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The Reaction to Rob Ford's Cancer Proves We Don't Take Addiction Seriously

09/19/2014 11:18 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:00 EDT

The jokes all died a week ago.

That's when Rob Ford 's grim medical diagnosis broke -- a rare and aggressive form of cancer. Chemotherapy would begin right away; his bid for re-election as Toronto's mayor shattered.

The fat jokes packed their bags. The sneers about 'fake rehab' called taxis. All those animated .GIFs of Ford bumping into things and missing football kicks got the hell out of town.

Even Gawker, the U.S. news agency that broke the crack scandal, abruptly stopped using that exhausted joke someone thought was funny a very long time ago -- it no longer introduced him as "crack-smoking mayor Rob Ford."

And the media's favourite sobriquet -- 'ROFO' with its vaguely bumbling air -- has been thoroughly redacted from public parlance.

It's almost as if that nasty business of the media running roughshod -- downright bullying -- a man suffering from a mental illness never happened. Journalists never hounded him at the rehabilitation facility. Or coerced other patients into revealing intimate details of his treatment. Or wrote features about the clinic founder's own history with the law.

Now that he's dealing with a physical disease, on the other hand, it's real. Let's give the man some privacy, our noble journalism vanguards suddenly declare.

Fuck addiction. Nobody laughs at cancer. And no two diseases, evidently, are the same.

So, no more pictures of the man, closely cropped to frame his sweaty face, ensuring he looks as demented as possible. No more candid poses accentuating his belly. No more contemptuous headlines.

And, make no mistake, those were mean-spirited jokes. Although they won't be back soon, the mistrust and acute cynicism remain.

The other day, when news of a second tumour broke, a colleague turned to me and said, "I just have trouble believing anything he says."

So Rob Ford's epitaph could very well read, The Mayor Who Died Wolf.

And there is no denying that Ford lied. A lot.

Obviously, he did much more than lie. During his reign as mayor he disappointed, insulted, ignored, partied and made a local drug dealer the Lars Von Trier of cell phone videos.

He was also, as he would finally admit so very late, in the throes of addiction. And no one soaked up the pageantry -- and profits -- of his perdition as lustily as the media.

An increasingly malnourished wretch, print journalism has fattened up nicely on the mayor's teat. Reporters have seen their careers crowned, books published, movie deals inked. And yes, there's even an utterly abhorrent musical.

And while we're counting the blessings of Ford Nation -- all the wonderful things one man's terrible tragedy gave us -- can we also put an end to that laughable fiction about him sullying Toronto's reputation on the world stage?

Rob Ford has sullied Rob Ford's reputation. Toronto, an electrifying city of world-class proportions and a vibrant hipster population, is mayor-proof. It will abide.

And tourism? Lets try to imagine that conversation between a couple prospective visitors to the city.

Honey, I think we should cancel our vacation to Toronto because Rob Ford.

Good idea, darling. I was thinking the very same thing.

Think that conversation took place anywhere on Earth during the Ford scandal?

And yet that absurd myth found ready traction in the media. Not one sober scribe thought to question how exactly Ford was terrorizing tourists. Was he rampaging through the streets menacing people in a garbled Jamaican patois, crack pipe still smouldering in hand?

Or, realistically, was he yet another reason to visit Toronto? Who wouldn't want to be in Toronto? The circus is in town every day.

But let's face it. Until his recent diagnosis, the biggest and most malignant tumour on Ford's serenely accommodating ass has been the media.

What have past mayors like David Miller, Barbara Hall and Mel Lastm--- errr, scratch that last one -- given to local industry? Sound fiscal policy? Transit expansion?

Get serious.

And for reporters, what's to feel bad about? A politician's destiny is to be hunted, gutted, publicly roasted and feasted upon. Readers gobble that shit up.

There's just the one thing about the message his treatment conveys to others suffering from addiction. Overwhelmingly, Rob Ford is seen as a criminal, rather than a very ill man.

It's simple. As a society, we lack sympathy for addiction.

So it's acceptable to profit from someone suffering a mental health issue. But cancer? That's real.

Tragically, Rob Ford is dealing with both.

Ironically, it's the latter -- cancer -- that has finally granted him the reprieve he so desperately needed.

While Ford remains cloistered in a hospital ward, maybe journalism can also take a break from breathless reporting. And actually feel something. Like regret.

Remember all that hostility? Like at those City Hall scrums, where Ford has been physically blocked trying to exit his office or chased down back stairwells. And those too frequent scenes in the man's driveway, where trolling reporters were all-too successful in getting the 'money shot' -- Ford losing his shit on camera.

The great myth of journalism -- its abiding justification for not being particularly gentle in its pursuit of The Story -- is that it must get to it first.

That may have been true decades ago, when a newspaper could get a story and own it for an entire day. Maybe two. But today, the great mass that is mainstream media still rushes like rabid wolves toward its target, baying FIRST FIRST FIRST.

And time and time again, that hungry horde manages to arrive at the same story at around the #sametime.

In the end, everyone gets the same scandalous Rob Ford sound bite. The same terrible image.

When it finally washes up, no one will miss the video either.

Don't worry Toronto. You will survive the reign of Rob Ford. The real question is will Rob Ford?

In any event, journalism isn't about to issue a collective thank you to Rob Ford for signing its pay cheque over the last couple of years. Even less likely, an apology.

So I'll offer mine.

I've been watching a man dig a grave for a while now. And instead of looking to haul him out, I too, have been dancing on it.


Follow Christian Cotroneo on Twitter


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