending tax money on one religion to the exclusion of the rest. We wonder whether the University plans a student centre for Christian students with a minister/priest-in-residence to offer traditonal teachings and spiritual support. Or will that just draw the unwanted attention of the Free Press Christian-baiting columnist Frances Russell?


The debate in the letters page of the Winnipeg Free Press over CUPE Ontario's decision to join a campaign of "boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel" is nothing compared to the debate in the political Left over what to do with defenders of Israel.

Commenters on the far left, labour sponsored internet forum have singled out NDP MP's Pat Martin and Judy Wasylecia-Leis for special scorn for their public support of Israel.

In a letter to the National Post published June 5, 2006, Pat Martin wrote:...

As a trade unionist and an NDP MP, I do not want to be associated in any way with the Ontario CUPE resolution on Israel, nor do I want anyone to think that the labour movement, the NDP, or the left generally, is anti-Israel. Pat Martin, MP, Winnipeg Centre

Yet that's exactly what anyone would think reading the thread "The NDP and Israel" on where the discussion got even nastier as it shifted to whether the Winnpeg NDP MP's were pandering to Jewish voters in their ridings.

Now that Premier Gary Doer has been named as pro-Israel, the NDP might be in the market for a new slogan to replace Solidarity Forever.

Where's Ash Modha when you need him?

Monday, June 19, 2006

We're Spirited with Energy to spare, we just don't get it

Spirited Energy is a versatile descriptive term.

Michigan State University expects its cheerleaders to have spirited energy during games, along with skills like the standing tuck, tumbling pass, the high torch and the arabesque.

Fans say a song by Hugh Masakela and Mbongeni Ngema has spirited energy.

Actors say playright Harold Pinter has a high-octane, spirited energy that guides them to their best performances.

Knoxville, Tennessee (pop. 173,890) boasts on its website that it "combines the spirited energy of a big, bustling city with the charm and hospitality of a much smaller town."

As a branding slogan, though, "Spirited Energy" is a dud. It's not exciting, informative or inspiring. It's hard to say. And without context, it's actually puzzling, and not in a good way.

To have achieved its purpose, a significant proportion of Manitoban's had to respond to it with "Hey, that's not bad." Instead, the vast majority went "Is that it? You're kidding."

Ash Modha, a member of the Premier's Economic Advisory Council which was behind the branding project, explained to the Winnipeg Sun how this particular branding theme originated.

"Modha said energy and spirit were themes repeated over and over by 59 community leaders, 1000 web surveys and several focus groups consulted during the design stage."


But then the hired brain trust went to work and transmuted the ideas into something unrecognizable, producing a slogan that fails to connect with most Manitobans, the very people its intended to impress. When the most popular first reaction is it's a new energy drink, you've got a problem.

Worse, it was a year in the making, and the end product still had no Wow factor.

Well, we stand corrected.

We actually did go Wow when we thought we saw Carolyn Kepcher, Donald Trump's sidekick on The Apprentice in the video. "What's she doing here," we chimed.
But then someone said it wasn't her, just a lookalike.
Crushed, again.

Ah, yes. The video. A crucial part of the campaign to sell the brand, primarily to Manitobans, and a prime example of what happens when you pass an idea through the PC Filter. (That's PC as in politically correct, not Progressive Conservative.)

There are no men in Manitoba, or damn few if the video is any guide.
We wondered why a Maritime fiddler was prominent in the ad campaign, until we realized it was supposed to be a Metis fiddler.
Of course, we said, Metis fiddling tells everyone that Manitoba is on the cutting edge of music---TWO HUNDRED YEARS AGO.

A man wafts "sacred smoke" over himself, but there's not a church or synagogue in Spirited Energy Manitoba.
Nor are there any immigrants who built this province.
No Scots.
No Icelanders.
No Ukrainians.
No Mennonites.
And maybe there shouldn't be, but if you're using one ethnic group to promote the province to outsiders, you better be sure everyone accepts them as truly representative and not just politically correct enough to satisfy the NDP.

There is a -- hey -- is that Ash Modha, a member of the committee that spearheaded the new brand?
And isn't that Bob Silver, co-chair of the same committee?
And what? Gail Asper? Twice? Is that because she's got twice the spirit or twice the energy?

Or she needs twice the exposure to run for Mayor? Oops, did we say that out loud?

Nice to see how the people behind the project worked themselves into the project. That, at least, is the Manitoba we've grown to know and love.Where, exactly, was the buffalo supposed to be in this exercise before it got yanked? And are those the Portage Avenue Christmas decorations in the logo? Christmas lights but no winter in this parallel universe.

The powers-that-be know they've got a turkey in their hands. When they start telling you the slogan will "grow on you" with time, you know the project is D.O.A.
Pass the paddles.

So, what happened? Well, the local business community hasn't shown the best judgement when it comes to promotions. In the Eighties, the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce ran a contest for a new slogan to sell Winnipeg.
The prize---a thousand dollars in gold.
The winner---Love Me,Love My Winnipeg.
Ouch. It still hurts.

But, believe it or not, they had the right idea. They just did it wrong.

