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 since 2005, adopted the symbol to knock some sense and the right questions into the heads of Legislators, pundits, and other opinion makers.

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:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Dion's Green Taxes. Don't ask. Don't tell.

We beg your pardon but we're going to interrupt our Hydro Series temporarily to turn our attention to the federal election. When the election comes to your doorstep, as it did with Prime Minister Stephen Harper's visit to Winnipeg on Tuesday, you can't ignore it.

In the last election, The Black Rod took the Peter Kent Challenge to monitor the mainstream media coverage for anti-Conservative bias and we could hardly keep up. This time, with no challenge on offer, we'll concentrate on the general quality of election reporting, starting with the Harper visit. Sadly, we can't say we're impressed.

The story:
Harper announced that if elected he intends to cut the tax on diesel fuel in half, from 4 cents a litre to two cents.

The coverage:

CBC Winnipeg
Donna Carriero went to truckers for reaction. Good idea.

Trucker #1 was lukewarm. A tax cut was better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. But saving $1400 a year wasn't enough to keep him for going broke, he said.

Trucker #2 was enthusiastic. He welcomed the tax cut without reservations.

Guess who Carreiro used to highlight her story? The story she wanted to tell was that the Conservative tax cut was no big deal and would have little impact on truck drivers or on prices for consumers. The story she didn't want to tell was that the Liberals under Stephane Dion intend to RAISE DIESEL TAXES 7 cents a litre.

The CBC included a blathering comment from Dion about putting a price on carbon, but Carreiro failed to report the simple fact that raising diesel taxes seven cents a litre is almost doubling what they are today.

How do you think the truckers would have reacted if she had put it to them this way: Stephen Harper wants to cut your diesel taxes in half and Stephane Dion wants to almost double them. Who has your vote?

Global News
Meera Bahadoosingh went for comment to Larry McIntosh owner of Peak of the Market where Harper held his news conference. He said a cut in transportation costs would put more money in his pocket and let him expand his business. It would, he said, also be passed on in lower prices to his customers. She also went to other beneficiaries of a cut in diesel fuel taxes, such as Winnipeg Transit which stands to save $306,000 a year. She did mention in plain terms that Dion intends to raise taxes on diesel fuel but didn't ask Transit how much that would cost them.

CTV Winnipeg
Joe Olafson thought the best person to talk to about diesel taxes was a University of Winnipeg economist, who, as you could have predicted, gave a boring academic answer. Wrong guess there, Joe. University professors are experts in universities, not real life. The prof wasn't asked how Dion's tax increase on fuel will impact food prices. Olafson did speak to one grocery story customer who, predictably again, added nothing to the story. She thought people should buy products closer to home. We're going to rush out and buy Manitoba grown bananas and salmon right after we're finished writing.

Three reports. Three different approaches, with Global taking the blue ribbon for the most informative. But none of them reported the story the way it should have been reported.

It's simple. The Conservatives promise to cut diesel taxes in half and the Liberals promise to almost double them. The Conservatives say their plan will help businesses directly and consumers indirectly. But if that's the case, what impact will the Liberal tax increase have? How much more will businesses and consumers pay for the Liberal Party's Green Shift? Do voters want to pay the price for the Liberal plan?

None of the television reporters wanted to touch that story or even to hint at it. It's not a question of bias. It's the exact opposite. They knew where asking that question would lead them. So, they decided that the way to be "fair" was to avoid the question and give the Liberals a pass.

Wrong. That's just bad reporting.


"Tories tops" "...except with women" read the headlines in the Winnipeg Free Press election roundup on Tuesday. The FP quoted an Ipsos Reid poll for Canwest News Service on the party preferences be gender.

"Harper has more difficulty connecting with female voters than male---32 per cent of women would vote Liberal, compared with 29 per cent Tory." read the story.


We actually bothered to dig up the poll and to the question 'Which party would you vote for?' the results for women were:

Liberals: 32 percent
Conservatives: 29 percent
NDP: 17 percent
Greens: 11 percent

But...the margin of error is 1.6 percent. In other words, the results could be Liberals, 30.4 and Conservatives 30.6, a statistical dead heat.

Why would the FP choose to give the nod to the Liberals? The Canwest story was more neutral to the poll saying "...the Conservatives are not far back from the Liberals when it comes to female voter preferences..."

Is the newspaper trying to promote a narrative that the Conservatives have a hard time winning over women voters when the poll shows they're just as popular with women as the Liberals? Note also that the poll was finished before the election was called, so the effect of the Harper-as-cuddly-family-man ads hasn't been measured yet.

The Free Press reported that the Ipsos Reid poll found that the Liberals had the support of university educated voters 36 to 30 percent over the Conservatives. The newspaper failed to mention that Canwest reported the Conservatives "do better among those with a college education or other non-university post-secondary schooling, besting the Liberals by 35 per cent to 28 per cent."

Was the FP demonstrating a subtle class distinction in its choice of what education was considered worth mentioning and which was not? Just asking.

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