What a long, strange trip it's been ( apologies to the Grateful Dead)
Starring Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett and screen veteran Robert Redford, the movie titled "Truth" came and went and nobody noticed. Despite opening in more than 1100 theatres, this certified stinkeroo, which cost $9.6 million to make, has grossed barely $2.5 million.
When the documents used by Rather to attack George Bush proved to be fraudulent, show producer Mary Mapes was fired and Dan Rather's career was over.
The only thing left behind was the mantra adopted by bad reporters everywhere: the evidence is false, but the story is true.
They, too, created an aphorism, used by real reporters: everybody knows something.
2015 was our anniversary.
The idea that we would still be around a decade later, with over 1.8 Million visitors to our stories, was unimaginable.
They threatened to bury whistleblower Bernie Bellan under their army of lawyers if he kept asking questions about the fund. But their apogee was forcing Tory Finance Critic John Loewen to his knees when he picked up Bellan's questions---their legal threats squeezed a humbling apology from Loewen and even a grovelling promise to buy Crocus shares to rub his nose into it.
But in the end they couldn't silence two honest men. In 2005, Laurie Goldberg and John Pelton, hired as the new Chief Operating Officer and new senior vice-president respectively, took one look at the Crocus books and raced each other to the Securities Commission.
The newspapers covered the day to day ins and outs of the Crocus affair, but it wasn't until The Black Rod drew a timeline and with it the obvious conclusions that the whole story came into perspective.
"The eight directors admit to the allegations including the fact that even though they knew a significant devaluation of shares was imminent the board permitted sales and redemption of shares at prices vastly higher than the price that was being contemplated."
In other words, the directors intended to trick people into buying into Crocus by claiming that shares which were overvalued demonstrated what a good investment it was, but actually so that the fund would have the money to pay off those people who wanted to cash out.
* We learned two lessons from the Crocus debacle.
- The other lesson was more astonishing.
* One of our greatest scoops also came during our inaugural year. It involved eighteen-year-old Matthew Dumas who was shot and killed by a police officer.
Acting on a tip we interviewed witnesses to the events that preceded the fatal confrontation between Dumas and the police.
We shared the scoop with every newsroom in the city. Not one followed it up.
- Even worse, we discovered that CBC taped interviews regarding the fight with police, but spiked the story.
A year later, Winnipeg Sun reporter Paul Turenne piously wrote that the public still didn't know what happened in the Dumas shooting. When we informed him that many of the relevant details were in The Black Rod, Turenne responded sarcastically "I guess we'll be seeing you on the witness stand come inquest time."
* Winnipeg is full of reporters with fancy journalism degrees and zero news sense or street sources.
* We could never get over how lazy these professional reporters are. Over the years we confronted head-on a series of Stalinesque show trials conducted by the NDP under the guise of inquiries into alleged wrongful convictions for murder.
- Frank Ostrowski was expecting an inquiry to exonerate him and make him as rich as the other two, but when he got bail after 23 years in prison, we laid out chapter and verse of the evidence at this trial and, lo and behold, the inquiry train failed to arrive. Instead, after 5 years on bail, the Manitoba Court of Appeal said they would hear his arguments, a hearing thats still pending.
* Sometimes it wasn't laziness that prevented the local press from reporting a big story---it was their involvement. Yes, we're talking about Porkgate.
Or he did until CJOB picked up the story.
Neither did the Winnipeg Free Press report on the theft of half a ton of pork from Winnipeg Harvest or the fact that Winnipeg Harvest takes donations but can't account for where they go.
* For a small blog, The Black Rod had a big impact on federal politics. Take Lesley Hughes, please.
Hughes, a well-known former CBC radio host, was running for election to Parliament under the Liberal Party banner in 2009. We thought voters should know Hughes was a 911 Truther. What's a Truther?
Whip up your own definition from this segment of a column she wrote for a community newspaper:
"While major media busy themselves waving flags, a global network of independent journalists, who have no interests to protect, no secrets to hide, are tracking and documenting its development on a daily basis..."