What event has created more excitement---or more energy, if you want---than anything in recent memory? Canadian Idol auditions, that's what.
Line-ups blocks long of singers who think they have the right stuff to win. The show promoters having to winnow out a handful of contestants from thousands who auditioned. That's exciting.

What's happened since Spirited Energy was announced as the brand of Manitoba?

A plethora of home-grown slogans on radio, in the newspapers, and in every conversation in the province. The province should have held an open contest for the best theme to sell Manitoba to the people who live here and to potential immigrants, investors and tourists. Let the public vote for their picks through the news media. Narrow it down to the top three and open the phone lines.

Annouce the winner, live.

Instead, we're going to watch the province spend a million dollars to, as the saying goes, put lipstick on a pig.

And you can't blame Olywest.

On another topic, The Winnipeg Free Press was so intoxicated by its entry into the blogosphere this week that it lost all restraint.

On Monday June 13th the newspaper decided to put its best local stories on the Internet instead of in the print edition. So only a small minority of subscribers got to read how Portage Place was sold for one dollar, and how a report to government recommends it change the rules to let the NDP run deficits again.

Editor (and newbie blogger ) Bob Cox addressed the feedback to the decision on his personal blog. He acknowledged that subscribers to the newspaper were upset and he did what newspaper brass always do. He blamed someone else.

In this case, it was a night editor's fault to put good news stories in Cyberspace and keep non-news features in the paper, he said.

But what was more interesting, was that his apology to readers appeared only on his blog and not in the newspaper.

It seems the policy of the paper is going to be to hide corrections and apologies from readers as much as possible by putting them on staff blogs, where as few people as possible will read them.

One mistake the Free Press did acknowledge was how their coverage ruined the 50th anniversary of A&W restaurants in Winnipeg by misidentifying the location of the first A&W. Their story said it was opposite Polo Park. Uh, uh. Not even close.

The correction the next day had the site of the original A&W at 3095 Portage Avenue. Oh, and the photo that went with the Free Press story may or may not have been of the original restaurant. The paper, of course, blamed A&W for the mix-up.

Bob Cox's fellow staff blogger, reporter Dan Lett, acknowledged in his inaugural posting his ignorance at what blogs are and how they work. Well, here's his trial by fire.

It appears that Joyce Milgaard has some interesting things to say about Lett and a story he wrote about her son David's case in 1990. Part of her testimony at the Saskatchewan inquiry into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard was reported in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix last Tuesday.

In July 1990, Winnipeg Free Press reporter Dan Lett wrote that (Crown attorney Bob) Caldwell apparently withheld witness Ron Wilson's first statement, in which Wilson said Milgaard was never out of his company long enough to have committed the rape and murder.

The article quoted David Asper, one of David Milgaard's former lawyers. as saying it would be serious misconduct for the Crown not to disclose that information to the defence.

The day the article ran, Joyce Milgaard called Lett, expressing concern that his article was wrong. Milgaard recorded the conversation, as was her habit.
"I almost freaked," Milgaard said to Lett, of her reaction to the error.

The tape reveals that Milgaard remembered the subject of Wilson's first statement being raised at her son's preliminary hearing and trial. She backed up her concern by reading parts of the transcripts to Lett.

Lett discounted Milgaard's concern, saying Wilson's lawyer had told him that if Tallis had had the exculpatory first statement, he would have used it to undermine Wilson's statements against David.

Joyce Milgaard then took her concern to her lawyer, Asper, who also thought it was unlikely Tallis had had the exculpatory statement.

The transcripts contained clear references to the first statement, Knox showed.

"Immediately following this story you engaged in what would be kindly described as a very unfortunate chain of misinformation to the media," Knox said.

Despite her knowledge of the facts, Milgaard notified two reporters about the information in Lett's story without telling them she had reason to believe it was incorrect, Knox showed.

Here's what a real blogger would do:
He would write about his recollection of Joyce Milgaard's call.
He would tell us why he got the facts wrong in his story.
And why the newspaper never corrected the story once he was told it was likely wrong.

And he would discuss the pitfalls of writing about wrongful dismissal cases. He has a lot of experience with that topic since he's now a part of the David Milgaard story and he was sued in March, 2005, by Manitoba Crown attorney Dale Schille for writing what Schille said in his statement of claim were "scandalous and untrue" allegations about him in a story about the murder conviction of James Driskell.

In that incident, the Winnipeg Free Press published an apology the very next day.

But, back then, they couldn't hide it in a barely read blog.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Winnipeg Bandidos: Book 'em, Danno. Murder One.

Two months after The Black Rod first revealed a connection between Winnipeg Bandidos and the murder of 8 gang members in Ontario, police have swooped in to make arrests.

The local Bandidos were on a run to Toronto the week before the slayings. Police still want to question one member who returned to Winnipeg before the massacre.

Three Winnipeg Bandidos including former East St. Paul cop Michael Sandham are charged with first degree murder, while two persons (believed to be wives or girlfriends) are charged with being accessories after the fact. Sandham has long been rumoured to be the leader of the Manitoba chapter.

The names of the accused are not as well known as rival Hell's Angels who have often been in the press but are not unknown to the local scene. Dwight Mushey, 36, and Marcelo Aravena, 30, are both well known in the Winnipeg martial arts communities, which may be a clue why the police called the investigation Project Octagon.

