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.

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, July 04, 2006

Embedded in the Parliamentary Press Army

If you made a list of the most improbable news stories, this would certainly be near the top.

Stephen Harper's speeches are the most downloaded podcast on iTunes Canada, Apple's popular music download site.

When we saw it on Global National, we didn't believe it either. But, it's true.

And it shows how Harper is managing to outplay, outwit and outlast the Parliamentary Press Gallery which has launched a campaign to undermine his government.

Two embedded reporters with the Parliament Press Army filed stories yesterday that only showed how desperate the media have become in their War on Harper.

Take Alexander Panetta, from Canadian Press, and his "scoop" which ran under various headlines across the country, mostly on the theme "Military opposed media ban" (Winnipeg Free Press) or "Military pans ceremony ban" (Winnipeg Sun).

If you just read the headlines, you would think he had uncovered some evidence that the Canadian military was upset at Stephen Harper for banning the press from covering the return to Canada of the bodies of soldiers killed in Afghanistan.

You would be wrong, of course. But facts are not necessary when you're engaged in a war for the hearts and minds of the public.

Read the lead in Panetta's story:
"Senior military officials opposed the Conservative government's controversial ban on media coverage of homecoming ceremonies for soldiers killed in Afghanistan, documents obtained under the Access to Information Act suggest."

He admits he's making the story up, but hopes you don't notice it because you're distracted by the official-sounding "documents obtained under the Access to Information Act".

These "documents" only "suggest" his story. In other words, he reads into them what he wants you to believe.

A real story would immediately follow with the names of these "senior military officials." Panetta coughs up "a Department of National Defence official".
One official. Singular.

This official took pictures of reporters standing by a highway as they, themselves, tried to take pictures of the coffins being unloaded from planes.

"This may cause safety issues and generate even more frustration, particulary in winter," Lt. Col. Richard Lavoie, a departmental public-affairs director, wrote in an e-mail in which he forwarded the photos to several colleagues.

Did Lt. Col.Lavoie take the pictures? About 20 were shown to Chief of Defence Rick Hillier, says Panetta. But either he's written the story so poorly that we can't connect Lavoie to the official with the camera, or Lavoie had nothing to do with taking the pictures and Panetta is hoping we make a connection that isn't there.

Regardless, the documents fail to show the military upset at the banning of the press.

It shows one officer concerned about safety as police cars blocked a lane of highway so the television cameras could try to capture pictures of the tarmac. It sounds like he's worried a distracted semi driver will wipe out some CBC trucks. Now wouldn't that be some bad publicity?

Oh, but "military officials found other ways to express their displeasure; they cleared equipment from the airport tarmac so the news media outside the base could have an unobstructed view of the ceremony," says Panetta, based on his psychic ability to read the minds of unnamed military officals.

No, wait, says Panetta. I got proof.

"...reporters who attended the event did not require public documents as evidence that military officials were peeved by the government order," he wrote.

Good thing, since there obviously aren't any such public documents to be found in the story.

"One journalist said the military made it obvious by their words and actions that day."
"The military men wanted us there," said one journalist assigned to cover the event.
"They were (greeting us) like, 'We're glad you came'."

Ah ha.

One unnamed journalist (you don't think his name was Alexander Panetta, do you) in a deerstalker hat, no doubt, uses his powers of deduction to see what he wants to see.

Take one military P.R. officer, a few photos, add a reporter with no name and voila, a perfectly good anti-Harper story for Canadian Press.

Those Parliamentary Press Gallery guys really know how to ask the tough questions of themselves.

Not to be outdone, Winnipeg Free Press National Reporter Paul Samyn launched his own assault on Harper Hill.

Samyn's target---the "Harper government's Universal Child Care Benefit".

According to Ken Battle, president of Caledon Institute of Social Policy, the Conservatives are mean bastards who have consciously designed their program to screw welfare families and give money to the rich who can afford to have one parent stay home while the other rakes in the big bucks.

Samyn even has a diagram prepared by the Manitoba government to show that a single parent with $20,000 in income will benefit less than a two-parent family where (presumably) daddy makes $100,000 and mommy stays home with their child.

About $1.73 a month less.

Which would be easily covered by Deadbeat Dad if we knew where he was, but that's another question hard-hitting reporter Samyn didn't get into.

What Samyn also didn't get into is who Ken Battle is.

You see, it seems we've met him before. Way back in January, Free Press columnist Frances Russell wrote about Ken Battle and the Caledon Institute and how the Conservatives' child care plan is just another scheme to make the poor poorer and the rich richer (by $1.73 cents a month according to Samyn).

Russell, just like Samyn, forgot to mention one very important fact about Ken Battle.

To quote ourselves:
Battle used to be the senior policy adviser to the Minister of Human Resources Development, Doug Young and his successor Pierre Pettigrew. He was instrumental in creating the National Child Benefit for the Liberal Party, a program he cites as "the most important innovation in Canadian social policy since medicare."

"I wrote the basic document making the case for the National Child Benefit," he brags on the Web.

He proudly outlines how he stickhandled the plan into law, including:
- "a one-on-one discussion of my paper with then-Finance Minister Paul Martin",
- a presentation to a Cabinet committee on social development along with Minister Pettigrew, and
- "helping HRDC officials make the case for a sufficient down payment on the NCB in the 1997 budget which announced the reform."

"I wrote the first draft of the 1997 budget document proposing the National Child Benefit."

In other words, the chief critic of the Tory child care plan is the author of a Liberal child care plan which he thinks is much better.

No bias there. Move along.

It seems that while Stephen Harper is No. 1 with a bullet in the new media, the MSM reporters are either shooting blanks or shooting themselves in the foot in the old.

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