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.

Name:
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

Monday, May 29, 2006

Free Press reporter wants a medal; The Aspers want a Newspaper

Everybody can use a good laugh by the weekend, but Winnipeg Free Press National Reporter Paul Samyn had us rolling on the floor with his open letter to readers on Sunday.

Samyn is a member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery which is openly at war with Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

This week they decided to boycott a press conference on additional funding to Darfur by turning their backs on the P.M. and walking out en masse, Darfur be damned.

The FP's boy in Ottawa has been a happy soldier in the battle yet he can't shake a nagging suspicion that people are laughing at him. Putting on his best folksy airs, he asked his hometown audience to, maybe, show a little appreciation.

The War on Harper is a fight for the very soul of journalism, Samyn pleaded.

"...Harper only wants to talk to use if we first put our names on a list he controls. We don't want to give him that control over us."

Fight. Paul. Fight.
Fight the list. Fight the list, Paul.

"Don't look at our stand as a defence of media rights. Instead, see this as an issue of the media's responsibility to you, the reader."

Okay, we lost it here. He had us in stitches as soon as he put on the crown of responsibility.

The Crown of Responsibility on the head of a media hack is second only to Maxwell Smart under the Cone of Silence in our book.

And, of course, like a good comedian, Samyn saved the punchline for last:

"Since I am your proxy on Parliament Hill, tell me what you think we should do."

Ho Ho Ho.
Well, Paul, since you asked....

Stephen Harper was elected to represent Canadians in Parliament. You weren't. We don't care about the petty egos of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. You are not representing the people of this country by NOT doing your jobs. You claim our proxy? Get to work.

You're worried Harper won't call your name from his list?
Stop being such a fraidy cat.
Be a man.
Break from the pack.
Put you name on the list and see what happens.

At least then you'll know for sure and won't bore us with your conspiracy theories.


While the Press Gallery was having a group hug and feeling sorry for themselves, a couple of reporters slipped away from the whinefest and did some actual reporting. Maybe, Paul, you can ask them how they did it.

"Ministers scramble to make the next Top 5"
Allan Woods of Canwest News had an excellent story about the jockeying by government ministers to get their policies on the government's next Top 5 priorities list.

He talked to "Tory sources", "one aide to a Conservative Cabinet minister", "a number of high-ranking Conservatives", "one top Conservative", "one Tory strategist", "one Tory insider", and "another Conservative". That's called working your beat, Paul.

And there was "Tory MPs May Be Challenged For Spots" by Peter O'Neil, also of Canwest News. He broke the story that if the Conservative Party lifts the protection from sitting MPs to nomination challenges, religious conservatives are prepared to "target MPs they consider weak on (the) gay marriage issue."

He talked to Byng Giraud, B.C. national council member, Rev. Charles McVety of the Defend Marriage Coalition, Campaign Life Coalition spokesman Jim Hughes, and James Moore, MP for Port-Moody-Port Coquitlam.

Wow, while your were muling about Stephen Harper, a real reporter went out and wrote a story. How did he manage that? Oh, yeah, he asked people questions. No list. No whine.

Samyn has eked out a story or two when he's not fighting for freedom on Parliament Hill. His latest was on how the Conservatives haven't coughed up money (for a labour training deal) promised by the Liberals days before an election call. And the one before that was on how the Conservatives haven't coughed up money (for the Virology Lab) promised by the LIberals during the election campaign. Do you see a pattern?

Liberals (Belinda Stronach, Reg Alcock) promised millions (coincidentally at election time) because they're good. Conservatives (Stephen Harper, Stephen Fletcher) haven't spent it because they're bad.

This is standard operating procedure for Samyn. He had a "working relationship" with Alcock. He got "leaks" from the Alcock camp on Friday so they could run as "exclusive" stories on Saturday. Other media outlets would get the report, the study, the announcement, whatever on Saturday morning well after it was in print in the Free Press. So when he needs a story, now...well, where's that list of Liberal contacts?

How tough do you think Samyn's questions to the Liberals were? And he had to wait in line to ask. What a trooper.

Samyn pleads he's fighting for freedom, just like, you know, soldiers in Afghanistan. He fails to point out to "Dear Reader" that only one reporter has been prevented from asking a question on Parliament Hill --- when he was shouted down by the Parliamentary Press Gallery!

Reporters are being muzzled? It seems they are, but...by the Parliamentary Press Gallery!

Sheila Copps, a member of the PPG, writes in her Sunday column that this week "media bureau chiefs got together to convince colleagues across Canada to join the parliamentary freeze-out of Harper."

Hmmm. There's a story there. Unfortunately, there doesn't appear to be a reporter on Parliament Hill, or an editor in any home town in Canada, who recognizes it.

Why hasn't one single reporter done a story about the orchestrated walkout at the Harper press conference. We don't mean the "officially approved" stories that ran in the MSM. We mean one where the reporters who walked out are identified by name and affiliation ( Who), with interviews with them (Why). With tough questions, like How did you vote in the election? Have Liberal or NDP MPs offered help? How can you report fairly on the Conservatives when you're show open contempt for the Prime Minister?

We'll hold our breath for that story.

In the meantime, "Canada's largest media union" has joined the fray. The Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union of Canada (CEP) has issued a statement calling for MPs to hold Harper "accountable" for gagging the media."It smacks of totalitarianism," said Peter Murdoch, secretary-treasurer.

The CEP endorsed the NDP in the last election, but we're sure they're not biased. CEP represents 26,000 members in the media including employees at Canada's private broadcasters such as CTV and Global, and brags that it's members have had "far fewer labor disputes" than the CBC.

Speaking of bias, the Globe and Mail has apparently agreed with The Black Rod that news stories about the War on Harper should carry a disclaimer. It's not as complete as we suggested, but its a start.


"He also made the point that The Globe is a politically independent paper, but happened to endorse Mr. Harper and the Conservatives in the last election."
' With a report from Gloria Galloway in Vancouver. She and Mr. Sallot are members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery. '

***************

Winnipeg's other daily newspaper, The Winnipeg Sun, announced a changing of the guard this week.

Stephen Ripley, steps into the elephantine shoes of Bill Davidson as editor-in-chief. Mark Hamm becomes managing editor and Ted Wyman takes over from him at the helm of the sports department.

But take it from The Black Rod, gents, don't get too comfortable in those chairs.

When the Asper Freres deserted Winnipeg for Toronto they looked back with a fresh perspective. We had always believed they wanted the biggest fish in the newspaper pond for their media empire, which is to be centralized in a still-to-be-built media complex just off Portage and Main.

The sharing of stories between Canwest and the Free Press, the deal to print the National Post on FP presses....well, what were we to think. They were canoodling, even if there was no marriage ring.

But the bush telegraph says all bets are off.

The Aspers realized that Quebecor is a printing company that barely tolerates their newspapers as a necessary annoyance. And Quebecor has a struggling newspaper in Winnipeg ripe for an offer.

We're just saying...

Friday, May 26, 2006

News with a Disclaimer

There was an unreported ambulance shortage this week when almost every available emergency vehicle was rushed to the Winnipeg Free Press. What they found there was shocking.

