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:

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.

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