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:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Unraveling the story of laughing journalists at Mulroney's grilling

Journalists from the CBC and the Globe and Mail snickered as former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney testified how the allegations against him by the government of Canada devastated his then-10-year-old son. Mulroney was so upset at the recollection, and at the mockery by the journalists, that he choked up on the witness stand.

True or false?

One truth is how quickly the rest of the reporters closed ranks to protect the allegedly laughing duo.

It proves once again how hollow are the claims of “professional journalists” who never stop declaring they have ‘ethics’ that prevents them from twisting their stories to their personal biases.

Can we find the truth of the matter in the reports of the snickering incident published in the newspapers and on television?

We have learned:

* Robin Sears, a Mulroney spokesman, watched a producer of the CBC’s Fifth Estate, Harvey Cashore and Globe and Mail reporter, Greg McArthur chatting and chuckling with each other throughout Mulroney’s second day of testimony before the Oliphant commission.

* He was infuriated by it. He said he twice stood over them and tried to catch them in photos (presumably with a cell phone camera) to warn them he was aware of their rude behaviour.

* Mr. Justice Jeffrey Oliphant announced an early break in the proceedings after watching Mulroney overcome with emotion at recounting how his youngest son was affected by the allegations against his father.

* In the Green Room, Mulroney told Sears that it was the sight of Cashore and McArthur laughing that caused him to choke up. “They were carrying on like a pair of school children,” said Mr. Mulroney after the break. “It just got to me.”

* Sears posted the information on, a website he’s run since the House of Commons Ethics Committee hearings against Mulroney started in 2007.

* The story was broken by CBC host Don Newman in a segment between testimony. After showing the exact post on Sears’ site, Newman asked Harvey Cashore if it was true.

Cashore, always wearing a trademark smirk, is a regular commentator on Newman’s afternoon show Politics.

This time he had lost his smirk. Stone faced he said,” You know, I have young children myself and the idea that any child would hear that their father was accused of these kind of things is not a humourous event. It’s a very serious thing and must weigh on Mr. Mulroney and his family. And its how I would feel myself and its just not something I would possibly feel as that as a humouous event. It wouldn’t happen.”

“Well,” said Don Newman,”let’s leave it at that for now.”

Red flag #1. When a reporter starts talking in the hypothetical, you know he’s hiding something. “It wouldn’t happen” is not the same as “it didn’t happen” . “It’s just not something I would possibly feel” is not the same as “I didn’t laugh.”

On his show, Politics, immediately following Mulroney’s testimony, Newman confronted Sears:

“…when we played he tape of Mr. Mulroney he’s talking about his family and he’s talking about his 10-year-old son Nicolas, who’s now, I guess is 24, but was 10 at the time. He doesn’t say anything about people are annoying me in the audience or I want them removed from the room. He’s talking about his family and he’s obviously very emotional as he recalls it. So I’m wondering why you would go out and put something else entirely on your website.”

Sears starts to explain how he watched Harvey Cashore and McArthur laughing between themselves during the testimony of Brian Mulroney but prior to the time Mulroney choked up, when Newman interrupts him.

“I’m really out of time, Robin, so you’ve got to get to the point very quickly.”

Red flag #2. Out of time? How convenient. When an eyewitness is describing the behaviour of CBC producer Cashore, suddenly the clock runs out. Nope, nothing suspicious there.

The evening newscasts and next day’s newspaper stories were even more telling of the how the pack protects itself.

Global News said only that Mulroney said his emotional moment came “after he saw reporters laughing at him.” No names, no affiliations. CBC National had no mention of Cashore or McArthur whatsoever.

CTV National News reported “Mulroney says these two journalists (seen on video sitting side by side in a near empty committee room), who have covered this story for years, started laughing.” They had a brief clip with Cashore who said “I have a 10-year-old. It’s serious, not a laughing matter. It’s serious. It wouldn’t happen.”

Red Flag #3. There’s that hypothetical again. But more to the point is the absence of Greg McArthur. Not even a “No comment.” Nothing from the “reporter” who knows the importance of refuting an allegation on the record.

McArthur’s ghost appears next day in the print stories.

La Presse reported the kerfuffle, adding that "both" reporters denied it.

Globe and Mail reporter Bill Curry wrote:
“Both journalists vehemently denied laughing. Other journalists who were within a few feet of the two reporters supported their denials.
"I'm sitting right behind them. I didn't see these guys laughing at all," said Toronto Star reporter Richard Brennan.”