Columnist Frances Russell was reportedly passed out cold in a faint on the floor. Columnist Bill Neville was being revived with a cold compress at his neck. Columnist Val Werier was complaining of feeling dizzy and disoriented. Columnist Gordon Sinclair was almost catatonic, staring into a mirror and mumbling something or other to himself (is that unusual?-ed).

The liberal press corps had read the terrible news on the front page.

Harper would get majority: new poll
Highest level of support for Conservatives in 20 years
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government is so popular with Canadians that it would be swept back into power with a majority if an election was held now, a new poll has found.

After weeks of telling everyone that the Conservatives were alienating voters every single day, that the electorate was repelled by Stephen Harper, that Canada was champing at the bit to toss the extremists out....this.

A wave of cognitive dissonance swept the newsroom, felling the columnists as surely as Hurricane Katrina felled the trees of the bayou.


The prognosis was grave, but for one ray of hope that kept the liberal hope alive. The Parliamentary Press Gallery had engaged in a massive demo of disrespect for the Prime Minister.

A weak cheer escaped the throats of the Free Press writers.

Hurrah.... Hurrah.

24 or 30 members of the Press Gallery (published numbers varied) had literally turned their backs on P.M. Stephen Harper and walked out when he came over to answer questions about his announcement of more millions for aid to Darfur.Was it only one month ago when these intrepid journalists were stomping their feet and demanding that Harper rescind his ban on the press at the airport when the bodies of four soldiers killed in Afghanistan returned to Canada?

Then, the press claimed they had a right to film the grief of the families because, as journalists, they were the embodiment of the Public. They had the proxy of the citizenry of the country. They had to see the coffins; it was their jobs.

Now, the Parliamentary Press Gallery has decided that representing the public means NOT doing their jobs.

Go figure.

As best we can determine, only two reporters (plus some TV cameramen and news photographers) stayed to face Prime Minister Harper. One of them was Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star and the other, we believe, was Mike Blanchfield, CanWest News Service. The others just walked away. They were asked to put their names on a list if they wanted to ask Harper a question. They refused, deciding that Darfur was less important to Canadians than their quarrel with the Prime Minister.

The Free Press carried an editorial on the Press War on Harper. It started:

The feud between Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the parliamentary press gallery has spun, not so much out control as out of proportion. Both sides should give their heads a shake.

What the paper didn't do was identify their own Ottawa reporter, Paul Samyn, as one of the Press Gallery gang that failed the public.

Samyn, who distinguished himself during the federal election campaign by reporting on Kreskin the Mentalist rather than the Income Trust Scandal, joined the other reporters who felt that earning their pay meant NOT REPORTING from Parliament Hill.


But who else?

While there were stories in all the papers and newscasts about the Press protest against Harper, there was something missing in every one of them. It's a textbook case of how the press reports on itself.

What was missing was one of the five W's----Who.


Not one of the stories named the reporters who walked out on the P.M. Why? Surely that's the most important element of the story.

Even CTV's Mike Duffy, host of a daily show on politics, prefers to play the yokel "Gaw-aw-aww-lly. Whay's Mister Harper actin' lahk that?" rather than present the facts. Not even he wants to expose the pack.

So who walked out and why is it important?

Because this isn't a game.

A national reporters showing disrespect for the elected leader of the government is news. If he's collecting a paycheque from the CBC, that's news. If he's representing the Winnipeg Free Press on Parliament Hill, that's news in Winnipeg.


Nobody elected the Parliamentary Press Gallery. All their pretences to represent the public are just that, pretences.

The Press Gallery members have recognized their claims to be doing this for the good of mankind ring hollow outside their own circle. Thursday, Susan Delacourt of the Toronto Star (in her paper) and Kady O'Malley of the Hill Times (on CBC TV) tried a new tack.

The confrontation with Stephen Harper is all about accountability, they said. Not political accountability, but the accountability of the executive members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

You see, they're elected and all the reporters on Parliament Hill have to be assured that they're doing their job fairly.

We want the PPG to run the news conferences because if they do a bad job -- giving all the questions to the CBC, or English language or Toronto-based media, or men/women only, for example -- we can hold them accountable. (Susan Delacourt, email to Antonia Zerbisias)

The only way they can do that is to let the Press Gallery continue to organize press conferences and decide who gets to ask questions and in what order. If they screw up, then the members of the Press Gallery can throw them out of office.

That's why the reporters don't want to let Stephen Harper make that decision. The reporters want to hold their own accountable. See?


And, of course, there's that boogie man the Press Gallery manufactured to give them an excuse to attack Stephen Harper. The Press Gallery doesn't want to let him pick which reporters get to ask questions because, they say, WHAT IF...

"... there's a crisis. They'll only call upon journalists they expect softball questions from?" said Yves Malo, a TVA reporter and president of the press gallery (the third president in three months, but that's another story.)

There isn't a lick of evidence for this conjecture, but it provides the Press Gallery with a cover to justify anti-Conservative stories.

After the government introduced its Accountability Act, CBC reporter Keith Boag started his story for the National with some cheap shots at Harper over the dispute with the Press Gallery.

When the body of soldier Nichola Goddard's was brought back to Canada, Canwest reporter Mike Drolet's story was all about the ban on the press at the airport, even though he had to provide all the criticism of the government himself because he couldn't find a non-politician to say anything bad.

And now the Darfur story becomes a story about the press.

What self-important indulgence. Only this week it got worse.

Stephen Harper was in British Columbia on Thursday to announce he planned to make street racing a criminal offence. The Press Gallery showed up, and, you guessed it, turned the event into a story about the Press Gallery.

CBC carried clips from the Q&A.

Harper comments that "The Press Gallery will not allow journalists to ask questions."

A reporter off-camera bellows: "It's simply not true what you just said."

Calling the Prime Minister or President of a country a liar is what passes for journalism these days. It's the fastest way to become a hero to the Press Gallery.

Except that Harper was explaining fact, and it was the reporter who was lying. It's even on video.


In March, Harper announced his Accountability Act to the country. Harper and Treasury Board President John Baird were to meet with reporters in foyer of the House of Commons. That's when the Parliamentary Press Gallery launched its assault on the Prime Minister.

A line was drawn in the Parliamentary sand. List or line-up. Choose your Canada.

The Press Gallery decided who would be in line and what they would ask. They set up mikes and formed nice Canadian lines and waited.

The PMO then announced it would hold the press conference in another room.

Much wailing and knashing of teeth followed. Press Gallery reporters crowded into the smaller room and tried to form the requisite lines as per the plan. PMO communications officer Dimitri Soudas arrived and tried to make a list of who wanted to ask questions. The gallery members refused to sign up.

When the Prime Minister arrived, he took a question or two from the lines, then asked Tim Naumetz, who writes for Canwest and Time Canada, whether he had any questions. The transcript of what happened tells the story:

Harper: Tim, do you have a question?

Tim Naumetz: Yeah, I have a question on that. The section that allows--[gallery members interjected and refused to let Naumetz continue]

Naumetz: Oh, I'm sorry.

Julie Van Dusen: Yeah, that's what the lineup's about.

