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:

Saturday, November 25, 2006

The Public has right to know what the Winnipeg Free Press is hiding

The Winnipeg Free Press dove headfirst into the gutter this week, but that's not why something smells at 1355 Mountain Avenue.

In a continuation of its smear campaign against Mayor Sam Katz, the FP published a story on Thursday designed to malign Katz by manufacturing a controversy where one doesn't exist. It was a story published purely to create the impression there's something suspicious about Katz's ongoing divorce proceedings.

Oh, bleated a pious editor Bob Cox, the Winnipeg Free Press would never, ever, publish details of a divorce that could harm the mayor's children. Not the chiiildrennnn ! But, in this case, there had to be an exception. The Mayor is hiding something and the newspaper (uh, scrap that) the public, uh, has a right to know.

And what's he hiding? Well, no one knows, but one lawyer says its something.

Yep. There it is.
One lawyer. One. Count 'em.
Says it's something. Or rather "we would have to assume" it's something.

And his evidence? Asking to have your divorce records sealed is "uncommon."
Hah. Caught red-handed.

How uncommon? Well, that's not important. Should a newspaper be forced to put a statement into context? What would the public expect next? Facts? Accuracy? Not making up quotations to jazz up a story ( )? How could the Free Press operate under these unjust restrictions?

So just take his word for it. It's uncommon.
And who is this expert on divorce? Lawyer Ken Carroll.
Uh, who?

The FP identifies him as a middle-aged divorce lawyer. That's who.

So we've got one lawyer saying in his opinion asking for divorce records to be sealed is uncommon. And that's a story. Uh, why? Well, he spells it out:

"There must be something about the records that might be unique to this particular situation."

If that isn't clear, well, you're obviously not a lawyer.

"Must be something." "Might be unique" "This particular situation."

Oooohhhh. That sounds suspicious. Ooooh.

Not really. It sounds like what it obviously is, a manufactured story. The FP editors decided they wanted a story raising suspicion about Katz's divorce. They assigned it to reporter Gabrielle Giroday. How did she wind up talking to lawyer Kenneth R. Carroll? Good question. Why him? Especially since he's the only person outside of editor Bob Cox quoted in the story.

Is he the top divorce lawyer in the city? Is he the author is a groundbreaking study on when records are sealed? Is he a professor of divorce law at the university? Does he have a late-night talk show where he counsels people going through divorce? Go ahead caller, I'm listening.

Most likely the editors also provided Mr. Carroll to reporter Giroday. Here, Gabby, phone this guy, he knows something.

When a newspaper story turns on a single source, watch out. Especially when there's no obvious reason why that person is relevant to the story.

But readers have been well-conditioned to be wary of any Winnipeg Free Press story about Sam Katz. The newspaper has been bending and twisting facts for two years to smear the Mayor.

Who can forget the series of stories accusing the mayor of having various conflicts-of-interest? Of course the FP had to concede that not a single one of those stories was true, especially the one by Dan Lett and Mary Agnes Welch that even said a complaint had been filed with the city auditor (damn facts always spoil a good smear).

But amazingly, a real conflict-of-interest story right under their noses has gone unreported.

You know, the one involving Winnipeg Free Press co-owner Bob Silver.

Oh, you don't?

Bob Silver may be better known as the co-chairman of the Premier's Economic Development Council, the brain trust behind the Spirited Energy branding campaign. So far $2.4 million has been spent promoting Spirited Energy to Manitobans, of which one million dollars came from private businesses that believe in the campaign.

Or so the story went until Thursday. In a scrum with reporters Competitiveness Minister Scott Smith let slip that some of the "private" businesses were actually Crown corporations.

Reporter Curtis Brown at the Brandon Sun thought this was news and raised it in his blog Thursday night ( ). CJOB also carried the story. But the Winnipeg Free Press, well, let's be generous and say their legislature reporters didn't hear Scott Smith. Otherwise we might be forced to ask whether somebody suppressed the story to keep it out of Friday's newspaper.

But then the story just got better. In the Legislature on Friday Smith admitted that even those private sectors contributors didn't actually put any money where their mouths were. And he named the contributors.

- The Broadcasters Association of Manitoba put up $300,000 worth of free airtime.
- The Winnipeg Sun kicked in $15,000 worth of ad space.
- And Canwest Global provided another $165,000 worth of televison ads and billboard space on their building.

Note who is not mentioned.
Yes, indeed. The Winnipeg Free Press.

And look what's not in the Saturday paper -- any mention of the words 'Spirited Energy' or about Smith's revelations.

Which is surprising given the huge amount of advertising devoted to Spirited Energy that has appeared in the FP.

You don't think the province had to buy all that ad space, do you?

Because if they did, then what role did Bob Silver, co-chairman of the Spirited Energy campaign originators, have in determining how much was spent on newspaper advertising? And where? Did he step out of the room when it was discussed? Should the Premier's Economic Advisory Committee release the minutes of its meetings on Spirited Energy?

You know, the public has a right to know. You might say "we would have to assume there is something fairly unusual or unique about this particular (case)."

Did Premier Gary Doer's government channel the only money spent on newspaper ads to the co-chairman of his own committee which recommended spending money on the campaign it designed?

The questions are endless. Let's see if Gabrielle Giroday asks Bob Silver any of them? Or if Bob Cox addresses any of them on his blog. Or if the FP editorial board asks the hard questions of, well, the newspaper's owner.

Here's one last question. It's nasty in the gutter isn't it Bob?

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Links for previous stories referenced by this post: