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

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A new policy at the Winnipeg Free Press: Facts are Optional

Just when you think the Winnipeg Free Press can't sink any further --- it sinks further.

This week we learned that henceforth at the venerable daily newspaper, facts are optional.

Columnist Gordon Sinclair wrote a blistering attack Thursday on Mayor Sam Katz (no surprise there) based on an Executive Policy Committee vote to close Elmwood Community Centre.


"...the mayor and his chosen councillors voted to close Elmwood Community Centre."

Why?

"The real reason appears to be that Elmwood...is an easy target."

If only Manitoba Public Insurance funded community centres it could reduce car theft, he bleats.

"Places like Elmwood." ... "Next week city council will vote on the closure of Elmwood Community Centre."

Except that city council isn't voting on the closure of Elmwood Community Centre.

Mayor Sam Katz "and his chosen councillors" have never voted to close Elmwood Community Centre.

And who knows if Elmwood Community Centre - known properly as East Elmwood C.C. - is an easy target or a hotbed of potential car thieves. You see, it doesn't matter.

Because the column wasn't about the closing of a community centre. It was purely about another attack on Mayor Sam Katz, facts be damned.

In his next column on Saturday, Sinclair offhandedly, in paragraph 16 (of 24) said that, "for the record", two days earlier he "mistakenly" called Kelvin Community Centre, which is facing closure and being voted on, Elmwood Community Centre.

Whatever.


Facts are meaningless. You could use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true!-- Homer Simpson

At the Winnipeg Free Press under publisher Andrew S. Ritchie and Editor Bob Cox, facts have become irrelevant.

Use 'em, don't use 'em; suit yourself.

You want to make up a quote to sex up the front page? Go ahead.
You want to claim Sam Katz is under investigation when he's not? Here's some space on the front page.
So what's stopping you? Ethics?

The mainstream news media like the Winnipeg Free Press call themselves professionals to distinguish themselves from upstart citizen journalists, aka bloggers. They don't write in their pyjamas and they have editors to ensure the high quality of their journalism, they huff.

Yet, when a prominent columnist wrote an entire column about something that obviously wasn't true, where were the editors?

Where was Bob Cox?
Didn't Deputy Editor Patrick Flynn notice?
Was Deputy Editor #2 Margo Goodhand on coffee break?

Did a single editor earn his pay and say, "Hey guys. Isn't it Kelvin Community Centre ? I thought it was Kelvin. Let's doublecheck."

Fact-checking. How overrated.

Obviously the employees of the Free Press don't read it any more than the thousands who have dropped their subscriptions.

And the next day, didn't a single reporter point out the mistake? Anyone on the City Hall beat?

We can't say anyone did.

There was no correction.
No "Our Mistake" buried on page 2.
No apology, especially to the readers in Elmwood.

Not even a mention in Bob Cox's blog. You know, the one where he wrote, way back last June, he was "going to relate and explain what is really happening inside our newsroom”, "the debates, the criticism, the controversies." and "... it's important for us to be open if we want to maintain our readers' trust."

Maintain readers' trust. Ha ha ha. What a kidder.

Trust is not built on slipping a correction two-thirds of the way into a column and hoping nobody notices the difference.

The Winnipeg Free Press recently fired a part-time columnist for throwing his weight around in a personal dispute by threatening to write about it.

Yet when Gordon Sinclair uses his bully pulpit to attack the Mayor with false facts, editor Bob Cox becomes Silent Bob.

And that's a fact.

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