Harper: Go ahead, Tim. If you want a question, you can.

Van Dusen: Well, we've lined up here.

Harper: That's fine. I asked Tim to ask me a question. Go ahead, Tim, if you want. If he wants.

Van Dusen: So you're going to ignore the lineup that's been lining up for 15 minutes?

Harper: Tim, do you want to ask a question or not?

Naumetz: Well, I wasn't aware that there was a line.

Van Dusen: There is a line.

Harper: Go ahead, Julie. Ask your question.

The Prime Minister answered her question, then left the room, having watched the Parliamentary Press Gallery browbeat a reporter into silence.

Now pay attention to all the stories you'll read, hear and see about the "feud" between the Prime Minister and the press, and ask why they will never include this fact.

The stories will never tell you that the Parliamentary Press Gallery has already shouted down one reporter who tried to do his job and ask a question about an act of Parliament.


The stories will never tell you that the Parliamentary Press Gallery makes its own carefully controlled list of who gets to ask questions, and nobody knows how they make that list, or even who makes it up?

Why should the public trust the Parliamentary Press Gallery any more than the Prime Minister? At least the P.M. is accountable to voters. The PPG is a law to itself.

And if members are willing to lie about having forced a reporter into silence, what else are they willing to do? Fake an embarassing press release?

Oh, look, the Parliamentary Press Gallery just happened to distribute a fake press release to reporters two weeks ago. What an amazing coincidence.

The news release, on the Prime Minister's letterhead, said Harper was investigating high-ranking public servants for sex scandals, drug trafficking, prostitution and other illegal activities. The phoney release apparently came in by fax and the press gallery's chief of staff, Terry Guillon, said a staffer "accidentally forwarded the message to reporters."

Yeah, oops.

When the Toronto Star was carrying stories by columnist Rosie DiManno, who was embedded with Canadian troops in Afghanistan, they ended her stories with disclaimers explaining that her columns were subject to military censorship.

Maybe all stories by members of the Parliamentary Press Gallery should carry disclaimers until the spat with the P.M. is over. Something like

"The author of this report is currently in a titanic struggle with the government Canadians elected. Therefore the contents are in accordance with approved Press Gallery procedure and may not be true to all people. Whatever you do, DO NOT read blogs to correct or we're screwed."

Monday, May 22, 2006

Global TV enlists dead soldier in its War on Harper

Sometimes bad reporting is so bad it crosses a line and becomes despicable.

That's the only way to describe Global Television's coverage of the return of soldier Nichola Goddard's body to Canada.

There wasn't even a pretence of being fair or unbiased because how can you be unbiased when the story is all about you.


Reporter Mike Drolet decided that the most important part of the story of Goddard's return to Canadian soil was the Mainstream Media's whine about not being allowed to stick cameras in the face of her grieving parents.

So that's all he talked about. Me me me me. The MSM Story.


Here's the Global National intro, as read by anchor Tara Nelson.

Under the cover of darkness, a Canadian Forces plane landed at CFB Trenton, Ontario, last night.
Capt. Nicola Goddard's body was repatriated to Canada as her family looked on.
Once again, however, the media was locked off.
Her family is adamant that will not be the case at her funeral later this week.

No subtlety there. Under cover of darkness...see. The evil government doesn't want you to see this.

The brave media is LOCKED OUT...Oh no. Who will save us from the evil Conservatives?

The family of Nicola, of course. It's ADAMANT that Stephen Harper will not prevail.

What a story.
What drama.
What emotion.
What lies.


A google search took 0.03 seconds to provide the information that the plane with Goddard's body was supposed to arrive at 4 p.m. EDT but was delayed for eight hours because of a fuel leak. There was no conspiracy to wait for darkness before landing.

That was a conspiracy only in the minds of Global TV's editors, anchors and reporters, each of whom could have discovered the truth with next to no effort.


But that would have spoiled the focus of the story.
Everyone knows a good story has to have conflict.
And the conflict is the good media versus the evil Stephen Harper.

Mike Drolet:
When CNG's body left Afghanistan, the emotional ceremony was captured by the media.
But as soon as the plane carrying her casket landed in Canada, the rules changed.
An honour guard escorted the casket to a waiting hearse before her family slowly walked over.
This is all we were able to see--- and is the way Stephen Harper wants it.

The media is being banned from filming the repatriation of bodies and it has become a sore point for the families of some soldiers who have died overseas.

Drolet illustrated the story with video of Nicola Goddard's body being removed from the airplane that brought her back to Canada.

Some ban. Maybe he meant the fact he had to borrow the video from CBC because Global missed it.


His next step was to use the families of dead soldiers to condemn Stephen Harper. Except they didn't want to play his game.

Goddard's family? They said they "were not overly concerned with the tarmac issue." The funeral on Friday will be public, they said.

Drolet was sure he could count on Lincoln Dinning, father of fallen soldier Cpl.Matthew Dinning, to be suitably outraged at the tarmac "censorship".

But Dinning told Global "he's not going to pursue" it. Undeterred, Drolet reported what he claimed to be Dinning's position (he had no video and no audio of an interview). Global's reporter said Dinning told him "there was no point in getting in a fight with the Prime Minister he can't possibly win."


There. Got the P.M. in even if he had to do it himself.But the criticism was pretty lame.

If you want better, you can always count on the Liberals. And guess what. Defence Critic Usal Dosanjh, who voted to support Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan before voting against it, was up to the job.

The evil Conservatives are just like that evil George Bush. They should let people see caskets with dead soldiers in them. That's the Canadian way, said Dosanjh.

Drolet knew that to be "fair" he should have something from the Conservatives.
"Harper has said his policy is in place to guard the privacy of families, even though some say they want support rather than silence."

A statement from Stephen Harper, immediately undercut by an editorial comment.

That's the Global News way. Untrue, unfair and unbalanced.

The MSM in general is having a tough time reporting on Afghanistan.
On the one hand you have to support the troops, which is always easier when you have a Canadian soldier killed in battle. On the other hand, you have to do your best to question the mission, which the soldiers are staunchly behind.

In times like these, its best that nobody in a newsroom knows how to count.
Because it fhey did, they would be forced to report how well the peacemaking has gone this past week.

Let's take as a starting point, an alarmist story in the New York Times that two and half weeks ago.

Taliban power creeps back in Afghan south
By Carlotta Gall The New York Times
FRIDAY, MAY 5, 2006

TIRIN KOT, Afghanistan Building on a winter campaign of suicide bombings and assassinations and the knowledge that U.S. troops are leaving southern Afghanistan, the Taliban appear to be moving their insurgency into a new phase, flooding the rural areas of the south with weapons and men.

The alarming part concerned Kandahar province, where Canada's fighting forces are stationed.

In one of the most serious developments, about 200 Taliban have moved into the district of Panjwai, only a 20- minute drive from the capital of the south, Kandahar, Karzai's home city.

The police and coalition forces clashed with them two weeks ago, yet the Taliban returned, walking in the villages openly with their weapons and sitting under the trees and eating mulberries, according to a resident of Panjwai district.

