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:

Monday, April 23, 2012

The jury is in on Dan Lett. The verdict: Guilty of Political Bias.

Bias? What bias?

Who said: " Any columnist who claims that personal bias is not an element of his/her writing is a liar"?

It was Dan Lett, the, ahem, political columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. Now, you didn't hear his confession of bias because he made it in February on the Internet in a response to comments about his alleged pro-NDP bias when writing a column about Manitoba Hydro.

Of course, Lett denied his bias favoured the NDP, adding "But bias is not the issue; fairness and balance is. I leave the readers to assess my success in that regard."

Well, since then, the jury has delivered its verdict and it's so very not good for Dan Lett.

When the NDP delivered their latest provincial budget, Lett wrote how they were showing restraint by cutting spending by almost 4 percent from last year. That was like saying the drunken sailor has stopped buying triples on your credit card and promises to stick to doubles from now on. Is there no end to this austerity?

Commenters on-line swarmed Lett for being the only pundit in Manitoba to see restraint in a budget that promises higher spending than the government forecast for last year, pre-flood. He responded by attacking his challengers as Conservative partisans. The only problem was that the Winnipeg Free Press editorial board agreed with the commenters and said so in print. Pshaw, said Lett. They're entitled to their opinion.

But he outdid himself when the NDP packed the Legislature with pro-government activists to provide themselves with a photo-op to prove they're standing up to the federal Conservatives over changes to immigrant settlement services.

The NDP had Ben Rempel, the Assistant Deputy Minister of Immigration, (you know, one of those, ahem, non-partisan public servants you can trust to do their job fairly and without political bias) send an email to government-funded service agencies inviting them to come one and all, employees and "clients", to the Legislature to see the NDP fight the awful Tories.

To the government's shock, four Conservative Members of Parliament showed up to answer everybody's questions about the proposed changes. There they were--Shelly Glover, James Bezan, Joy Smith and Candice Hoeppner --- in person.

Not hiding.

Not having to be chased through the parking lot like Health Minister Theresa Oswald.
Standing up to be counted.

It was an amazing example of political accountability and courage.

Even the Free Press Legislature reporter, Bruce Owen and Larry Kusch, recognized that.

But not columnist Dan Lett, whose bias was running rampant.

In his "fair and balanced" opinion, it was the NDP that were the heroes of the day---for saving the Conservative MP's from the fury of the mob. (A mob they invited, sure, but Lett's not go there.)

"It is unlikely Winnipeg Tory MP Shelly Glover will ever thank provincial officials for what they did Thursday, although there is no doubt they did her a solid."

"What Glover didn't count on were about 300 to 400 immigration activists, invited to the legislature by provincial officials to show their support for the resolution and opposition to Ottawa's plan... as word spread there were federal Tory MPs in the building, ready for a scrap."

"Thankfully, some legislature staff moved the activists into committee rooms on the same floor, where they could watch the debate on closed-circuit television. NDP officials would not admit they were trying to avoid a confrontation, but the result was that when Glover went to address reporters, only a handful of activists was there to hear her. And that stopped what many reporters predicted would be a public stoning."
Why wouldn't Shelly Glover expect the public gallery to be stacked by NDP activists? The Rempel email had been reported the previous day on Global TV and in the Winnipeg Sun.

In fact, as reported, Manitoba MLA Myrna Driedger tweeted this to Jason Kenney, the federal immigration minister:

"The MB NDP plan to fill the gallery with immigrants tomorrow ( scooped up all the passes ) and intend to skewer Cdn gov't."

Many reporters predicted (or hoped for) a public stoning? Who?

Lett is big on insisting everyone give their names, except when it comes to covering up for, ahem, "professional" reporters.

"Where Kenney had been measured and defensible, Glover was relentless and unbridled in her partisan barbs." wrote Lett. Fair and balanced?

He failed to mention the presence of NDP Member of Parliament Pat Martin in the Legislature. And what Martin said, as noted by the Free Press political reporters. He called the Conservative MP's "a bunch of bullies and thugs" and "a gang of goons".

Nope, no unbridled partisan barbs there, eh, Dan.

Dan Lett often declares that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts, yet he seemed not to take his own advice.

Dan Lett, columnist

"The four MPs sat in the opposition loges in the Manitoba legislature during question period, a courtesy granted to visiting legislators."

Winnipeg Free Press Political Reporters

"They had to sit in the house because they could not get passes for the public gallery. "

Dan Lett, columnist

"What Glover didn't count on were about 300 to 400 immigration activists."


"Some of the 100 to 150 people who came to the Manitoba legislature on Thursday afternoon to protest changes to the provincial nominee program. (Katie Nicholson/CBC)"

Lett asked the public to judge whether his bias was bleeding over into his columns by measuring how fair and balanced he was. Well, here's your answer.

There's a saying: Google is your friend.

We sat down with our friend and, like many people these days, we examined the FP's news story on the immigration battle in closer detail, starting with who was quoted in opposition. (The FP apparently didn't think it important to find any citizens who are in favour of the change.)

There was "Paz Bowman, who immigrated with her parents and 10 siblings to Manitoba from Chile in 1976."

Sure, she would be against changing the law to favour immigrants with highly-employable skills. 13 people from one family are unlikely to be high on any new list of immigrants. As for Paz Bowman, she's employed as an instructor at Red River College. An instructor of what? In 2007 she was an adult education teacher teaching Chilean women---in Chile.

And Alfred Koineh? That would be Alfred Koineh of Mount Carmel Clinic. A social worker. It looks like, before coming to Winnipeg, he was, a former National Chairman of the National Coalition for Anti-deportation Campaigns in the UK. Does that mean he was fighting to keep illegal immigrants in the U.K., one of whom was himself.

The things you learn on the Internet.

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