Winnipeg police are investigating a complaint that a reporter from the Winnipeg Free Press screamed obscenities at--and shouldered aside-- a man who innocently asked Agriculture Minister Roseann Wowchuk a question outside the NDP Caucus Room at the Manitoba Legislature.
Not a word of this incident has been reported in the mainstream press, even though it was witnessed by professional reporters at the scene, the Minister, her press assistant, and, likely, security guards monitoring security cameras.
The reporter is Bruce Owen who is assigned to cover the Legislature for the Free Press.
His target was Jim Cotton, a local blogger who's been a thorn in the side of the Free Press for a while.
The reason for the outburst was to stop Cotton from asking Wowchuk about the three quarters of a ton of frozen minced pork her department paid for and distributed to Manitoba food banks, but which was mysteriously turned up in the hands of picketing employees of the Winnipeg Free Press during their recent strike.
Cotton held a news conference Friday to announce he is filing an assault charge against Owen.
What? You haven't heard a word about that either?
That's no surprise is it?
There is a total blackout in the mainstream press about the mystery pork, even though city and federal health authorities have cautioned that the meat may be unsafe to eat.
Why is it unsafe? Bruce Owen himself answered that in an internet post where he said the meat had thawed and that a portion that had obviously gone bad was thrown away. The rest was refrozen, he said, and strikers who weren't going to eat it themselves planned to give it away in Christmas hampers.
The health authorities have cautioned against eating refrozen meat, especially from a batch that has obviously been kept in unsafe conditions which allowed dangerous bacteria to grow.
Owen is understandably sensitive regarding questions about the tainted meat, where it came from and who its going to be given to. But there is no excuse for assaulting a member of the public in the Legislature in front of a shocked cabinet minister.
An assault on a citizen in the halls of the Legislature is a news story. When the alleged assailant is a member of the press, it's more so.
But what do you call it when the news media in the city collectively refuse to report the incident?
A massive press cover-up.
An attempt to stifle free speech by hypocrites who claim to be champions of free speech.
A reporter with CBC French watched the confrontation between Owen and Cotten unfold in front of him. He may even have recorded it on his tape recorder. Certainly the obscenities were loud enough to be heard throughout the hall by other politicians and political staffers unused to hearing swear words shouted at the top of someone's lungs.
We're told that this same CBC reporter was at Cotton's news conference, but standing aside and watching a CBC television reporter ask questions. The CBC decided not to run a story, so as, we were told, "not to embarass him (Jim Cotton)".
But we know who the CBC is protecting. And it's not Jim Cotton.
Cotton knows about embarassment. He's handed out his share to the Winnipeg Free Press, most recently when he revealed that a down-on-her-luck woman Gordon Sinclair was raising money for, was spending her sudden riches on booze and clothes after Good Samaratins paid her back rent.
Right now the embarassment is all on the so-called "professional" reporters, especially those who claim to be reporting on the Manitoba Legislature on behalf of the citizens of the province.
To have the tiniest shred of credibility, the Manitoba Press Gallery must act immediately. It must suspend Bruce Owen pending the completion of the police investigation.
The halls of the Legislature DO NOT belong to the mainstream news media. EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT to walk the halls free from intimidation. EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT to approach politicians and ask questions respectfully.
The Winnipeg Free Press DOES NOT have a veto over who can ask questions at a scrum.
A scrum in the hallway is NOT a private, invitation-only affair. There is a press room in the basement of the Legislature for official news conferences where the government can try to control who enters and who doesn't. But the hallways belong to the people.
That lesson must be reinforced whenever professional journalists begin thinking they are special people and the rules don't apply to them.
Reporters certainly like to think they're special. They do it by joining groups like the Canadian Association of Journalists which tell them they're special. They're special because...well, let the CAJ tell you how their members are really, really special:
WHAT WE DO:
The CAJ promotes excellence in journalism, encouraging investigative journalism. We serve as the national voice of Canadian journalists, and we uphold the public's right to know.
Except, obviously, when a member of the public wants to exercise his right to know by asking about the Winnipeg Free Press union and how possibly stolen meat intended for the poor and hungry wound up in the home freezers of strikers.
Nobody wants to investigate that, do they? Not when it involves reporters who are, you know, special. In such a case a cover-up is just okey-doke.
Statement of Principles
Approved at 2002 Annual General Meeting
It is our privilege and duty to seek and report the truth as we understand it, defend free speech and the right to equal treatment under law, capture the diversity of human experience, speak for the voiceless and encourage civic debate to build our communities and serve the public interest.
Freedom of Speech
The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press. A free flow of information sustains and vitalizes democracy because understanding emerges from vigorous discussion, openly reported. Our legal traditions give media privilege and protection. We must return this trust through the ethical practice of our craft.
It helps if the truth "as you understand it" is that assaults on citizens in the Legislature aren't news, attempts to muzzle bloggers aren't news, stonewalling citizen journalists isn't news, refusing to help health authorities with their investigation of a possible public health problem isn't news.
That puts a whole new spin on free speech and "encouraging civic debate" doesn't it?
Back when the Winnipeg Free Press reporters, editors and columnists were leading the mob attack on police at the Taman Inquiry, they were full of righteous indignation. It's enlightening today to compare what Dan Lett said in just one column (Same Excuse, same language heard from police at inquiry, July 22, 2008) with his own involvement in the coverup of the growing scandal being called Porkgate.
A certain police officer "did nothing to help the reputation of police officers who have testified at the Taman inquiry," he sniffed.
You could say Bruce Owen did nothing to help the reputation of reporters who cover the Manitoba Legislature.
"Black's feeble excuses for why he didn't see or hear any evil..."
Listen to the feeble excuses of the Winnipeg Free Press employees for how food stolen from the poor and hungry wound up in their eager hands. The pork was going to be thrown out anyway, one employee said. It was forced on us, another cried. We're going to give it away to the needy, said Bruce Owen feebly.
"...incidents like this add to the cloud of skepticism that has settled over both the East St. Paul and Winnipeg police forces," lectured Lett.
Well, incidents like Porkgate just add to the cloud of skepticism that has settled over the reporters of the Winnipeg Free Press and the rest of the mainstream media which is pretending to see nothing and hear nothing unusual about food designated for food banks being handed out from the back of a truck to FP strikers.
"It had been very difficult to believe a certain police officer...could have lost all specific knowledge of who did what..." sneered Lett.
Is it easier to believe that certain news reporters like Bruce Owen, Bartley Kives, Mary Agnes Welch, Dan Lett, Lindor Reynolds, could have lost all specific knowledge of who did what when a mystery man drove up with 1500 pounds of neatly packaged pork labelled Winnipeg Harvest?
"It is beyond all reason to believe that another veteran police officer would not only forget all the same details..." said Lett.
And it is beyond all reason to believe that a veteran reporter like you, Dan Lett, would forget all the details of the pork delivery.
Lett, who is never at a loss for words when pontificating about the lack of ethics of others, hasn't written a word about the ethics of highly paid journalists taking food out of the mouths of the poor. Instant amnesia.
"Hearing the same version of events and the same excuses...may make for dreary testimony but it may expose the core of this tragedy," concluded Lett's column.
And hearing the same version of events and the same lame excuses from employees of the Winnipeg Free Press may eventually help expose the core of the Porkgate tragedy.
In fact, The Black Rod has picked up a faint trail of the tainted pork on its way to FP strike headquarters. Our team of bloodhounds is working the trail to discover its source.
If the trail leads to where we think it does, there are going to be a lot of red faces in the city...
...starting with the mainstream media who will have missed yet another good story while demonstrating once again how their management of the "news" poorly serves the public.