The resident, who asked not to be identified for fear of reprisals, said the Taliban were demanding food and lodging and Muslim tithing from villagers. Their brazenness and the failure of the U.S.-led coalition to deter them is turning public opinion.


One week ago, military sources reported a clash between Afghan army forces and Taliban fighters.

The fighting battle was in Panjwai district (sound familiar?). Afghan police had gone in search of Taliban forces after receiving reports they were hiding in the area, just like the NYT story said.

"Unfortunately, we lost five of our men but we destroyed a dangerous group of Taliban. It's a big victory for our police," Mohammad Daoud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Kandahar provincial governor, told the Reuters news agency.

It was bigger than anyone in Canada knew.

11 Taliban rebels were killed in the hour-long firefight, including three "commanders". Mullah Abdul Baqi was a provincial level commander, as in he commanded forces for the whole province of Kandahar.

Nobody's said so yet, but a Mullah Abdul Baqi was the Vice-Minister of Information and Culture for the Taliban regime before they were overthrown in 2001. Could it be him?


Mullah Abdul Manan was a district level commander, as in Panjwai district. A government spokesman said Mullah Manan led a Taliban suicide squad. The Ministry of Interior later identified a third commander, Fida Mohammad, among the dead. Two more commanders, named only as Sharifuddin and Ibrhaim, were captured.

So. Sunday. 11 dead. Three top commanders killed. Two captured. Total: 13 Taliban either pushing up poppies or in custody.

The next day, two Canadian soldiers were shaken up when their vehicle was hit by a boobytrapped bomb.

On Wednesday, Afghan soldiers and Canadian troops were scouring Panjwai villages in a search for Taliban.

Local residents had called Afghan security forces after 15 Taliban fighters were spotted hiding in a mosque. They found each other, and in a series of fights between that started before dawn and lasted well into the night, the Taliban were bloodied again.


Nichola Goddard was killed in one of the battles.

Friday's Globe and Mail and the National Post have good accounts of the that clash. By day's end, 18 Taliban were dead and 35 captured. Among the prisoners was a one-legged man in a coma. Early reports said he bore a close resemblance to Mullah Dadullah (we're not making this up), a very senior Taliban commander. But that's not been confirmed, and, indeed, someone claiming to be Mullah Dadullah phoned wire services in Pakistan and denied he was in custody.

Seven more Taliban were killed in fighting in the Panjwai village of Azizi and an estimated 15-20 died when a B-1 bomber unleashed a 500-pound bomb on a compound from which rebels were firing.

The B-1's JDAM (joint direct attack munition) is a big sucker, which destroys everything in an area the size of a football field. No wonder they can't exactly determine how many gunmen were in the compound. They have to rely on estimates from people who lived in Azizi.

Tally for Wednesday: 18 Taliban killed, 35 captured plus 7 killed and 15-20 blown up real good. Total: 75-80 Taliban out of commission, including one top level commander.

But do the math. That's 88 Taliban killed or captured in one week. If there were originally 200, that means 44 percent are out of the picture. And that was before the latest Coalition attack.

On Sunday, an air strike on Azizi killed another 50 or so Taliban insurgents. A villager told reporters at a local hospital that they had been hiding in an Islamic religious school in the village, recovering from the fighting of the previous week.

"Helicopters bombed the madrassa and some of the Taliban ran from there and into people's homes. Then those homes were bombed," said Haji Ikhlaf, 40. "I saw 35 to 40 dead Taliban..."

Add 35-50 to 88 and you have 123 to 138 Taliban dead or captive in eight days. That means almost two-thirds of the alarming 200 Taliban in Panjwai district are not a threat any more. The rest, the one's not wounded, are running for their lives.

In our book, that's good news, indeed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

O'Learygate losses mount, trustees spell loss p-r-o-f-i-t

And the winner of the Pinocchio nose-stretcher award is.....The Seven Oaks School Division, aided and abetted by Education Minister Peter Bjornson.

The Seven Oaks School Division has issued another financial statement, audited no less, regarding its less-than-legal Swinford Park land development.

And guess what? It's less credible than the first one.

The Black Rod crunched the numbers and discovered that Seven Oaks S.D.:

*has lost more than $300,000-- and counting--- on its ill-fated land deal just as REPORTED IN THE BLACK ROD 11 MONTHS AGO.

* has spent $819,000 on a school that's not being built

* is buying land for a new high school despite having bought land for a new high school five years ago, then selling most of it off to land developers -- and claiming that what was left was too small for a high school.

Oh, and, of course, Seven Oaks says it's made a profit on Swinford Park Parts One through Four.

For the uninitiated, this saga is known as
O'Learygate, so named after Brian O'Leary, the former Superintendent of the Seven Oaks School Division (and former NDP campaign manager) under whose watch it all started.

The Seven Oaks board of trustees has issued A Report to The Community in which they say:


"In 2006, the division wrapped up the sale of surplus property through development of 70 residential lots adjacent to the new Riverbend School site. Full audited statements of the development activity are available at www.7oaks.org and show that the Division made a profit of about $450,000."

What could we do but go to the site, which turns out to be the school division's homepage.

The audit was a bit harder to find. Once on the page, first click on "Community Information", then on "Financial."
You will find two financial reports. One is on the Swinford Park development and the other is on the "Future School Site."

See, that's how they fudge the books this time. (Nobody has ever explained how they overestimated revenues by almost a million dollars in their first financial accounting of Swinford Park.
But that's another story.)

By shifting expenses from Swinford to the 'New School Site', they manage to show a profit to the uninformed reader, again.

We can't explain how they came up with $450,000 since that figure never shows up anywhere in the financial statement. The bottom line in the audited statement is a surplus of $512,118. There are some future costs still not counted and maybe they've deducted these.

Nevertheless, any surplus is fictional.

O'Learygate starts with the purchase of 15 acres of land in 2001 for a new high school. The School Division bought another 7.5 acres in 2002.

After the Public Schools Finance Board rejected a proposal for a new high school to replace West Kildonan Collegiate, Seven Oaks hived off almost 12 acres for a land development, something forbidden by the Public Schools Act.

When discovered, they claimed they had the approval of the PSFB all along and
the cover-up went into full gear.

The surplus land became 71 finished lots (not 70), which were sold for $2.4 million. The problem was that total expenses, which the school division divides between the residential development ($1.9 million) and the new school site ($819,810), added up to $2.7 million.

That's a loss of $300,000.

But keep counting, because the financial report says there are still future costs to be added. There's $28,000 for trees, $40,000 for a nature pond, and $10,000 for professional services (engineering, planning, drawings, etc.)

When all the adjustments are made, it looks like the loss on the Swinford Park development will be tickling $378,000.

Seven Oaks, of course, claims $819,000 was spent on a site for a new middle school, and has an audited financial statement to prove it.

That charade falls apart when you know that the Province has told other school divisions they won't get any money for new schools, as long as there are empty seats in old ones.

And once high school students leave West K. there will be a lot of empty seats in the old building.

So a new middle school is years and year away.

Until then, the $819,000 has bought an empty lot.

But. but, but...the auditors agree with Seven Oaks, don't they?

