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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.

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Sunday, July 30, 2006

Free Press publisher has some 'splaining to do

Not so fast, Andy.

As the publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press, you, Andrew Ritchie, are responsible for what goes into the newspaper. Which makes you responsible for the exceptionally rare apology that ran on Friday.

It was actually the third time the Free Press has tried to beg forgiveness for the same story. Once in the daily Editor's Bulletin e-mailed to subscribers, once in the online edition of the paper, and now in the print edition of the FP.

Each apology was slightly different, but it's the latest one that's especially telling.

All this over two sentences in a story by your Ottawa reporter Paul Samyn. As we reported Thursday Samyn interviewed Lloyd Axworthy, the former Liberal Party foreign affairs minister, on the Israel-Hezbollah-Lebanon crisis.

At the very end of his story he wrote:
Axworthy also took a shot at Winnipeg's Asper family, saying they are using their media empire to advocate staunchly right-wing positions when it comes to defending Israel.
"The Aspers are increasingly playing a far more important role in shaping Canadian foreign policy."

Your apologies say that Samyn got it wrong. Axworthy never mentioned the Aspers, you say. Instead, you claim, he used the word diasporas (die-asper-uz), which Samyn misunderstood to mean...what?

The Aspers, according to your explanation.

But he must have heard die Aspers.

What does that mean? Did he think Axworthy had suddenly switched to speaking bad German and was talking about die Aspers und die lederhosen?(You can hear the word pronounced here. )

No, Andy, it's clear there's a lot more to this story that you're not telling.

Starting with how you define diaspora in your Friday apology.

"In fact, Axworthy was referring to groups of diaspora--- various ethnic communities in today's multicultural society---influencing Canadian foreign policy."

Well, not quite.

Any dictionary you chose will tell you that diaspora has one clear meaning. Or you can do a Google search and here's what you get:

Definitions of Diaspora on the Web:
· The dispersion of the Jews.
· Jews dwelling of outside of the land of Israel who felt themselves to be in exile. (Heb. "galut").

· "Dispersion" in Greek - people living in exile from their country of origin. In Israeli usage the word refers to Jews outside Israel. In Palestinian usage, it refers to Palestinians living in areas other than the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel.

· (Greek "scattering"). Often used to refer to the Jewish communities living among the gentiles outside of the Land of Israel. In recent years, Palestinians began using the term to refer to Palestinians living outside Palestine. The largest Jewish diaspora communities are in the United States, Russia, and France.

· the area outside the land of Israel settled by Jews, or the Jews who settled there.

· Scattering (Greek). The term originally referred to the Jewish community scattered after the Babylonian Exile (587 BCE) and later to the Christians dispersed across the Greco-Roman world in the first century CE. For eighteenth-century Moravians it designated a ministry of revivalism and spiritual renewal carried out among members of the European State churches.

· (1) The settling of Jews outside of Israel or modern Palestine (2) the scattering of any people

· (Greek, dispersion) Originally Jewish communities living outside the land of Israel since the forced exile of the 6th century BC. Now a more general term to describe dispersed communities.

· people of a country or area who have spread to other countries.

· The term diaspora (Greek d?asp???, a scattering or sowing of seeds) is used (without capitalization) to refer to any people or ethnic population forced or induced to leave their traditional ethnic homelands, being dispersed throughout other parts of the world, and the ensuing developments in their dispersal and culture.

Diaspora, first and foremost, means the scattering of Jews throughout the world from Israel. All other meanings flow from this, and are secondary. So your choice of definition is curious.

Doubly curious since the context of the interview with Lloyd Axworthy would support the traditional meaning of the word Diaspora. He was speaking about Israel.

Samyn took him to be talking about the Aspers, who, it might surprise you, are Jewish.

So what was Axworthy saying? That the Jews have too much influence in Canada's foreign policy?

That would be a newsworthy quote. The issue of Jewish control of the media and foreign policy is a hot topic in left wing circles.
See: The New Israel Lobby in Action
Canadian Dimension
November/December 2005 Issue

If that's what Axworthy meant, it would lead to follow-up questions. When did he recognize this undue influence? When he was foreign minister? Did he tilt Canada's foreign policy when he was minister to counteract this influence?

Paul Samyn says he wants to ask tough questions of those in power (and that's why he's not asking any questions at Stephen Harper news conferences, but that's another story....ed.) Why not explore Axworthy's stance on the power of Jews in Canadian society further, if that was indeed what he said?

Of course, that then raises the question of how Samyn not only mistook diaspora for 'the Aspers', but claimed Axworthy said "they are using their media empire to advocate staunchly right-wing positions when it comes to defending Israel."

Funny how a comment about ethnic groups around the world became a tirade against the owners of the National Post.

Are you saying Samyn inserted his own opinion of the Aspers after mis-hearing what Axworthy said? While it would be interesting to know how Samyn views the Aspers, it would also seem to call for some kind of disciplinary action. And yet, none is mentioned in your apology.

So, did he or did he not quote Lloyd Axworthy correctly about the Asper media empire and its "right-wing" defence of Israel?

You can't expect your readers to believe Axworthy spoke only a single sentence about the disaporas influencing Canada's foreign policy. We suspect there was much more discussion on the topic.

We now learn, courtesy of Gordon Sinclair, that Samyn taped the interview. You can prepare a complete transcript of exactly what Axworthy said. We did that for an interview on the Charles Adler radio show. You can do the same.

And instead of playing dress-up blogger games, you can do the real thing and put the transcript on the internet for all to read.

Sinclair thinks this is a joke. His most recent column is a compilation of all the funny misunderstandings by friends of his that made it into the papers.

But, then, Sinclair is one who, by his own admission, is neutral on the Hezbollah crisis. He can't make a distinction between the country of Israel and the terrorist group that wants to kill all the Jews and destroy the country of Israel. Eh. Six of one, half a dozen of the other. Sinclair says he spoke with Axworthy and Axworthy said that's what he gets for mumbling.

Yuk Yuk. Kidders, both of 'em.

Lloyd Axworthy is an important person in Winnipeg. He's president of the U of W. He's becoming more active in the revitalization of downtown. He was a co-chairman of the mayor's City Summit. He deserves to be quoted correctly.

The Winnipeg Free Press has a tape recording it its possession which will tell us whether Canada's former foreign minister thinks Jews have too much say in the country's foreign policy. Or conversely, whether the Free Press's Ottawa reporter inserted his personal opinions of the Aspers into a story under the guise of a quote from Lloyd Axworthy.

We know your expertise is not in journalism, Andy. But trust us. This is big.

We know you want this to be forgotten as quickly as possible. But from the feedback you've already gotten from the Jewish community -- as evidenced in your letters page -- you know this story's got long legs.

Do the right thing and release the transcript of the interview.

And don't forget, we've got long memories.

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