The tall and dapper Mushey was a Kang's Taekwondo Academy Black Belt and returned to Winnipeg in 2004 to manage a nightclub after living in Toronto.

The husky Aravena has competed as both a boxer and Muay Thai MMA fighter with mixed results. His boxing record is 7-32-1. Three of his wins have been against Pine Falls own Richie Goosehead and two victories were over fellow Winnipegger Colin Courchesne.

Mushey is one of 17 people who was charged in Operation Diversion in September 2004, the RCMP/DEA sweep of suspects in an international ephedrine smuggling ring. Ephedrine is used in the production of crystal meth.

Aravena is also no stranger to judges -- boxing judges. The judges for his last in-ring conquest were local lawyer Robert Tapper, Crown attorney Rich Saull, and former boxer and mayoral candidate Danny Vandal.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Toronto Star prods military brass on Niaz treatment

Score one for the Blogosphere (we hope.)

It's still too early to say for sure, but we're hoping we can soon report some good news as a result of a story on The Black Rod two weeks ago.

On May 24, five Canadian soldiers and an Afghan interpreter were wounded when a rocket-propelled grenade went through their G-wagon during a battle in Panjwai province in Afghanistan.

Canada was relieved to learn the injuries to the Canucks were not severe, and most of the men returned to action the next day. But the interpreter was forgotten by the press.

We went searching for him and eventually we identified him and learned where he was. Muhammed Niaz was his name and he was in the main hospital at the coalition airbase outside Kandahar. He had lost both legs in the RPG attack. And he felt Canada had deserted him.

We told his story. We then sent The Black Rod to Rosie DiManno, of the Toronto Star, and Christie Blatchford, of the Globe and Mail, both of whom had been embedded with Canadian troops in Afghanistan and who we thought might have known Niaz.

DiManno remembered him at once. And she leapt into action. She bombarded military officials in Ottawa with one question: what are you doing to help this man? She got no answer, so she took the fight to her own turf, her newspaper column.

Canada owes maimed Afghan
Jun. 12, 2006. 05:38 AM


"He is, for all intents and purposes, one of us - part of our presence there and this country's responsibility.
Canadian and Dutch medical personnel have been treating Mohammed Niaz at KAF, making him as comfortable as possible. But there's been no explanation for why this young man - so hideously wounded in the service of Canadian troops - has not been transferred to the sophisticated military hospital in Germany where coalition casualties are routinely evacuated,"
she wrote.

And she continued to make calls, until she reached Lt.-Col. Ian Hope, commander of Task Force Orion, the battle group component of Task Force Afghanistan.

"Thank God there are more sensible - and morally upright - can-do Canadian military commanders on the ground, who aren't twisted in a bumbledom pretzel over their obligations toward Afghans.
"We do have a responsibility and we will assist in whatever way we can,'' Lt.-Col. Ian Hope told the Star in an telephone interview from KAF the other night. "It's extremely unfortunate that a non-combatant was injured in such a way. But Niaz remains an employee of the PRT.''

Good work Rosie.

We'll keep tabs on Muhammed Niaz and the DND and we hope we can report some positive development soon.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Sluggin' Sammy vs. Canstar

Maybe it's all that roadwork, but Mayor Sam Katz is in fighting form and he's ready to go a round or two with the Press.

Last winter, when the Winnipeg Free Press tried to land a couple of cheap shots with their smear stories on the mayor(exposed and dissected in The Black Rod here and here), he just leaned against the ropes and played the rope-a-dope. Ask a Free Press city hall reporter about those stories today and he'll feign ignorance and plead "I don't know nothin'." It's Katz-- win by newspaper disqualification.

But the trained and trim Mayor isn't putting up with such nonsense any more. When the Canstar weeklies, the Free Press sister publications, went to print this week with a blatantly false story, Katz came out swinging.

"(The) Mayor's Office staff will be asking Canstar for a retraction in the form of an accurate story of similar placement and length, explaining and correcting the error in detail," said the post on his website

A story by Canstar reporter Bernice Pontanilla proclaimed in her best 'Gotcha' fashion:

City planners have been working under the assumption that the controversial Olywest hog plant could eventually become twice the size now being proposed, documents obtained by Canstar.

The documents also reveal that senior staff were committed to seeing the project go ahead as far back as oct. 12, 2005.

"The planning, property and development department commits to assign senior staff to the Olywest file to ensure that your project is expedited to a successful completion" wrote the department's director Barry Finnegan on oct. 12. The information was kept secret from opponents of the project until after a recent city council vote.

The damning document was turned up by a freedom of information request, she wrote. It was handed over the day after a city council vote to reconsider and scrap the deal. All very suspicious, no?

Good scoop. Hell, a career-making scoop.

If it was true.

Which it wasn't.

And Canstar knew it when they printed the story.

How can we be sure? Well, a Canstar reporter (Pontanilla?) told the Mayor as much.

And it wasn't just that "Barry" Finnegen is actually Harry Finnegan.