Uhh. Sort of, but not without plenty of provisos such as:

* "Since many of the costs incurred were common to both the future school site and residential development and not specifically allocated to either project segment by the respective service providers, the preparation of the financial information requires the use of estimates and assumptions which have been made using careful judgement.

The Division's critical accounting estimate in this financial information is the cost allocation between the future school site and the residential development. A change in the allocation basis... would directly affect both the Division's calculation of the residential development's excess of revenues over expenditures, and the cost of the land recorded by the Division for the future school site
."
And...

* "The preparation of financial information requires management to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets and liabilities, the disclosure of contingent assets and liabilities at the date of the financial information, and the reported amounts of revenues and expenses during the period. Actual results could differ from those estimates."
And...

* "Management of the Division reviewed all of the expenditures that related to the residential development and to the future school site, and were required to determine an allocation for certain costs that related to both the residential development and the future school site.

Management requested that the project consultant, a third party consulting firm, prepare a report to the Division specifying an appropriate basis for cost allocation given the nature of the expenditures incurred."

Would that be Lombard North Group?
The Lombard North Group?
The Lombard North Group that's stickhandling River Ridge, the new residential development east of Main Street, whose main selling point is---wait for it---a new high school being built by Seven Oaks School Division?
The same new high school that was supposed to be built in Swinford Park?

Hmmm.

O'Learygate is getting curiouser and curiouser. And this time, the
Education Minister can't say he doesn't know what's going on.

Maybe Bjornson can start by explaining why he told the Legislature the audit would be independant when it was nothing of the sort.

We are not casting aspersions on KPMG. They say up front they are only able to report based on numbers provided to them.

But the auditors were entirely dependant on "facts" and "estimates" and "assumptions" provided by the same people being investigated.

Haven't we seen this before under Bjornson's watch? But then again bogus investigations are a specialty of this Minister.

When a citizen first blew the whistle on the illegal Riverbend land development, Bjornson's reaction was to have the PSFB not ask Seven Oaks any actual questions, and then prepare a reply to the citizen's letter about the project they were knee-deep in from the beginning.

The letter, unsurprisingly, said everything was on the up and up.


" If The Public Schools Finance Board (PSFB) approves a new school on that property, the school division is entitled to be reimbursed its acquisition cost at fair market value... The matter of community development appears to be a local issue and as such, I would encourage you to deal directly with the school division on this issue."

Well, PSFB totally ignored the law, let alone "standard practices and procedures" or "requirements for due diligence", and prepared that "incorrect and inappropriate" letter for Bjornson.

The new legislation to restructure that body and entrench 3 deputy ministers to monitor PSFB, does nothing to hold the people who allowed the illegal development to be held accountable.

As we said last year - "Seven Oaks got not one, but two new schools (a brand new Middle Years school to replace the aging and soon to be abandoned West Kildonan Collegiate, and a new high school in, guess what, another new subdivision) when they weren't on the Finance Board's capital project list.


So all the other school divisions got cheated because they played by the rules."

Now as for dealing directly with the school division, Bjornson's suggestion may yet blow up in their face.

On May 12, the Free Press reported that the city councillor for the area encompassing the SOSD land developments, Mike O' Shaughnessy, was facing a challenge in the upcoming civic election.

The story mentioned a couple of interesting facts.

The challenger managed a federal NDP campaign in the past, will rely on the party machinery to get out the vote, and lives outside the ward boundaries.

And oh yeah, the challenger is a Seven Oaks School Division Trustee, who says his campaign to oust O'Shaughnessy isn't personal but that "he's been there for too long."

Conspicuously absent from Bartley Kives' story was any mention of O'Learygate or the trustee's role in the fiasco.

But on the campaign trail, voters at a public town hall may raise a lot of questions for trustee Ross Eadie to answer.

Such as

- the vote to suspend regular business and pass a bylaw to borrow money, seemingly because the illegal development had tied up almost a million dollars earmarked for actually educating their children.

- Or what the trustee knew about who was responsible for the misleading financial statement in October, 2004, that overstated revenues from lot sales by almost one million dollars.

- Or why at least 5 of the lots were sold for a buck, instead of the going rate of $150-200,000, and to whom.

If taxpayers are angry at being duped again, they could march down to the SOSD offices and take a number.

However keep in mind, that -378,000 is already taken.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Hams, Beefcake, and Hogs

MTC's artistic director Stephen Shipper was wistful when he talked to theatre reporter Kevin Prokosh about staging Phantom of the Paradise in the not too distant future.

He'd like to, he said. But chances are slim because of a problem with securing all the rights.

That's the spirit. Winnipeg's can't-do spirit in spades.

Haven't we learned anything from the City Summit? About action instead of words. About taking risks to make Winnipeg a more exciting city?

If there was ever a time to hop onto the Phantom bandwagon, this is it.

Paul Williams, who wrote all the songs for Phantom of the Paradise, was the feature guest at Phantompalooza II, the second annual lovefest for the movie that was a hit only in Winnipeg and Paris.

In the middle of his performance, he stopped and confessed to being overwhelmed by the response he was getting from fans at Phantompalooza. He said he was currently working on a play headed for Broadway, and that he still hoped to see Phantom of the Paradise on the Great White Way.

And if that play was ever produced, he said, it's premiere had to be here in Winnipeg.

The Broadway-bound play he referred to is a musical based on the television show Happy Days, produced by the show's creator Garry Marshall. It had its debut in Los Angeles two months ago. Former New Kids on the Block singer Joey McIntyre stars as Fonzie.

A theatrical version of Phantom of the Paradise has been kicked around for several years. In 2003, Brian de Palma, director of the movie, and Ed Pressman, its producer, came onside with the idea of taking it to the stage. Actress Gina Robello tried to produce a version and take it to Las Vegas, but that fell through.

Williams wrote some new songs, although he now says that if there's going to be a stage show, "We'd start at letter A again. I'd certainly use all of the stuff that's in the picture but I'd add to it. I'd love to see that happen." (Nerve magazine, April 2006)

And with Broadway welcoming plays based on movies (Grease, The Producers, The Graduate, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels), a new Phantom is not an unlikely prospect.

But Schipper will have to move fast. It seems producer Pressman is also thinking about Phantom of the Paradise, these days.

As a movie.
As in remake.
His website says it is "in development."

Paul Williams is no stranger to Broadway, but that connection has a strange echo for Winnipeg.

In 1989 Williams starred in the one-man Broadway show Tru. He played Tru-man Capote. Winnipeg, of course, was where much of the acclaimed movie Capote was shot.


- And still on the topic of movies, Brad Pitt fans can mark Sept.15 on their calenders. That's the day set for the release of his movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford.

We're sure it had nothing to do with shooting parts of the movie here in the Wholesale City, but Pitt was paid only $1.55 million for the movie, a steep cut from his normal asking price of $32 million.

You can catch a trailer for the movie at:http://movies.yahoo.com/feature/theassassinationofjessejames.html

- And on a completely different subject.....here's the kind of story that gets us excited---a scientific discovery that would have a tremendous impact on Manitoba if it works as planned.