"Using and sharing only published and sourced news stories from world media, and official documents of various governments either leaked or available under freedom of information acts, these journalists have assembled a disturbing picture, which suggests CIA foreknowledge and complicity of highly placed officials in the U.S. government around the attacks on the World Trade Center Sept. 11."
Hughes also wrote that the Americans had been warned by the Germans, the Israelis and the Russians. Oh, and somehow "Israeli businesses which had offices in the (Twin) Towers" got wind of the warnings and moved just in time, even "breaking their lease to do it."
Gee, what's anti-semitic about saying Jewish businessmen knew of a terrorist attack but kept the information in-house, letting fellow Jews save themselves without warning non-Jews?
- Apparently, not everybody shared her viewpoint. Within only hours of the posting of The Black Rod, Hughes was swept up in a firestorm of controversy and dumped as a Liberal candidate.
- Fast forward three years to the next federal election and there we were again making waves on the blogosphere.
We did what 21st Century journalists do. We ran Izzy's name on Google. Bingo.
We turned up a Facebook post from 2006 where Izzy ranted about Harper, concluding: "OMGWTF im ready to like go to Ottawa myself an take him down, lol"
We wrote: "Maybe 3 months ago, before Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the head at a political rally by a schizophrenic gunman, you would see the "lol" at the end of the comment and the date (2006) and put it in the crank file. That was then."
Suddenly Izzy's grandstanding took on a different hue. Was he a threat? Was he a perceived threat? He sure took down his Facebook post in a hurry.
* It wasn't all heavy lifting. We did one story about CBC television news host Krista Erickson being Johnny-on-the-spot during a hurricane in Mexico and Whammo! the Krista beat became one of the most popular spots on the blog.
- We got national reporters stirred with our story about Winnipeg lawyer Bruce MacFarlane and his adventures at The Hague.
Finally, instead of griping, we decided to do something and so started our weekly War in Afghanistan series. We would compile weekly accounts of the fighting in Afghanistan, concentrating on Khandahar province where Canadian troops were stationed. Many of the segments were too detailed for the casual reader, but we were doing it as much or more for ourselves than for our readers. Secretly we were hoping that somebody would steal the idea and bring it to a wider audience.
- The War in Afghanistan resulted in two of our proudest moments in journalism.
When NATO moved into Afghanistan, the Taliban announced boldly that they would humble the mighty armies of the west, starting with Khandahar province where the Taliban was born. They set their sights on the Canadians, an untested army from a wimpy country unsupported by the country's press and opinion makers. The plan was to whip the Canadians first, destroy the morale of our NATO allies, and send the western troops packing.
But here was a story declaring a great Canadian victory! We beat them! They said so themselves! In our first trial by fire, the Battle of Panjwai, we kicked their asses, exactly the opposite of what the national press was telling Canadians.
* But the next story made us even prouder. Again, while sifting through a week's worth of Afghanistan stories we stumbled across a mention of an Afghan interpreter who had been grievously wounded while assisting Canadian troops. He had lost both legs in a battle, and after receiving medical treatment had apparently been abandoned by Canadian military and diplomatic officials to fend for himself.
We reported on the man, Niaz Mohammed Hussaini. But we wanted to do more. So we made sure his plight was known to Rosie DiManno, of the Toronto Star, and Christie Blatchford, of the Globe and Mail, both of whom had been embedded with Canadian troops in Afghanistan and who we thought might have known Niaz.
DiManno remembered him at once. And she leapt into action. She bombarded military officials in Ottawa with one question: what are you doing to help this man? She got no answer, so she took the fight to her own turf, her newspaper column.
And she continued to make calls, until she reached Lt.-Col. Ian Hope, commander of Task Force Orion, the battle group component of Task Force Afghanistan. Finally she was able to report:
"We do have a responsibility and we will assist in whatever way we can,'' Lt.-Col. Ian Hope told the Star in an telephone interview from KAF the other night. "It's extremely unfortunate that a non-combatant was injured in such a way. But Niaz remains an employee of the PRT.''
Six years later, the Toronto Star reported that the Canadian government had finally taken the first baby steps in allowing Afghan citizens who risked their own lives to help Canadian troops to move to Canada. And illustrating the story was a photo of Niaz Mohammed Hussaini.