"On Wednesday, June 7th, a Canstar reporter called the Mayor's Office to note that the newspaper was going to print with 'a factual error,' and then asked for comment on the erroneous story despite the fact that it had already gone to print. While Canstar inquiries to members of Council confirmed the error, the organization still chose to go to print with the story as written."says the Mayor's statement.

"What Canstar fails to mention is the documents in question were never "kept secret", and were in fact available to the public over 6 months ago at the EPC meeting held on November 16th, 2005 and publicly available on the City's DMIS website at since that time."

"According to Jim Paterson, the City's manager of Economic Development, the promise to 'expedite' applications in the Finnigan letter is entirely consistent with language routinely used with other potential investors in the City from a variety of industries. Patterson notes that stating a commitment to quality service is entirely consistent with Council direction to work professionally with potential investors, in the spirit of recommendations from the Red Tape Commission, Permits Express, and Getting Down to Business. Unfortunately, Canstar reporters never asked government officials to comment on the "secret" letter until after their story went to print."

Reporter Bernice Pontanilla has made no secret of how she sees the debate over the Olywest plant. In a commentary ("Hog debate stinks up city hall") published June 1st she wrote how upset she was at "a process at city hall that stinks to high heaven."

"one of the most outrageous and insolate (?????) displays of mean-spirited manipulation was carried out before and during the May 24 city council meeting."

"The incident further strengthens the residents' opinions that dirty politics is taking place at city hall, and it's hard for me to disagree."

Can you blame her for seeing what she expected to see when shown the city document? It looked all there. A backroom deal. Kept secret from opponents until it was too late. Juicy.

Today Pontanill and her Canstar employer sport big black eyes for their slipshod reporting. Katz, the winner and still champion, with a record of 2-0 over his Press challengers.

They say misery loves company, and Canstar is not the only Winnipeg news outlet that has to carry its head in shame.

CBC thought they had a hot scoop, too, last Thursday. The entire day they trumpeted an "exclusive". It was on every radio newscast, the CBC home page on the internet, and on the supper hour television news with Krista Erickson.

Family accuses hospital of racist treatment
Last Updated Jun 8 2006 08:28 AM CDT
CBC News
A family from northern Manitoba is demanding an apology from the Health Sciences Centre, saying the hospital staff treated them in a racist way

'Racism is an issue everywhere'
Dr. Catherine Cook, head of aboriginal health services at the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, won't deny the family may have come up against racist attitudes. "Systemic racism is an issue everywhere," she said. "It's an issue in the education system. It's an issue in the justice system. It's an issue everywhere, including in the health-care system." However, health officials aren't ready to issue an apology, saying the family has not complained of racism to them.

The CBC says it welcomes reader feedback. But we surmise an official looking letter from a law firm isn't what they meant. Because the very next day, the radio news lead off with an apology to the Health Science Centre. And the story on the CBC home page got a makeover. Every reference to racism got snipped out toute suite.

Family accuses hospital of mistreatment
Last Updated Jun 8 2006 05:48 PM CDT CBC News
A family from northern Manitoba is demanding an apology from the Health Sciences Centre, saying hospital staff mistreated them.

The family wants an apology for how they were treated after the operation. The hospital doesn't agree the family was mistreated.

Mainstream reporters do not write their stories in their pyjamas. They have editors. They have deadlines. They have professional standards, they tell us.

We may be getting a new provincial logo from the team brought put in charge of branding Manitoba. But will it explain why Winnipeg is mad for the Phantom of the Paradise?

If you're kicking yourself for having missed the second (and last) Phantompalooza last month, we've got just the thing for you.


Three audience-captured videos from Phantompalooza II have been posted on Youtube at:

You can see Jessica Harper (aka Phoenix) bring down the house with a live performance of Old Souls. Plus watch Paul Williams (aka Swan) and part of the panel discussion with The Phantom, Beef, Phoenix and the Juicy Fruits. And its all free.

And don't miss the story on Phantompalooza in the next Maclean's.

In sadder entertainment news, you can put your cowboy hats back in the closet.

Brad Pitt's movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford won't be in theatres in September after all. We're all waiting to see the flick because it was partially shot here in Winnipeg, but apparently it was a case of too much Brad this fall, and his cowboy movie got squeezed out of the line-up.

The Assassination of Jesse James was originally scheduled to open Sept. 15, three weeks before the opening of Babel, also starring Brad Pitt. And shooting for Ocean's 13 starts in the fall, cutting into the time Brad Pitt would have to promote both movies.

Then Babel got its world premier at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival. The audience broke into applause, and cheered, and cried at the ending.

Movie critic Emanuel Levy, who wrote the book All About Oscar: The History and Politics of the Academy Awards, summed up the reaction:

With the right handling and savvy marketing, Paramount Vantage/Paramount Classics has a major winner that should reap awards at year's end, including Oscar nominations for Best Picture, Director, Original Screenplay, Supporting Actors (Brad Pitt and Mexican Adriana Barraza), and technical categories for a supremely mounted movie, lensed by Rodrigo Prieto, designed by Brigitte Broch, and scored by Oscar-winner Gustavo Santaolalla ("Brokeback Mountain").
Since nobody's talking about an Academy Award for a movie about Jesse James, it was a no-brainer. Clear the decks.