UI researcher makes crude oil from pig manure
AP Wire http://www.belleville.com/mld/belleville/news/state/14449289.htm
Posted on Fri, Apr. 28, 2006 DAVE ORRICK

HAMPSHIRE, Ill. - Can the other white meat's manure make black gold? They say you can't turn a sow's ear into a silk purse, but University of Illinois researchers are working some interesting magic at the other end of the animal. "We are the first to actually do this," professor Yuanhui Zhang says proudly of his team's ability to turn swine manure into crude oil. He's a bio-environmental engineer at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who has led the 10-year research project that recently announced a breakthrough in porcine petroleum.

That neat trick may sound crude.

But it also sounds good to a pork industry swamped with oceans of swine manure, and it sounds like the national anthem to those looking to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

A typical pig produces about 6 gallons of waste a day.

For a hog farmer like Pat Dumoulin of Hampshire, who has about 1,200 sows, that's enough stinky and potentially hazardous fumes that he has a pair of 500,000-gallon tanks to properly store the stuff.

Like most farmers, much of the manure from Dumoulin's hogs winds up as fertilizer.

"Most of the farmers in our area are open to taking the hog manure," says Dumoulin, whose farm has been in his family for more than 50 years. "Sometimes it's done for no cost, sometimes they pay us a fee to spread it on their fields."

Either way, scientists have agreed for years that the chemical and capital potential of pig manure, like almost all organic waste, could have other uses.

Zhang's breakthrough wasn't that he and fellow researchers had become excrement alchemists; in about 1998, he figured out how to convert some of a pig's byproduct to an energy source. Turning garbage into natural gas, cow manure into fuel for power plants, and even fast-food grease into auto fuel are other examples of recent advances in the sub-field of icky-but-renewable energy.

Zhang's big breakthrough is that he's designed a more efficient process: a continuous reactor. Instead of converting hog waste one batch at a time, Zhang's lab, which is funded in part by the Illinois Pork Producers Association, has developed a method to feed waste continuously into a reactor, which is essentially an industrial-strength pressurized oven. And, Zhang boasts, "We don't even need pre-drying."

Chemically, pig dung isn't as different from oil as one might think. In Zhang's reactor, a process known as thermochemical conversion partially breaks down hydrocarbon molecules that make up most of the excrement, and voila: porky petrol.

Similar but not identical to the black gold it took Mother Nature eons to brew, Zhang's fuel behaves like diesel.
Now the plan is to move from the lab to a full-sized pilot reactor on a farm somewhere Downstate. Zhang predicts the process could get 3.6 gallons of crude oil a day out of each pig. Illinois brings some 7.2 million hogs to market each year and the nationwide industry is about 100-million hogs strong.

Theoretically, the resulting millions of barrels of crude a day could make a significant dent in America's dependence on nonrenewable, and often imported, oil.

But converting the nations automobile fleet to hog-oline isn't what Zhang or the hog industry is thinking about right now. No research has been done into how many current commercial vehicles could run on the fuel.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Parliamentary Press ignores McLachlin flip-flop

Decades from today, a little boy will ask his father: "What did you do in the War, daddy?"

Iraq? Uh uh.
Afghanistan? Nope.
Darfur? Not bloody likely.

The War on Harper? Now you're talking, son.

It was a titanic struggle, boy. Never forget that the evil Harper started it with a sneak attack on the Parliamentary Press Gallery. The day we were stopped from going to the third floor of Parliament will live in infamy. We tried diplomacy, but there was no talking sense to him. We had to fight. We didn't want to. The Press are peacekeepers. But he forced our hand. We had to become peacemakers almost overnight.

- Did, did you kill anyone, daddy?

Shhhh. I can't talk about it any more. It's too painful. But someday, son, you'll know why they call us the Greatest Generation of J-School. It wasn't pretty. But it had to be done. God and Supreme Court Justice forgive us.

- This kid at school says...

I know, son, I know. I've heard it for years. Gotcha journalism. It's historical revisionism.

- Huh?

It means they're trying to rewrite what really happened. Thank G--, uh, lucky for us they found the unwritten laws behind the written constitution that let us punish anyone who challenges the written record of what happened. That, my boy, is our legacy to you. Never forget it. Good reporters with deadlines and editors gave their reputations so you don't have to depend on people in their pyjamas telling you what happened.

- Huh?

The War on Harper began March 27, 2006, when spokesmen for the Parliamentary Press Gallery announced that peace talks had broken down. The Press didn't like the restrictions the Conservatives had set for them. Within two weeks letters of protest had been fired off, and there was no turning back.

For weeks it was only a sniping war. "The Conservatives are hypocrites," chorused the Parliamentary Press Gallery. "Emerson," they sang. "Flags," they bellowed. "No photo ops for coffins," they weeped. "The public has turned on Afghanistan. And you'll pay," they sang from the same songbook.

And then MP Maurice Vellacott wandered into firing range, and got slaughtered.

They're celebrating today at the CBC. They can count coup on the first victim of Gotcha in the Harper administration. That'll teach 'em for trying to put the CBC into the Accountability Act.

Maurice Vellacott can't say he wasn't warned what to expect. The Press was just waiting for someone to be an example, someone to "break" in the words of Larry Zolf. And he walked right into it, eyes wide shut.

The first rule of Gotcha is that truth doesn't matter.


The perfect example of that was the spectacle of a baying Julie Van Dusen (Parliamentary Press Gallery, CBC) pursuing Vellacott who patiently answered her barked questions by advising her to look for answers in Justice Beverley McLachlin's speech in December in New Zealand.

Speech be damned. Where's the entertainment value of reading dry facts?


Good television journalism CBC-style means screeching questions on the run to make it look like your prey is hiding something. Television is emotion, not truth. If you can't make 'em cry, make 'em run.

Good journalism CBC-style is host Don Newman turning his Politics show into an unrestricted platform for the Liberals and NDP to twist Vellacott's statements into their own political fodder. What? Read the speech and font passages that reveal McLachlin's argument for overriding written laws just as Vellacott said?? Get real. Fair and balanced is a right-wing ethos! and CBC won't fall for it.

There are so many examples of Gotcha journalism in the Vellacott matter that it makes for a case study in journalism schools.

Step One: The Gotcha moment. Vellacott talks to a CBC reporter on camera. A twisted version of his taped comments goes up on the CBC website. The Supreme Court issues an "unprecedented" rebuttal. Ignore the fact that it is not unprecedented at all and that its a calculated falsehood.


That would just spoil the story.

Step Two: Ignore the supporting evidence, in this case the speech by McLachlin that Vellacott is referring to.


It wasn't mentioned by any reporters other than The Black Rod in the first two days of the "scandal." It's easier to spin a story if you don't have to bring facts into it. To work Gotcha, you have to simplify the story. Put the schmuck on the defensive from the start. Do not examine whether what he says is true.

Step Three: The speech supports Vellacott, so quickly get off that track.


Sure the Chief Justice said unwritten rules unearthed by Supreme Court judges trump written laws passed by elected Parliamentarians. And that it's the judges' duty for find those rules and stand firm in the face of criticism. And it's true that there are no rules as to when the judges can use unwritten rules. And any laws that try to reverse the rulings of the supreme court are by nature unconstitutional, thereby making Supreme Court judges truly supreme over all other lawmaking bodies in the land.

