A Free Press apology: Admit his column was made up, just don't say who wrote it
For a newspaper that claims to be wedded to the public's right to know, the Winnipeg Free Press is awfully coy about a little, ahem, scandal within its own pages.
In what's becoming a regular feature, editor Bob Cox wrote an "editor's note" for the paper Tuesday telling readers that yet another story in the Free Press was phoney.
Bogus, Made-up, Untrue.
A cynic might say that Cox's little note, complete with apologies to all, was strategically tucked away on Page Two to attract as few readers as possible. Those who did spot the piece were rewarded with the barest details---- and no names.
Note from the editor:
Tue Dec 12 2006
A Dec. 9 column on the Manitoba Liquor Control Commission contained an inaccurate account of an incident at a liquor store. The column began with an anecdote about a writer being asked for identification at a liquor commission outlet. The commission has provided the Free Press with taped evidence and witness statements showing that an incident occurred, but was not accurately described in the paper and contained false information.
Well, so much for full disclosure. You might think they had something to hide.
But we're sure they'll thank us for filling in the blanks.
The mystery column was written by Dallas Hansen and was titled "It's Time to Put a Cork on Liquor Monopoly." Hansen has been a weekly editorial opinion columnist for the past two years, collecting $250 a pop.
Here's a bit of what he wrote:
Recently one afternoon, my girlfriend Denise and I sought out a bottle of red wine to enjoy later that evening. Such a common consumer good, and an obvious companion to dinner, ought to be readily available. But, alas, the experience turned out to be quite difficult.
We headed for the government monopoly store at Portage Avenue and Banning Street and selected, with the assistance of a Liquor Mart staff member, a promising Chilean merlot. As luck would have it, however, that same helpful employee decided at the time of purchase to demand from me some form of government-issued identification.
"For proof of age," I said, pointing to the worrisome number of white strands to be found atop my head. "Aren't these dozens of grey hairs sufficient?"
They were not. Apparently my being a frequent and regular customer (as well as a public figure) meant nothing either. Another Liquor Mart employee, apparently a supervisor, then advised me to come back with my ID.
Since we had walked to the liquor store, I did not bother bringing my driving licence, and since I was not planning an exit from the country I did not think to bring my passport. I was, to say the least, rather miffed that an identity document could be demanded from someone so obviously above the age of majority just so he could purchase so simple a consumer good as a bottle of vino. Yet in the interest of avoiding conflict I simply allowed Denise to present her driving licence.
"Sorry, this is no good," the clerk said to her. Although the photographic component of her two-part Manitoba driving license was valid until 2008, the paper portion had expired some months earlier. Since Denise, unlike myself, does not drive at all, she hadn't bothered renewing it. Thus now, despite showing definitive proof of age, she was being denied the opportunity to enjoy Chilean merlot with that evening's meal on account of an arcane technicality.
(You can read the whole thing at http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/westview/story/3808782p-4405443c.html,
or email us and we'll send you the column in its entirety, if the Free Press figured out that they failed to erase every trace of Hansen's missive from cyberspace.)
Now, columnists frequently use their positions to embarrass some employee of a restaurant, clothing store, airport, or other business that fails to give them the respect they're sure is due to "a public figure", as Hansen put it.
But this columnist picked a fight with the wrong patsy.
The Liquor Commission promptly fought back with all guns blazing. Starting with videotape of the incident and following with written statements from people who saw and heard what happened.
As Bob Cox put it in his note:
"liquor store staff were following a policy that requires them to ask any customer who appears to be under 25 for identification. The writer (Hansen- ed.) became agitated, used profanity, and made rude gestures, according to liquor store employees."
Then came the knockout blow.
"The writer was not accompanied by a female, though his column said that a woman with him produced expired identification that was rejected."
Ouch. That's gotta hurt.
As one Web wag said about the matter:
Cool, its good to know i'm not the only person out there with an imaginary girlfriend.
The Free Press dropped the hammer on Hansen immediately. The offending column was yanked from the newspaper's website. And the betting is that you won't be seeing Hansen's opinions in the pages of the FP anytime soon. Or ever.
Cox hurriedly sent out a memo, copied to publisher Andy Ritchie who holds the MLCC advertising account near and dear to his heart.
Cox, without once naming Hansen, reminded his employees:
" Please note it is against Free Press policy to trade on the name of the Free Press for personal advantage or to threaten to use the newspaper to help an employee in a personal matter unrelated to any journalism we are doing ...
You may not solicit or receive any significant benefit from any subject you may write about ...
In short the Free Press name should be used only for legitimate journalistic purposes and not for personal ones. "
( It remains to be seen if his lecture includes the marrying of interview subjects - ed.)
The FP cut Hansen a lot of slack this year.
They didn't say anything when he got arrested at the new skateboard park following a confrontation with a security guard. We don't know if he "became agitated, used profanity, and made rude gestures" in that incident, too.
Back in April Hansen and editor Gerald Flood butted heads over a column of Hansen's that was spiked. Hansen found merit in the 911 Truth movement, which believes the attacks on the World Trade Centre were engineered by the Bush administration. Flood was not amused.
Undeterred, Hansen wrote to Alex Jones, a syndicated radio host in the U.S., who peddles the 911 conspiracy theories at every opportunity. He has posted both Hansen's letter and his interview with the FP columnist on his website.
Dear Mr. Jones,
As a regular op-ed columnist for the *Winnipeg Free Press* since October, 2004, I have had only two submissions refused by my editor, both of which concerned the Bush administration and information first discovered on your websites. Both of my rejected columns are attached; please feel free to publish them or to contact me at will.
In his interview, Hansen says he always believed that the Twin Towers were brought down by planted explosives and that the government cover-up is unravelling thanks to Jones and his fellow conspiracy freaks.
Alex Jones' strokes him by praising his bravery for being the only one of an alleged 200 reporters who had stories censored for wanting to print "the truth".
Hansen has a message for the editor who killed his 911 conspiracy column:
"Sorry, Mr. Flood, you should have run it."
He tells Jones, "He didn't realize I was ahead of my time."
But actually, he wasn't.
He was preceeded by Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, and even Janet Cooke.
That's some team to be joining.