The release of The Assassination of Jesse James has been delayed until next year. The $30 million movie may be entered at the Berlin Internatiional Film Festival (Feb. 8-18, 2007). The offical website, though, says the release date is Winter, 2007. Technically, February would count as winter, 2007.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

We welcome our blogging paisanos


They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. So imagine our surprise when the Winnipeg Free Press honoured us by announcing the newspaper was going to start blogging.

It's been a rocky road to the blogosphere.

First they just stole our stories.
"Crocus redemptions need probing: critics" Paul Egan, A5, April 15/05

Then they asked for our help. (Ephedrine arrests/ Bandidos in Winnipeg)

Then they ignored us. (The real story behind the shooting of Matthew Dumas/ Seven Oaks School Division land development scam known as O'Learygate/ Winnipeg Bandidos connection to the mass murder of Ontario Bandidos gang members)

Then they attacked us.
"Rogue journalists- Bloggers take on the world in cyberspace"George Stephenson, op-ed, Jan. 26/ 06

And now -- they want to be colleagues. Paisanos. Birds of a feather.

Well, not everyone. Apparently it was a hard sell in the newsroom. The newspaper had to---how shall we say it----"encourage" people to become bloggers.

But newspaper blogs are the hip new thing, and God knows the Free Press wants to be hip. Their highly paid consultants have told them that hip is, well, hip.

Newspaper blogs help you connect with the community, they told them. They humanize reporters; and best of all, they may build readership, something desparately wanted by the hip publisher of the broadsheet, Andy Ritchie. So, blogs it is, ladies and gentlemen. "Volunteers", anyone?

Ten at last count.
Six columnists: Randall King Brad Oswald Paul Pihichyn Lindor Reynolds Gordon Sinclair Jr. Doug Speirs
Two editors: Bob Cox Morley Walker
Two reporters: Dan Lett Ed Tait

Blogs first came onto the Free Press radar during the election campaign, a mere six months ago.

At the time, Lindor Reynolds showed she had no clue what blogs were, what bloggers did, and how influential blogging could be. Assigned a story on political blogs, she couldn't find any, and had to settle for a politician's blog which consisted of his news releases.

While the paper's Ottawa reporter, Paul Samyn, wrote about Kreskin the Mentallist, bloggers were breaking stories about the income trust scandal, the single issue that tipped the election.

Even today, reporter Dan Lett confesses he's not familiar with the medium. May we be so indelicate as to ask HOW CAN ANYONE PROFESS TO BE A REPORTER AND NOT KNOW ABOUT BLOGS IN THE AFTERMATH OF RATHERGATE?

There's been a revolution in journalism and you missed it, Dan. By, about, A YEAR AND NINE MONTHS.

This may go a long way to explaining why the Free Press is losing readers by the thousands.

The Free Press may get around to reporting the true Matthew Dumas story when an inquest is finally held, in a year,or so or TWO YEARS AFTER it was reported in The Black Rod.

And O'Learygate may make the paper after the Auditor finishes his report, ONE YEAR OR MORE AFTER the details were reported in The Black Rod.

In the meantime, we have the Free Press blogs.

Let's see:

The blogs by Morley Walker and Paul Pihichyn read like columns you'd expect to see in the regular newspaper.

Lindor Reynolds offers comments on eight stories and ideas, then communicates with a reader. Actually, she learns that her readers include a 911 conspiracy nut who tries to convince her that the attack on the World Trade Centre was a government plot.

Brad Oswald wants to be known as Couchboy. Okay, if you're comfortable with your sexuality, Brad, go for it. He thinks he can engage readers in a discussion of popular television shows. Note to Brad: there are hundreds of blogs devoted exclusively to every popular television show; yours can't come close.

He misses what can make his blog interesting. Almost as an afterthought he gives the dish on insider backbiting in the television industry.

One interesting side note to the CTV presentation was the amount of Global-TV-bashing that went on during yesterday's show. It felt like CTV's executives felt it was almost as important to convince advertisers NOT to spend money at Global as it was to get them to write ad-buy cheques to CTV. It'll be interesting to see how Global's bigwigs respond when their fall-launch show takes place tomorrow.

Gordon Sinclair proves he can be just as lazy a blogger as he is a columnist. He's done some research, though. He blogs in his pyjamas. He tells us what he's thinking after watching the National on CBC.

Randall King offers the worst blog. He starts with "a joke I made up" and goes downhill from there. Note to Randall: to be a comedian, you have to be funny.

Ed Tait shows he understands. Blogging from Blue Bomber training camp is exactly the sort of thing that makes a blog work.

We didn't read Doug Speirs, anymore than we read his daily column. But anything that keeps him out of the daily paper is a good idea to us.

Editor Bob Cox tries to lead by example and tell the readers (and his staff) how the newspaper blogs should work.

"I'm going to relate and explain what is really happening inside our newsroom - the debates, the criticism, the controversies."

You got us excited, Bob, but you have a long way to go to deliver.