Forget that stuff. It weakens the story.

Step Four: Go back to Gotcha. Find something to put Vellacott on the defensive. He can't win playing defence.


In this case the Parliamentary Press Gallery latched onto McLachlin's carefully worded statement that she didn't use the exact words Vellacott attributed to her. There was no consensus what words Vellacott used that should be attacked.

Some reporters chose "god-like."
Some chose "mystical."
Except that it was obvious he was speaking rhetorically.

But, remember, facts are irrelevent in Gotcha. Only repeated attacks will make him look defensive and weak.

Here's just a sampling of the spin.


MP's remarks unfounded, Supreme Court says
BILL CURRY (Parliamentary press gallery, Globe and Mail)
OTTAWA -- The Supreme Court of Canada has taken the unusual step of challenging a Conservative MP over false claims about Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin.
The comments from Saskatchewan MP Maurice Vellacott, which he later said were inaccurate, will likely cost him his new job as chairman of the House aboriginal affairs committee.


( "False claims." Well, that's that then. No ambiguity where Bill Curry stands.)

snip

"I may have given the impression that in the speech she expressly said that she had 'god-like powers.' I acknowledge that Ms. McLachlin did not literally use those words," the release (from Vellacott) said.

Vellacottt is quoting what others said about what he said. For his exact words go to our story.

Chief justice rebukes Tory MP
PM also distances himself from remarks that top court judges play `God'
May 9, 2006. 01:00 AM
TONDA MACCHARLES (Parliamentary Press Gallery, Toronto Star)OTTAWA BUREAU
OTTAWA-The country's top judge has fired back at a Conservative MP who deplored the "God-like powers" judges take upon themselves. Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin took the highly unusual step of publicly defending herself and the courts after Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott (Saskatoon-Wanuskewin) claimed during a weekend CBC television interview that McLachlin herself believes judges take on "some mystical kind of power" on the bench.

Vellacott never used the term "god-like powers'. Reporters like Tonda MacCharles did and attributed them to Vellacott.

PM Peeved By MP's Justice Remarks
KATHLEEN HARRIS , PARLIAMENTARY BUREAU (Parliamentary Press Gallery, Sunmedia)
OTTAWA -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper has distanced his government from a rogue Tory MP who suggested Canada's top justice plays God with the law.

snip

Vellacott sparked the firestorm over the weekend when he said Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin had suggested that judges take on "almost god-like powers" when they take the bench.

Even better. Use paraphrasing to make up a completely different story, then repeat the false quote.

What the Parliamentary Press Gallery missed is the fact that Beverley McLachlin is extraordinarily sensitive about this speech.

A good reporter would wonder why?

It's not on the Supreme Court website and this is not the first time McLachlin attacked the credibility of someone who mentioned the speech.

The last time it was a reporter.


McLachlin urges judges to go beyond the letter of the law
Courts should defy legislation to protect rights, chief justice says
Janice Tibbets, The Ottawa Citizen
Monday, December 05, 2005
"Judges should feel "emboldened" to trump the written word of the constitution when protecting fundamental, unwritten principles and rights, says Canada's chief justice.

This pipsqueak reporter had to be squashed.
And Nancy K. Brooke, executive legal officer, Supreme Court of Canada, was sent to do the squashing. In an official rebuke ( which found it's way into the Globe and Mail), the first and well before Vellacott, she wrote:


"Janice Tibbett's report inaccurately represented what Beverley McLachlin said in her recent speech in New Zealand."

"The Chief Justice did not say that rights should be put before the constitution; nor did she say that judges should "feel emboldened to trump the written word of the constitution." What she did say is that constitutions, including unwritten constitutional norms, may supplement and sometimes trump ordinary (i.e. non-constitutional) laws."

Now compare this to how our Miss Brooke responded to Vellacott:

"I can categorically deny that Chief Justice McLachlin has ever said what Mr. Vellacott has attributed to her."

It has, Brooke told the press, "always" been her (McLachlin's) view that "it is a judge's role to interpret and apply the law."

"If a law is not clear, it's ambiguous, judges are required to interpret it, and they're required to make choices but those choices are always made in accordance with legal precedents and with the laws laid down by Parliament and the legislatures."

Somewhere between December and May, the judge forgot she believed in sometimes trumping ordinary laws.

She also forgot people can read.

P.23 of her 30 page speech.
"Here we face another apparent contradiction. On the one hand, the legitimacy of the judiciary depends on the justification of its decisions by reference to a society"s fundamental constitutional values. This is what we mean when we say the task of judges is to do justice. Judges who enforce unjust laws---laws that run counter to fundamental assumptions about the just society-lose their legitimacy. When judges allow themselves to be co-opted be (sic) evil regimes, they are no longer fit to be judges. This is the lesson of the Nuremberg Trials. It is also a lesson, however, that should embolden judges when faced with seemingly more mundane manifestations of injustice."

That's pretty simple. Judges don't have to wait for fascists to impose their order on a country, they "should" be emboldened to overturn mundane laws that conflict with the unwritten principles of justice.

Brooke was playing semantics when she attacked Janice Tibbets.

McLachlin didn't say judges could override the constitution; the constitution gives judges the power to override ordinary laws. The unwritten principles don't override the written constition, they are part of, but superior to, the written constitution.


Attacking Vellacott she said that judges make choices and "those choices are always made in accordance with legal precedents and with the laws laid down by Parliament and the legislatures."

Page 12 of her 30 page speech
"The argument I have been advancing may dispose of the suggestion that, as a matter of principle, it is inherently wrong for judges to rely on unwritten constitutional norms, if constitutional is understood here in the sense of an overriding principle that can invalidate laws and executive acts"

Page 25 of her 30 page speech
"The task of the judge, confronted with conflict between a constitutional principle of the highest order on the one hand and an ordinary law or executive act on the other, is to interpret and apply the law as a whole---including relevant unwritten constitutional principles."

Further down Page 25
"How does the judge discharge this duty? First, it seems to me, the judge must seek to interpret a suspect law in a way that reconciles it with the constitutional norm, written or unwritten. If an ordinary law is clearly in conflict with a fundamental constitutional norm, the judge may have no option but to refuse to apply it."

In simpler terms, McLachlin says there's nothing inherently wrong with using unwritten constituional "norms" to invalide laws passed by Parliament and that the job of judges is to use "relevant" unwritten principles to decide whether a law, passed by Parliament, should be applied or not.

That's as far away from "always accordance with legal precedents and with the laws laid down by Parliament and the legislatures" as New Zealand is from Ottawa.

It's also the exact opposite of what McLachlin told the compliant Gotcha press and what was reported to the public.

Who wasn't telling the truth? Can we trust the Parliamentary Press Gallery to give the answer?

The Globe and Mail published an entire speech Stephen Harper gave in 1997 in Montreal to a meeting of the Council for National Policy, which was identified as "an obscure right-wing American organization". The speech was printed during the election campaign when Liberals and New Democrats thought it could hurt Harper at the polls.

Three years ago, the Globe published an entire speech delivered by Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin on human rights. (Coincidentally, she quoted liberally from Michael Ignatieff in her speech. Who knew?)