Red flag #4. Note that the Globe and Mail doesn’t even have a quote from its own reporter. Hmmmm.

And who’s Toronto Star reporter Richard Brennan? Why, only the former president of the Parliamentary Press Gallery who lead the boycott of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s news conferences. Not exactly an unbiased source.

And "other journalists" becomes one, lone voice.

The Toronto Star’s story, by none other than Richard Brennan and Les Whittington told this tale:

“Afterwards, Mulroney handler Robin Sears accused two reporters of causing his boss to cry.

A furious Sears confronted CBC The Fifth Estate senior editor Harvey Cashore and Globe and Mail reporter Greg McArthur, accusing them of giggling like "f---ing schoolchildren" during Mulroney's testimony and issued a vague threat, saying, "if I were you, I wouldn't continue."

Mulroney's team sent out a news release, quoting him as saying: "They were carrying on like a pair of schoolchildren. It just got to me."

No reporters were seen laughing during Mulroney's testimony and Cashore and McArthur adamantly denied doing so. "Never happened," Cashore said. "It's not a laughing matter."
Cashore and McArthur led the coverage of questionable financial dealings during the Mulroney years.”

Red Flag #5: “No reporters were seen laughing” is not the same thing as “No reporters laughed.” McArthur is still missing in action. The confrontation, by Sears' own account, happened before the snickering, something unclear in the Star report. This time, Cashore is definite: “Never happened.”

And, of course, there's the explanation for the smear against the two honourable journalists’ who “led the coverage of questionable financial dealings during the Mulroney years.”

But there is this intriguing blog post by David Akin, National Affairs correspondent for Canwest News Service.

A reminder that there still may be some uncomfortable questions for Mulroney
by David Akin on Wed 13 May 2009 01:50 PM EDT

Over lunch at the Oliphant Commission, I've been thumbing through some of the documents that have been tabled today as exhibits, here at the Oliphant Commission. Among them is this letter
sent to Mulroney on Feb. 22, 2005 from the CBC asking for an interview. Frustratingly, only the first two pages of this interview request are part of the exhibit (It is Exhibit 46, tab 20 [PDF]
and not the last pages of the request. As a result, there is no signatory on this letter.

I just asked CBC producer Harvey Cashore, however, if he was the author and he says he is. Cashore, as Mulroney's team has just alleged

was laughing at Mulroney as he closed his testimony before lunch.”

Did he really say that Cashore “was laughing at Mulroney?” Or was he saying that that’s just what ‘Mulroney’s team” alleged?

One thing we know for sure, not one “professional reporter” will try to get the answer to that question.

The pack sticks together.

Not one of the news reporters recalled how CBC reporter Krista Erickson collaborated with the Liberals in fashioning questions for Mulroney at the ethics committee? Nobody has gotten to the bottom of whether these questions were framed by Harvey Cashore, CBC's resident expert on the Mulroney/Airbus affair.

And none of the journalists asked just how unbiased CBC is in its reporting on Mulroney. Can snickering be so far-fetched?

The Fifth Estate is a big part of the story.

The RCMP allegations against Mulroney were based on information from Stevie Cameron, a journalist turned secret police informant, and former host of CBC's Fifth Estate. She wrote a book on Mulroney with Harvey Cashore. The Fifth Estate has done a series of stories on Airbus and Brian Mulroney.

Even on Tuesday, before the snickering incident, Mulroney took another swipe at them.

"The Fifth Estate has been on a mission for 15 or 20 years to prove that I got Airbus money. Then they changed their mind when it exploded in their face, they changed their mind...orh, we made a little mistake, now we're going to prove that he did something else. And when that's finished they'll be on to something else. I mean, after all, they operate 100 percent with taxpayers' money and once they set out on these vendettas, such as the one that I've had the pleasure to witness, it's---if you're spending taxpayers' money, it's hard for the guy on the other side."

Cashore is mentioned regularly by Mulroney in his testimony, not that you would know it from watching any of the television news stories. You might say that alone puts him in a conflict-of-interest situation. So why should we believe a word of what he says regarding allegations of laughing at Brian Muloney's discomfort?

Oh yeah. He's a professional reporter. He's got ethics.

CBC ethics.

(See also The Black Rod, February 7, 2008,
Pablogate's two dead myths: the roadkill of the CBC-Liberal Party collusion scandal Part Two)

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