Cox confesses embarrassment at a mistake on a Page One.
There is a picture that graphically shows the damage from flooding along the Red River - a building collapsed on the riverbank. The photo caption says the property is on Churchill Drive. It is not. It is on Jubilee Ave. In fact, it is visible from the Foot Bridge on Riverdale if you look west. I pointed it out to my wife on Sunday when we were at the Bridge Drive-In.
So how does a mistake like this happen? Our reporter and photographer were on a boat tour to view the damage along the riverbank. People on the boat believed the property was off Churchill Drive, which is nearby and also runs along the river. But Churchill Drive does not start until the east side of the Foot Bridge. We should have checked more closely.

He should be more embarassed at not publishing a correction in the newspaper and relying on cyberspace to hide the error. Is this how mistakes will be dealt with in the future?

We did see how he reacts to reader feedback. When readers objected to a headline that cast doubt on the true intentions of a Nazi-hunter, Cox acted quickly.
"I have advised editorial staff to avoid the use of quotation marks for the purpose of casting doubt or colouring the meaning of a word or phrase. It is always best to simply say what you mean. If you doubt someone is a Nazi, you should say so, instead of using quotation marks."

Interesting to know. Now, Bob, tell us why you allowed the Free Press to engage in two smear attacks on Mayor Sam Katz? Tell us why you don't insist that "facts" used by your columnists be the truth.

Tell us what you think about your Parliamentary Press Gallery reporter Paul Samyn refusing to do his job as a reporter in Ottawa and instead engage in a public war against the Prime Minister. Is he acting on your instructions? Or against your instructions?

You've got a lot to blog about and we're eager to read it all.

Lett admits he had to do some research on blogging before he tried it. (Although he didn't mention them by name we can only assume that the relentless critic of Free Press columnists,, showed up on his computer screen).

Mainstream media reporters usually throw their noses up at bloggers and sniff that they're not "real journalists." Real journalists---like, say, newspaper reporters--- have editors, and deadlines and don't write in their pyjamas. We're beginning to think there's something to this, because, as a blogger, editor-less Lett writes some real howlers.

I'll try not to become the newspaper apologist. That kind of blog doesn't contribute to the delicate balance created by the ideological apologists blogging right now. We get our say in some 160,000 copies of the dead-tree version of the paper everyday. And now to the inaugural entry on this inaugural blog - drum roll please.

Oh, Dan. If you want to know the real circulation of the Free Press, you could read it in The Black Rod.
Or even in Bob Cox's blog.

It's 125,000.

Why would you inflate it by a whopping 35,000? Did you think nobody would know? Or check? Or mention it?
In the blogosphere, errors are pounced on rapidly and fiercely. We have the scars to prove it.

We were pleasantly surprised to see you mention us in your blog.
There are the Tory apologists (blackrod, hacks and wonks )

Except, Dan, the first rule of journalism is: spell the name right. It's 'The Black Rod' at

And what's this about Tory apologists? You obviously didn't get that from Stu Murray or Hugh McFadyen, nor did you read our stories about them. Federally, you say? Well, you yourself wrote
Even hard core Liberals are having a hard time coming up with the right apology.

But you could at least have given a nod to someone who tries, Curtis Brown at Endless Spin Cycle in Brandon.

Lett's blog, errors aside, consisted of observations that a) the provincial Liberals are moribund and b) federal Conservative Party MP Steven Fletcher has connections to the provincial Progressive Conservative Party. Uh duh.

What we want to know, Dan, is what was behind the attempted smear stories on Sam Katz? Did Harvey Smith file a conflict of interest charge against the Mayor as you reported? Or not?
If not, why didn't you correct your mistake?

Was the first story your idea? Or did an editor assign you? Which editor?

How do you, as a reporter, feel about Paul Samyn being so deep in the Liberal Party pocket that he got bruises on his high forehead when they dropped pocket change in? Do you miss those Saturday "scoops" provided by Reg Alcock? And how far should a reporter go in accepting such "exclusives" without telling readers who may, you know, wonder what he's giving the political party in return? How's the James Driskell defamation lawsuit going? C'mon, you can tell us. Blogger to blogger.

Oh, and Dan, if you're still doing research, Google 'Rathergate' and settle in for a good, long read. You've got two years of journalism history to catch up on.

And while you're at it, send this link to Andy Ritchie
and tell him to read Bob Cauthorn.

"Jon Stewart put it nicely when he said mainstream media blogs 'give voice to the already voiced' "he said.

And Cauthorn summed it up neatly:

" Look, it's easy to get this right: don't have staff members blog and instead bring in the legitimate outside voices. There are many ways that a mainstream media organization can do this -- make a blog about *outside* blogs, point some of your traffic to outside voices (even those who, gasp, criticize you!), invite some of the best outside bloggers in your community to post right on your pages."

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Today's topic: "Help me, Canada."

"Help me," said the forgotten man.

Six days ago Mohammed Niaz was helping Canadian troops in Afghanistan. He was an interpreter travelling with Charlie Company west of Kandahar when they came under attack by Taliban insurgents who had been surprised in the act of setting up an ambush.

Today he's pleading with Canada to help him. He lost both his legs in the battle and he's asking us to help him recover from his wounds.

Niaz worked as an interpreter for Canadians for a year and a half. As Canadian troops went on patrol in Panjwai district, he went along -- and found himself in his first battle.

