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.

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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: black_rod_usher@yahoo.com

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Katz wins, we do the Post-Mortem

The Big Freeze

Thank goodness the election campaign is over. Now they can take the real Sam Katz out of the freezer, where he's been kept for the past seven weeks in a cryogenically frozen state. When he thaws out, they can tell him he won.

Katz is one of the most charming people in North America. Anyone who has met him in person knows he's sweet and funny, warm and engaging, not the klutz fronting the Katz re-election campaign.

There's no doubt that they were using a double of Sam Katz throughout the race. The real Katz could cruise through a campaign on personality alone. He could just be himself and voters would trust him with their first-born. He would never stoop to something as stupid as turning spray paint or synchonized traffic signals into a mayoral election issue.

Okay, okay, last time he promised a war on mosquitoes with mosquito-killing briquettes. But he was new, so cut him some slack. We blame the body-double this time.

When Mayor Sam is brought to room temperature, he'll prove he's back by announcing a rock-and-roll museum/slash/nightclub at the Metropolitan Theatre and the new stadium for the Blue Bombers at the Canada Packers site that Franco Magnifico was hinting at on CJOB.

You mark our words.

Fresh O.U.T. of Ideas

That's what you get for hiring family.

At least that's the best explanation we can offer for the absolutely appalling campaign run by the Katz team.

The most exciting moment came early on when they announced Juno nominee rapper Fresh I.E. and curling champion Jennifer Jones as co-chairs of Katz's election campaign.

The pair then disappeared for the next month. Wassup with that?

Hey, dude. Fresh I.E. writes rap songs. The number of raps for Sam? Zero.

Jennifer Jones is one of the most beautiful women in the city. So, of course, the einsteins got her to do radio ads.

Pretty girl. On Radio. Brilliant, guys.

Working Both Sides of the Street

CJOB snagged former councillor John Angus as their election pundit.

Was that the same John Angus who was working for Jennifer Zyla's campaign in River Heights/Fort Garry?

You don't think that had anything to do with his prediction Zyla would win, do you?

Dreadful

The only thing worse that the Sam Katz's terrible election campaign was the dreadful coverage of the election by the Winnipeg Free Press.

Two experienced reporters working full-time for two months and not a single story hinting that Mark Lubosch, the man behind the smoking ban, was toast or that veteran Jae Eadie was lost. Almost every winning incumbent and newcomer said the key issue in his or her riding was crime, and the only story in the Free Press was how crime was not a valid issue.

But the topper had to be how the Free Press completely missed the revolt in River Heights/Fort Garry against incumbent Donald Benham.

Three weeks before the election The Black Rod flagged the ward as one to watch. Something's brewing, we said. Benham is acting strangely, cutting his ties with his staunchest allies on council. Almost as if he's scared to be associated with them.

A week before the election, ultimate winner Brenda Leipsic released a press release welcoming two prominent defectors from Benham's camp who helped get him elected in 2004. They said a big reason they were abandoning Benham was his knee-jerk negativity towards Katz. Anyone with a lick of news sense recognized this as big news.

The Winnipeg Free Press didn't carry a word about it.

Finally, on Tuesday, the day before the election, the Free Press profiled the battle of River Heights.

The story read as if it was tossed together at the last minute (it actually was the last minute). It consisted of a follow to a story that ran the day before in the Winnipeg Sun about a photocopy of a story Benham wrote attacking Pope Paul II which had been left on cars outside some neighbourhood churches. It was padded out with a few cheap shots at Sam Katz, the specialty of reporter Mary Agnes Welch.

In fact her reporting got so bad that editor Bob Cox had to apologize for it by way of an unprecedented column offering "clarifications" of two of earlier her stories. Welch did manage to mention the Leipsic news release--- in the second last paragraph of the story. She didn't identify the two men (Michael Radcliffe, his former official agent, and Bob Vandewater, his former chief fundraiser) nor did she offer their reasons for abandoning Benham. Why would that be of interest to anybody, right?

She ended the story with a single mention of third candidate Jennifer Zyla.

It was clear that Benham was her favorite and she was going to do all she could to resuscitate his fading chances by slagging Leipsic for having Katz's support and barely mentioning Zyla.

Benham was the target of mudslinging, she said. (Bad Leipsic. Bad Zyla.)
While Leipsic had faced criticism. (That Donald, always taking the high road. Whatta guy.)

Benham's column, the one left on car windshields, was written when he was a reporter and journalism instructor. Uh, so what? He wants credit for getting his facts right?

The column criticized the Pope as irrelevent, said Welch. Actually, Benham wrote "At best he is irrelevant, at worst a continuing menace to a fragile world." We think maybe it was the "continuing menace" part that upset Catholics?

Benham apologized for the column, she said. What did he apologize for? For writing the whole thing? Or was it a weasel apology---I'm sorry if you were offended (you thin-skinned Papists)?

Welch doesn't say. She's too busy snidely mentioned Leipsic's "cosy relationship" with Katz, that she's "his handpicked favourite" who enjoys "behind-the-scenes support" of the mayor and staff.

Benham declared the mayor's "meddling" won't work, Welch wrote.


Well, maybe it did.

Dumber than Pumpkins

The pamphlet affair has become a cause celebre among some media types. The Winnipeg Sun called it a smear. The term was being freely used by reporters election night.

Yet none of these journalists explains what the smear is?

If someone else wrote the column and claimed Benham did it, that would qualify. But the column was written by Benham, something he freely admits. Those are his words, unedited.

He's apologized. But so what? He wrote what he did and must have meant it when he wrote it.

Did the distributor of the pamphlet intend readers to believe Benham put it on their windshields because his picture was printed on the back with his campaign office phone number? Or was he just drawing attention to the fact that the author and the candidate were one and the same?

