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The Winnipeg Free Press: Oops, we did it again, and again, and again

Just one day after The Black Rod revealed that the Winnipeg Free Press used a made-up quote as the basis for a front-page story villifying retired Crown Attorney George Dangerfield at the Driskell Inquiry, the newspaper "clarified " three stories written about Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz.

Free Press Editor Bob Cox admitted the newspaper ran an erroneous headline over one story, used a twisted interpretation of Katz's answers to a barrage of questions in another, and allowed a reporter's opinionated slant into a news story about election candidates.

In an unprecedented column, Cox acknowledged the errors. A headline saying Katz was eyeing a tax hike was blatantly wrong, said Cox. The story by Bartley Kives clearly said the opposite.

A story by reporter Carol Sanders that said Katz was willing to forgive $100,000 in back taxes owed on Thunderbird House was also wrong. Katz was being asked questions at the same time by a radio reporter and Mary Agnes Welch, the Winnipeg Free Press city hall reporter, and there was confusion over which question he was answering, Cox claimed.

And finally, Cox wrote what a one paragraph introduction to Trudy Turner, candidate for city counsel, would look like without the editorializing Mary Agnes Welch engaged in when she wrote it.

Here's what Welch wrote:
"And Trudy Turner, executive director of the West End Biz and a candidate in Daniel McIntyre, is widely seen as the mayor's favorite in the ward. She insists she's not part of Katz's slate, but recently attended the mayor's campaign event at Central Park"...
"Katz has not yet stumped for other candidates that his office is openly supporting."

Here's what her boss wrote:
"Trudy Turner, a candidate in Daniel McIntyre ward, is running as an independent and she is not presenting herself as having a close association with Sam Katz. The mayor has not campaigned for Turner, as he has for some candidates."

Cox does not address the obvious. Of four candidates for mayor, errors were made only in stories about one--Sam Katz.

Given the persistent anti-Katz campaign by columnists Gordon Sinclair and Lindor Reynolds, and the two previous smear attacks by the Winnipeg Free Press on Katz, one cannot escape the obvious conclusion --- the bias against him has become endemic.

Mary Agnes Welch was involved in two of the three "clarifications" delivered by editor Bob Cox. Welch and Dan Lett were also the writers of the story a year ago where they claimed that Coun. Harvey Smith had, or was going to that day, request that the city auditor investigate Katz for conflict of interest.

Before Cox's column appeared, The Black Rod was just about to ask whatever happened to that alleged investigation? We're in an election campaign, and you'd think someone would raise the question--- if indeed Katz had been accused of conflict of interest. Or was still being investigated. Or had been investigated in the past.

Instead, there's been only silence.

And we can only deduce that that's because there never was any approach to the city auditor as reported by Welch and Lett. In other words, that story, too, was phoney.

Which means that now we've got a pattern of questionable stories about Sam Katz. And one reporter keeps popping up in almost all of them.

Mary Agnes Welch.

It seems obvious that any newspaper editor concerned about accuracy and fairness would pull Welch from covering the civic election until he could be sure her stories about Sam Katz could not be attacked for bias.

Given Cox's rewriting of her opinion-filled profile of Trudy Turner, it's obvious that confidence is not there.

And restoring confidence in its credibility is something the Winnipeg Free Press sorely needs to do these days. The record of the past year is scandalous:

* Election coverage so slanted that the editor has to step in and apologize for it.

*The shocking use of a made-up quote to enhance a story about the Driskell Inquiry where the newspaper has a vested interest in the outcome.

*A false report that the Mayor was about to be investigated for conflict of interest.

* A grovelling apology to the Asper family and Lloyd Axworthy over a story that had Axworthy repeating the old canard of Jews having too much control of the news media. The FP blamed reporter Paul Samyn for confusing a reference to "diasporas" with "the Aspers".

The paper has refused to release a transcript of the taped interview, leaving confusion as to whether (a) Samyn is a bad reporter or (b) a reporter thrown under the train to salve the feelings of important people.

We lean to (b) ourselves.

But be that as it may, readers have been asking themselves, what's become of the Winnipeg Free Press?

The answer lies at the feet of new Publisher Andrew Richie who made no bones when he arrived that he knew nothing about journalism and cared less. He was in the business of selling ads and making the paper profitable. And his negligence shows.

A real publisher would have shaken up the newsroom long before the shoddy reporting and editing had become standard, before direct quotes in the newspaper couldn't be trusted, and before apologies began sounding lame and insincere.

The Winnipeg Free Press wants you to know that it is still superior to the Blogosphere.

Its reporters don't write in their pyjamas.

They can't write biased stories, because, you know, they're professionals.

And they have editors.

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