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

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sinclair ambush fails to spark feud between Stenning and Katz

The Winnipeg Free Press continued its unexplained vendetta against Mayor Sam Katz this weekend, but in the process revealed just to what depths they're willing to stoop to smear one man.

Nothing, it appears, is too low, including literally manufacturing "news" to suit their purposes.


As usual, columnist Gordon Sinclair was given the lead role in the personal attack.
But, with nothing to work with, he overreached, and wound up exposing the type of yellow journalism that's become the newspaper's stock in trade under its current owner and editors.

Sinclair saw an opportunity with the announcement that Annitta Stenning, the former city chief administrative officer, was starting a new job today as executive director of the Cancercare Foundation.

Pretending he wanted to speak to her about her change in careers, he turned the interview, the first since she left her city job, to what he really wanted her to say--how much she hated working with Sam Katz, how he drove her out of her job, how the public should be outraged.

Only she didn't say a word of it. Stenning refused to be a foil for the Free Press.

She had only nice things to say about the Mayor despite Sinclair's leading questions designed to elicit the opposite reaction. Undeterred, Sinclair then simply spun her answers to give a false impression of what Stenning told him.

Sam Katz didn't call to congratulate her on her new job, did he?

"She paused ever so briefly, then added,"But I'm sure he's very supportive."
"I asked why she thought the mayor hadn't called..."

He pressed for the answer he wanted.
"She left on good terms with the mayor?"
"I told her there is a sense that she and Katz weren't suited for each other..."
"...Stenning steered the conversation in a more comfortable direction."
"I steered her back to her four years as CAO of the city..."
"So why did you leave? I asked.
"Pardon?" Stenning said.
She heard me."

Unable to get Stenning to badmouth Sam Katz, Sinclair worked to create the impression that she wanted to.

She...pauses... before answering. She deflects the line of questioning. She feigns not hearing the hard question.

Demonstrating why the Asper family wanted nothing to do with Sinclair's biography of their father Izzy Asper, Sinclair twists the facts to fit the narrative he's determined to present as truth.

But that's not the worst of it.

With next to nothing to show for their latest attempt to smear Sam Katz, the Winnipeg Free Press tried a new tack--literally manufacturing "news."

Reporter Joe Paraskevas was suddenly assigned a new story---interview the mayor about the difficulty in hiring a new city CAO to replace Stenning.

Katz, not expecting he was being set up, spoke openly about the tough job facing the successful applicant.

"We're in a mess," he said. (The city's new CAO will have a tough job -- run a city that the mayor says is falling apart; Winnipeg Free Press, Jan. 12, 2008)

But then the spinning starts, and its hard to tell where Mayor Sam Katz leaves off and where the Winnipeg Free Press starts up.

Katz talks about the infrastructure challenge.

" "We don't want to be a city that's falling apart. And you know what? It's falling apart." Words we've heard him say before.

But then the WFP begins paraphrasing:
"Besides crumbling infrastructure, Katz listed the city's poor job of managing its real estate and "terrible" relations with its eight unions, as examples of issues that have landed Winnipeg in poor shape."

"Terrible" relations? Why not run the exact quote, instead of a single word?

The answer was soon apparent.

On Saturday, Gordon Sinclair used the interview with the mayor as the basis of his attack on Katz. He tried to goad Stenning into attacking the mayor by claiming the Mayor attacked had her.

"We spoke again earlier this week, after Katz's comments about the city being in a mess were published. I told her that the mayor seemed to be pointing the finger at her, since she was the person in charge of the administration."

Stenning, to her credit, still refused to take the bait.

The newspaper couldn't let all that hard work go to waste--so it was left to Sinclair to make up a controversy.

The Black Rod once before, wrote we couldn't believe how low the Winnipeg Free Press could go in its ongoing campaign against Katz.

But it seems new Editor Margo Goodhand had a key to the sub-basement of ethical journalism, and is prepared to show readers there's no limit to the tactics the newspaper will use once it decides to destroy an individual citizen of Winnipeg.

The victim here may turn out to be Joe Paraskevas. Whether he was a simple dupe in the plan or whether he understood his role, the fact is that he's destroyed his credibility covering city hall.

Nobody can sit for an interview with him without thinking they, too, are being set up. Nor can anyone read the newspaper from now on, without wondering whether city hall stories are valid and true, or whether they're being manufactured by the editors for some other purpose.

The mainstream media like the Winnipeg Free Press used to boast they were superior journalists because, as professionals, they did not let their personal biases colour their stories -- and they had editors to ensure the highest journalistic standards.

In one blow the Winnipeg Free Press has demonstrated that its editors use their power to further their personal biases.

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