Someone was upset enough to have kept the ten year old column and decided to bring it to the attention of Catholics who might have not read the column or had forgotten it. It's not a smear to remind people what a political candidate thinks, or once thought, even if its embarassing to that candidate.

should have told that to Brenda Leipsic and Jennifer Zyla who showed the public they both turned dumber than pumpkins when they were put in the spotlight .

Confronted by reporters about the pamphlet, both women said they opposed attacks on anyone's religion.

"I'm myself am familiar with religious slurs. It's wrong and it's ignorant," said Leipsic.
"To bring religion into civic politics, to me, is so irrelevant." said Zyla.

Uh, ladies.
Nobody was attacking Benham's religion.
If anything, he was indirectly attacking Catholicism by attacking the Pope, the head of the Catholic Church.

If you want to see what a real smear is, all you need to do is listen to the story CJOB was running Wednesday. It's so short, we'll run the whole thing:

It's been a heated race in River Heights, where Mayor Sam Katz has endorsed an opponent of Benham.Then this past weekend a column from the former journalist from ten years ago that suggested Pope John Paul the second was a hypocrite was placed on windshields of vehicles outside two churches within the ward. The intent was clear - embarass the incumbent. Sources point to key people within the Katz team. Flat denials from their campaign. CJOB's Richard Cloutier reporting.

Richard Cloutier accurately honed in on the key fact. "The intent was clear -- embarass the incumbent."

But embarassing a candidate is not a smear unless you use false information in the attempt.

Say, for example, claiming that "sources point to key people within the Katz team." Now that qualifies as a smear. Who are the sources? Unnamed, of course. What are their credentials? Did they see someone sneak out of Katz's office with a handfull of pamphlets? Did they see someone leave a pamphlet and then jump into a car marked Vote for Sam?

No clue. Simply a claim with not even a hint of proof.

Cloutier should be embarassed to have had anything to do with this smear. Our advice: leave it to the professionals at the Free Press.

Dan Lett has been at it for well over a year, starting with the story he and Mary Agnes Welch wrote about a non-existant complaint against Sam Katz for conflict-of-interest. After a couple of more conflict-of-interest stories, Lett finally confessed last week that none of them were true, that Katz had done no wrong, the rules had been followed, but the rules had to be changed to comply with the Free Press's twisted reporting.

Lett continued the Free Press smear campaign today
.

He and his colleagues ignored the River Heights campaign when Donald Benham was losing it, but now they fiercely champion the victim card, and expanded the allegations of dirty tricks in the ward. In the past year, The Black Rod has exposed every one of the newspaper's smear attacks against Sam Katz and it looks like we have another 4 years work ahead of us.

Trying to keep one step ahead of scrutiny, Lett is now accusing other people of a smear campaign -- against Benham. For example, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, whose "smear" consisted of reminding people that documentation legally acquired through a Freedom of Information application showed how liberally Benham used his city hall credit card, for everything from a $400 Sobey's spree, to books on how to win elections. He even used it to pay for a haircut (which we hope he got a refund for).


Lett's slant is that the CTF used "ambiguous documents" and it doesn't matter because Benham paid the money back (once he got caught).

Where's the smear, Dan? The ambiguous documents are clear, cold, hard, audited facts. And what better time to raise a candidate's misuse of public funds than during an election campaign?

And now he's parroting the CJOB story which itself depends on anonymous sources to drag the Mayor into the River Heights Pope-pamphlet issue. But because CJOB said it, Lett can ignore the lack of cold, hard facts and treat the rumour as truth.

Now that's smearology at it's best.


Harvey promises

Re-elected councillor Harvey Smith (Daniel McIntyre) was clear on his No. 1 priority when interviewed on Global News.

"Backlanes," he said.

Councillors from the suburbs just don't understand backlanes, he said, and he's tired to fielding complaints from citizens. So "backlanes" it is.

We confess we were a bit surprised. We fully expected him to come out with the other firm pledge he made during the election campaign.

Swerve magazine sent out a questionaire to election candidates and Harvey Smith was the most enthusiastic respondent to question No. 1.

1. Former mayor Glen Murray advocated the development of a "gay village" (a business and residential area largely composed of gay/ lesbian people similar to ones in other major North American cities) for downtown Winnipeg. The idea was that this would act as a hub for culture and a focus of entrepreneurial spirit that would help revitalize the core. Do you agree with this idea and would you support it?

Harvey Smith (incumbent councilor Daniel McIntyre) It is too bad that Glen Murray had his eyes on greener pastures, giving up the position of Mayor to run federally. Just by being the first gay Mayor of a Canadian city was a first step to redefine Winnipeg as a welcoming centre for gays. Now it is important to elect individuals to City Council who will carry Murray's view forward. I support this concept for in visiting San Francisco I was excited by what the gay community has done to make that city's business community dynamic.

1) The establishment of a "gay/lesbian village" could be a real boon to the City of Winnipeg. I would be prepared to introduce and support a motion that would give tax and financial incentives similar to those given to corporations wanting to establish in Winnipeg. The initiative for establishing such a village should come from the gay/lesbian community itself and would develop a community of businesses and residences in and around the village.

Kaj Hasselriis may have fallen short in his bid to be mayor, but he can rest assured that Harvey Smith has picked up his torch and will carry it high at city council.

Junior -- call home

Among the mysteries of this campaign is the whereabouts of anti-Katz columnist Gordon Sinclair.


Sinclair, who openly wrote of trying to recruit Lloyd Axworthy to save the city from Katz, filed not a single column inch about the election after telling of his desire for a bury-the-hatchet lunch with Katz (results, and who picked up the tab as yet unknown).

In 2004 he used his Free Press column to boost Don Benham by providing oodles of free plugs. But this time around, Gordo's visibility matched his credibility - zero.

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