The initial reports from Afghanistan said five Canadian soldiers had been wounded when their G-wagon was hit by a roadside bomb. Four of them had only minor injuries. The fifth was being flown to a military hospital in Germany, but his injuries were not life-threatening. There was no mention of Mohammed Niaz.

The second day's stories said "an interpreter" had also been injured. Some of the stories said his wounds were "serious." That was the last time he was recognized by the Canadian press.

The real story came out a day after that. It wasn't an IED. A rocket propelled grenade had passed through the LAV-III the men were in during a running firefight.

The commander and the second-in-command of Charlie Company were among the wounded. One soldier lost three fingers of his left hand. Sgt. Vaughan Ingram was sprayed with shrapnel. Three of the injured were from the Princess Patricia's. One was artillery. One was a medic.

There was no mention of the interpreter who had suffered the most devastating injuries of any of them.

We discovered what happened to him when we came across his story on National Public Radio.

Niaz is 21 years old, married and the father of a young girl. He's in the hospital at the coalition hospital at Kandahar Air Field. One leg was shot off in the G-Wagon and the other was amputated by doctors. His father is a police officer and a regular visitor.

Niaz says he spends his days crying. And wishing the Canadian government remembers him.

"Actually I want help. Whenever their [soldiers get] hit, they are sending them to Germany or Canada right away. I've been laying here for one week now. Come on! Help me."


Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan have brought some unique tactics to the job.

Like the Americans, our troops use UAV's (Unmanned aerial vehicles) to watch for insurgents at a distance. U.S. troops went for stealth, using quiet micro-UAVs (small, battery powered, low flying) or larger ones like Predator that fly too high to be heard.

Canadians like 'em noisy.

The Sperwer UAV used by Canadian forces sounds like a flying lawnmower. It turns out that Taliban fighters, thinking they hear a fighter plane, fall flat on the ground until, they hope, it passes. They may have blended in to the terrain to an airplane, but to the low-flying eye-in-the-sky, which also carry heat sensors, they stick out nice and sharp.

So while they lie down on the job, the UAV's lead Canadian troops right to them. The thing to do would be to shoot the UAV's down, but, of course, if Canadian troops are close enough, they hear the shots know the rest.

Rachel Morarjee, the Financial Times' Kabul correspondent, has returned from a one-week trip to Kandahar and has written an online journal of her experience. She wrote about one of the many unusual situations that confront Canadian troops there.

I was taken to the Kandahar jail where I spent an afternoon with 20 children who were serving sentences along with their mothers. Many of the women were jailed for so-called moral crimes, often when they tried to escape abusive marriages.

The jail is a sorry place to grow up and the children have no access to education, but repeated appeals to the Canadian troops for help have met with no response. One soldier told me the troops were reluctant to be seen helping those considered to be criminals. But Malalai and others have been pressing on regardless, trying to find ways to raise money for the children growing up within the prison walls.

And finally, we came across a little-reported poll conducted May 16 to May 18 by Ipsos-Reid regarding Canada's involvement in Afghanistan.

The question:
Do you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose, or strongly oppose the use of Canada's troops for security and combat efforts against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan?

The answer:
58 percent of respondents said they strongly or somewhat supported the mission. But if you added those who "somewhat" opposed, you discover that almost 3 out of 4 Canadians favour, or barely object to some element of Canada's military commitment to Afghanistan.

Peacekeeping or peacemaking, it doesn't make a difference to Canadians.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Canucks in Afghanistan: Tested as Warriors. Passed with Honours.

My, my, how time flies.

It seems like it was only yesterday that the Taliban launched their feared spring offensive in Afghanistan.

"With the arrival of the warm weather, we will make the ground so hot for the invaders it will be unimaginable for them." Mullah Omar, the leader of the Taliban told Al Jazeera through an intermediary in mid-March.

The mainstream press told us that the Taliban was flush with new recruits, more money, better arms, and leaders trained in the terror tactics of Iraq, including suicide bombings. It looked grim.

The Taliban made no secret of what they planned --- to kill as many NATO troops as possible to put pressure on European and Canadian political leaders to pull their countries out of Afghanistan and stop supporting the U.S.

Dead in their sights were the Canadian forces who were moving into Kandahar province in the south. A Canadian general will command NATO forces when they officially take over the protection of Afghanistan's southern provinces in August.

The Taliban saw Canadians as weaker than the Americans they were replacing, and easier to intimidate.

The joke was on them.

This spring the Canadians were tested as warriors. And passed with honours.

Two months into the vaunted spring offensive, they had sent the Taliban three messages:
· You can't run
· You can't hide, and
· If you stand and fight, you die.

Al-Qaeda was pressuring the Taliban to "capture some ground, particularly in Kandahar, to claim their active presence," said the governor of Kandahar province, Asadullah Khalid, citing Afghan intelligence.

By mid-May, as many as 300 Taliban fighters from three provinces had mobilized for an attack on Kandahar city, the provincial capital and second-largest city in Afghanistan, according to Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope, commander of Canada's Task Force Orion's battle group.

Canadian and Afghan troops began patrolling hills, roads and villages to head them off.