But when it comes to a speech outlining her views on the supremacy of judges in the political system of Canada, the Globe and Mail can't find space to publish more than a snippet here and a snippet there.

Gotcha.

*******

While we're at it, it's not all bleak. There is some good reporting out there which deserves commendation.

** Winnipeg Sun columnist Tom Brodbeck won an in-house award, the Edward Dunlop award for excellence within Sun Media newspaper chain, for his series of stories about a world war two veteran who was a bureaucratic prisoner of the public trustee's office.

Brodbeck successfully forced the province to change a bad law, which is more than PC caucus managed in the last year.


** Winnipeg Free Press writer Gerald Flood asked the right questions and had the right answers in his editorial page column "Flood Structural Flaws doom First Nations". Why are there no native-run commercial businesses on Indian reserves when non-natives make a fortune?


** Winnipeg Free Press reporter Bill Redekop did impressive digging to uncover the story that new water conservation laws can wind up costing farmers $1 billion cost land in lost land values.

The story prompted one reader of the Black Rod to say:

You complain a lot about the lack of journalism work ethics among today’s reporters.

In Monday’s FP, Bill R. displayed good investigative reporting by actually taking the time to get in his car and travel beyond the Perimeter Highway.

In his journey, he found and reported on a story that no one else was willing to profile. I appreciate his effort to get out of his office, speak with real people, and report their stories in his articles.

I hope his example will get the editors of the FP to recognize that there is a province beyond the city as well.


And bad reporting continues to give the profession a bad rep:

* *Let's start with the discrepancies in the daily newspapers in their stories about the latest ratings for the local television newscasts.

CTV viewership
164,400 (an average quarter-hour) Winnipeg Sun
179,000 (from 6 -6:30 p.m.) Winnipeg Free Press

Up about 8000 from last spring (i.e. 156,000 last spring) (Winnipeg Sun)
Compared to 169,800 at the same time last year (Winnipeg Free Press)

CityTV Viewership
8,700 average audience Winnipeg Sun
9.600 viewers Winnipeg Free Press

down from 13,000 from A-Channel's supper hour show (Winnipeg Sun)
compared to 18,000 in last year's spring ratings book (Winnipeg Free Press)

** Just a week after delegates to the Mayor's City Summit agreed on the need for action on the city's problems instead of more talk, we had this story by Mary Agnes Welch

Commission idea revived.core residents seek help to fight slum landlords, beggars

The headline writer thought the big story was the proposal for a new police commission. But nobody could answer how such a commission would operate so that part of the story was fizzled out.

To Welch's credit, she highlighted the real story of the meeting --- the Spence community's plea for help and the city council's brush off.

Once upon a time this is the kind of story that would have inspired a newspaper to throw all its resources in.

Editorial writers would have excoriated the councillors for their insolence. A team of reporters would have been marshalled to go into the community to dig out individual human interest stories. Columnists would have given voice to the residents and reported on the progress of the city in helping its citizens.


Instead we had one throwaway City Hall story with a bland headline.

The Free Press devoted more space, more resources, and more energy into attacking Sam Katz for making a passing reference to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.


Attention publisher A. Ritchie: Are you wondering why fewer and fewer people are reading the newspaper?

** Canwest News television reporter Jacques Bourbeau (Parliamentary Press Gallery) doesn't understand the boundaries between editorial comment and news reporting.

A recent report by him on Kyoto funding carried this line:

"As the Conservatives slash and burn environmental programs"

He then went to speak to the owner of a hybrid bus---Liberal Scott Brison, whose dual claims to fame are that he's a turncoat Conservative and that he leaked news of his government's income trust policy and cost the Liberals the election. Brison, surprise, surprise, thought the Conservatives were bad people.

Maybe Bourbeau should read a Canwest newspaper like the National Post -- which just days before had a story about how the slashed environmental programs were a vast waste of money and would be the topic of a coming report by the Auditor General.

Bourbeau did end his piece, and we mean at the very, very end, with the comment that the Conservatives were coming up with their own environmental policies.

** Winnipeg's own Paul Samyn (Parliamentary Press Gallery, Winnpeg Free Press) had a follow to his own story, reporting that the first Conservative government budget did not include money to expand the virology lab. They were only getting more money to do more research.

He spoke with Terry Duguid President and CEO of the. Winnipeg-based International Centre for Infectious Diseases who said the Conservatives were bad people.

Samyn failed to mention that Duguid ran twice as a Liberal Party candidate federally (2004 and 2005) and once provincially (1990).


** And, of course, Free Press columnist Frances Russell makes the list again with her latest screed about all her reasons she hates Stephen Harper.

To prove her point she used a poll that was outdated the day before she wrote her column.


"The CTV-Globe and Mail-Strategic Counsel poll shows the leaderless Liberals at 31 per cent, just four points behind the Harper Conservatives at 35 per cent, a drop of six points since April."

"Prime Minister, Canadians are watching you. And they don't like what they see."

Well.

Two public opinion polls published after the CTV poll showed a radically different Canada.

A poll by Decima Research taken between May 4 and 7 found Conservative support at 41 per cent nationally and the Liberals at 29. The NDP came in at 16 and the Bloc Quebecois at 10.

A Leger Marketing poll, also released Tuesday to The Canadian Press, and taken May 2-7 put the Tories at 40 per cent nationally and the Liberals at 30. The NDP was at 13 and the Bloc at nine. The Green party had seven per cent support.

And yesterday a Sun Media-SES Research survey showed Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Tories now have the support of 38% of Canadians, ten points ahead of the Grits at 28 percent.

Given the margin of error of roughly 3 percent, statistically Conservative support could be as high as the 40-41 percent found by the other two polls, and taking Harper into majority terrority. The poll found the NDP has the support of 19 per cent of Canadians, while the Bloc Quebecois has 9%.


And these polls were taken after the press had thrown everything it could at Stephen Harper.

A full month of David Emerson. A couple of weeks of flags at half-staff, a week of pundits criticizing the ban on cameras at the return of soldiers killed in Afghanistan, and daily mention that Canadians have turned against the military commitment to Afghanistan.


This week the Parliamentary Press Gallery won a battle. When will they report fairly on the war.And finally...

We took a few shots on the blogosphere ourselves over The Black Rod's coverage of the Gotcha reporting on Maurice Vellacott.

The one that hurt the most was the one that claimed we deliberately misquoted Beverley McLachlin. It took us several reads before we saw what people were talking about.

We wrote:
"Confronted with a new situation requiring a new norm, judges just look to the written constitution for the values that capture the ethos of the nation." Ethos, says the dictionary, is the characteristic spirit."

She wrote:
"Confronted with a new situation requiring a new norm, judges must look to the written constitution for the values that capture the ethos of the nation." Ethos, says the dictionary, is the characteristic spirit."

We plead nolo contendre.

We know it was a typo; we even gave readers a link to the speech so they could read it for themselves (and thereby discover the error). But there will always be people who will call us liars.

So instead we're saying we were hacked by Opus Dei which replaced the M with a J as a clue to the Da Vinci Code. That's our story and we're sticking to it.