Contrary to the sanctimonious position editor Bob Cox took when he fired Hansen last December, the standards for behaviour by columnists appears to be extremely flexible. Veteran columnist Gordon Sinclair has proven that in spades.
The Black Rod wrote at the time of the Hansen firing that Free Press columnists frequently misuse their columns to take cheap shots at retailers and servicepeople who don't show the proper obsequiousness. Sinclair's March 13 column, although cloaked as an apology, fits the bill.
It seems that 9 days earlier, Sinclair stopped for gasoline at an unnamed service station only to get into a fierce argument with the "petite young woman behind the counter" and "the gas jockey."
It all started when Sinclair discovered he had no money to pay for the gas. Here's my number, see ya later, he told the girl. To his shock, she didn't care who he was, he wasn't leaving without paying. Oh yeah? What are you gonna do? Call the cops? he blustered.
Yes, she said.
Actually, he didn't exactly mention his celebrity profile himself, if you believe his version of the story. Given the Hansen precedent, that's frowned on by FP brass. Instead, he let someone else trumpet his exalted status---"a customer who was standing beside me."
Said customer "recognized me" and "said something about my being 'in the newspaper'."
Is that vague enough for you? Something about my being in the newspaper... What something? It doesn't matter, sniffs Sinclair, the professional detail-seeking journalist. "She and I both ignored him."
Sinclair could have called a cab, gone home, got his wallet and returned. He could have left the car and taken a bus home. He could have walked. But not "Don't You Know Me" Gord. He was driving.
Told he could go if he left behind something of value, he retrieved his "plastic-wrapped registration" and flung it at the woman's head. Oh, yeah, he says he flung it at the wall behind her head. You split that hair. He almost did.
He did come back with the money for the gas and with a fresh load of venom. He resumed arguing with the girl. He finally left when the gas jockey jumped in to protect the "petite" girl and she got out from behind the counter to see him out the door.
Oh dear. What have I done? "By the time I got home, I was more angry at myself than anyone else," he claims.
Yes, we write with some doubt about Sinc's contrition.
For it seems to have blossomed only when the police showed up at his door the following Saturday. That's when he decided he should apologize for his behaviour.
Sinclair has been in the business long enough. He knew that news of the police visit would leak out. He had to get ahead of the curve the only way he could, write his version. His, the only version, of course.
But he couldn't restrain himself completely. After all, columnists get the last word, right?
* The mystery man who vouched for him goes unidentified. Was he a friend of Sinclair's?
* The registration is whipped at the wall, not her face.
* She blamed him for throwing it "at" her. What's she know? "I said I didn't throw it "at" her, I threw it over her head."
* The gas jockey "chirped" in. No bias in that choice of verb.
* The gas jockey accused Sinclair, a tall, imposing man, of being a bully. What's he know? The petite woman behind the counter wasn't too scared to step out from the behind the counter, was she, snaps Sinclair.
He eventually apologized to her, but he couldn't help taking one last cheap shot at her in the column. The confrontation at the gas station ended when "(She) sent me on my way with this: I hope you have an accident."
Funny how he remembers her every word, but can't recall what the "nice man" who recognized him said.
Something about being in the newspaper, wasn't it?
None of this apparently warranted a "note from the editor." That, strangely, was reserved for Dallas Hansen.
Hansen, if you recall, got into a argument with staff at a liquor store when they asked for I.D. and he took umbrage. He told them he was going to write about the incident in his Winnipeg Free Press column. And he did, in the context of arguing for the privitization of liquor sales. He topped the column with a story about going to a liquor store with his girlfriend and both of them being refused service, him for not having I.D. and her for having expired identification.
The police were never called on Hansen because of his arguments with liquor store staff. Still, Bob Cox fired Hansen after the Liquor Commission complained and brought video of the incident for him to see.
The video showed no girlfriend. Hansen, and his girlfriend, said on his blog later that there were two liquor store incidents, one earlier with girlfriend, one later sans. Cox had even met the girlfriend at a staff party.
Cox said Hansen used profanity and made rude gestures. And he crossed the line when he traded on the name of the Free Press in a personal matter unrelated to any journalistic purpose.
Gordon Sinclair, on the other hand, had only had a "heated" argument with the staff of a service station, had thrown an object at the woman---repeat, woman---behind the counter, had been so threatening the gas jockey and an unidentified man stepped in to "cool things down", and had been visited by police who informed him he was barred from the gas station.
Then he wrote a column about what can only be described as "a personal matter unrelated to any journalism we are doing."
Cox apparently didn't phone the employees of the gas station for their version of what occurred, and whether any profanity had been used.
He didn't ask for the identify of the "nice man" who identified Sinclair as a Free Press columnist.
And he didn't care that Sinclair told the woman he wanted to write about what happened, which appears to be an imperceptible step from what Hansen told the employees at the liquor store.
And he didn't ask to see the video.
Service stations, like convenience stores, usually have video cameras. Wouldn't it be interesting to see Gordon Sinclair in full fury.
The Winnipeg Free Press thought that prying into Mayor Sam Katz's sealed divorce records was good journalism.
Why isn't a public hissy fit by a prominent Winnipeg columnist of equal public interest ?
We'll just have to keep watching YouTube -- in case a certain "gas jockey" knows his way around the Internet.