They soon came across the enemy, and the countryside erupted in a series of firefights, ambushes, and hot pursuits lasting more than a week. With UAVs overhead tracking the insurgents and American helicopter gunships and B-1 bombers providing air cover when needed, Coalition forces decimated the Taliban, particularly in the Panjwai district.As you may have guessed, there was no attack on Kandahar city.

In neighbouring Helmand province, where British forces will be based, hundreds more Taliban fighters launched an attack on the village of Musa Qala, the capital of Musa Qala district. Afghan police and soldiers fought them off for eight hours. According to locals, 100 or more insurgents were killed.

The Pathfinders, an elite British unit, about 30 strong, of 16 Air Assault Brigade, pursued the Taliban militants for five days. Whenever they stopped to fight, the Brits called in the airpower.

The last time, the night of May 20-21, the Pathfinders caught the Taliban setting up an ambush near a village called Paysang. They called in French Super Etendard jets based on the Charles de Gualle aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean, to soften up the insurgents. Then Afghan police attacked the Taliban force and the British troops joined in, fighting the first engagement with the Taliban since British force of 3,300 soldiers arrived in Helmand province. American A-10 Warthog aircraft swept over enemy positions with their own devastating firepower.

"We are happy that they are coming to Helmand," Mullah Razayar Noorzai, the senior Taliban commander in Helmand province, said of the British in February. "It is both a trial and a great honour for all Muslims. We will now get a fair chance to kill them."

He's not so happy 90 days later with his forces dead, dying or running for their lives. In fact, he may have become one of the casualties.

By late May, press reports were quoting Mullah Mohammed Kaseem Farouqi , 35, as the (new?) Taliban commander in Helmand Province.

"Our country has been occupied by infidels. The Americans, the British, Canadians and others have destroyed Afghanistan. We are hunting every individual who supports this imposed democracy " he told the London Times via satellite telephone from a secret location in Afghanistan.

The Spring Offensive has been a complete failure. So much so that senior Taliban commanders like Mullah Dadullah have been demoted.

Afghan press sources say the one-eyed head of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, has promoted Maulana Jalaluddin Haqqani to be key commander of the insurgency. Who?

Haqqani is legendary in Afghanistan. He was a commander of the Mujahadeen who fought against the Soviet presence in Afghanistan and was responsible for seizing the first major city, Khost, in 1991 from the communist government.

Word is that Mullah Omar has given him hundreds of young men who trained in Iraq, and has made him commander at large. He was given authority to launch suicide attacks anywhere in Afghanistan.

Haqqani may have already given the Taliban their first propaganda victory.

The provinces of Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Uruzgan are commonly known as the heartland of the Taliban. Mauled and bloodied by the Canadians in Kandahar and the British in Helmand, the insurgency picked an easier target in Uruzgan, where the Dutch will be handling security, but not until August.

Afghan police with Coalition air support killed at least 24 insurgents May 23 in a fierce six-hour gun battle and subsequent clean-up operation in Uruzgan. But this week the insurgents struck back.

Taliban rebels overran the town of Chora and held it for several hours while burning government buildings and cars, exactly the sort of thing that will make it onto a recruiting DVD. But more worrisome is the abduction of 40 policemen.

" The kidnapping of 40 police will be particularly worrying for Afghan police, as sources in Helmand have revealed that Taliban rebels have been dressing as police to carry out well orchestrated executions. The equipment they will have obtained through this latest raid could easily be put to deadly effect." Nasir Ahmad, 19, a police officer in the central police station in Lashkar Gah, told The (London) Times: "It's a big problem. During the night the Taliban are wearing our uniforms and killing government employees."

In Iraq, insurgents wearing stolen government issue uniforms have infiltrated military bases and police recruiting stations and detonated suicide belts, killing scores.

There have been around 35 suicide bombs in Afghanistan, with most of them in the south, including 18 in Kandahar. That's more than double the number in all of 2005. 22 of the suicide bombings have been in the past two months. As often as not, the only causalty was the suicide bomber himself.

The Taliban Spring of 2006 has already passed into history.

This week UPI carried this story about the struggle in Afghanistan:

Analysis: A long hot Afghan summerBy Jason Motlagh May 30, 2006,

And wouldn't you know it, all the evidence of the defeat of the Spring Offensive-the hundreds of fighters killed and captured, the taking of the initiative by Coalition forces, the expansion of NATO soldiers into Taliban-controlled territory, the disruption of plans to take and hold cities--- has become evidence of a resurgent Taliban insurgency.

The street violence that shook the Afghan capital Sunday heralds the tide of unrest and frustration that has swept the southern provinces of the country, where the Taliban is waging its fiercest campaign since being ousted from power five years ago by U.S.-led forces.

More than 300 people have been killed and thousands displaced in the past two weeks as Taliban militants step up the frequency and sophistication of attacks for a summer fighting season that is only expected to intensify.

The Taliban commander in Helmand, Mullah Mohammed Kaseem Farouqi, told Britain`s The Times the London by satellite phone this week: 'My message to (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair and the whole of Britain is, `Do not send your children here. We will kill them.`' He boasted of having 'between 2,500 and 3,000 men (men) fighting at the moment,' with 'thousands more... in their homes waiting for (his) message to fight.'

Sigh. Here we go again.