At last we got to see what he looked like. Instead of a grizzled vet of the years of fighting in Afghanistan, we saw a boy. A brave boy crippled in battle and we've wondered ever since if he did manage to find a new life in Canada. The tiny part we played in helping him makes us prouder than almost anything else we've done.
* But a close second is the time we singlehandedly stood up to the media lynch mob that was howling for blood during another NDP show trial, this an alleged inquiry into how an off-duty police officer escaped jail for killing a woman, Crystal Taman, whose car he rear-ended at a stop light.
The Inquiry had one purpose---to show that a conspiracy of police from Winnipeg and East St. Paul thwarted justice by undermining the investigation of a drunk driver, their fellow police officer. He pleaded guilty to dangerous driving causing death and was sentenced to two years house arrest.
The behaviour of reporters, columnists and radio talk show hosts who professed to be professional journalists was so reprehensible that we stood, alone, to call them on it. To shame them into looking into a mirror at what they had become. The Black Rod stood to be counted as citizen journalists who were repulsed by the unrestrained bias of the professionals. It still ranks as among our proudest acts.
* Former MLA Bob Wilson has struggled for more than 30 years to clear his name of a conviction for being part of a marijuana smuggling ring. The Black Rod called his story the biggest unreported story in Manitoba, and it still is. An investigator assigned to hear his case and determine whether to recommend a new trial ruled against him in a travesty of a process.
The investigator ruled there was no new evidence despite the arrest after 30 years on the run of Whitey Macdonald, the kingpin of the drug ring for which Wilson was the alleged financier. Whitey was arrested in Florida living with his wife under her maiden name, exactly where Wilson had been telling authorities for years they could find him.
While the rest of the Winnipeg news media was spewing fawning stories about the CMHR, we dug through the publicly available financial numbers and reached a startling conclusion: the CMHR was as much as $50 million in the hole!
We can only imagine the sheer panic our revelation caused within the CMHR and the Winnipeg Free Press, the propaganda arm of the museum, because until then there hadn't been a hint to suggest the museum was in financial difficulty, only breathless stories about all the donations they were getting.
- We even topped ourselves two months later when we predicted that the CMHR would literally run out of money in the spring of 2011 and would go running to government to bail it out. We pegged it, right down to the month when the museum revealed it was skint and needed tens of millions of government money to keep construction on track.
Creswin President Dan Edwards issued a denial to the Free Press on Oct.19. "For 10 days now, we have been fighting untrue, inflammatory numbers on stadium costs that are clearly being floated to media outlets in order to make mischief on the project." He didn't deign to name us, even when he eventually conceded the final cost would be in the vicinity of $180 million.
Except that our sources said the stadium was facing even greater overruns and that the final cost would be as much as 20 percent higher, roughly 36 million. We reported that figure. Balderdash, everyone said. As they jackhammer the concrete out of the stadium to replace it, the cost to date has jackrabbited around $40 million more than they announced on opening day.
* And still on the boondoggle beat, The Black Rod has proudly been the most tenacious watchdog of Manitoba Hydro.
Now they concede that because of shale gas the prices they are getting and will get are peanuts compared to what they imagined they would get when they signed the contracts into which we're locked.
Whew. Is it any wonder we've slackened off lately?
- The Winnipeg Free Press has done everything possible to keep our name out of the newspaper, calling us "a local blogger" and "a Manitoba blog" when forced to write about us. We never made the newspaper's Blogs to Watch list.
But the best praise ever was the brief Rod Craze of 2011.
Welcome to the Purple Rod!
I think it is about time that I created a blog. Considering naming a blog after a colour of a rod is the latest "craze" in Winnipeg, I am going to call my blog the Purple Rod! Special thanks to the Black, Orange, Blue, White, and Stiff Rods for inspiration!
To quote the Grateful Dead, "What a long strange trip it's been."
Happy New Year. Welcome to The Black Rod's second decade.
Labels: Afghanistan, anti-semitism, Bipole, blogosphere, Bob Wilson, Bruce MacFarlane, CMHR, Crocus, Hydro, Krista Erickson, Matthew Dumas, MSM, Porkgate, Selinger, Stadium, Taman Inquiry, Thomas Sophonow