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Media Bites: Is the Media Being Fair to Rob Ford and Mike Duffy?

05/30/2013 08:23 EDT | Updated 07/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Is the media being fair to Rob Ford?

How about Mike Duffy?

Since the only thing the Canadian press enjoys more than a good scandal is naval-gazing their own coverage of scandals, these two questions have loomed large in our editorial pages over the last couple of days.

My conclusions? "Yes" to the first, "maybe" to the second.

The case against Mayor Ford, if we can call it that, isn't hard to make. As many of our more defensive conservative pundits have been quick to remind, Ford's unvarnished right-wing populism never exactly warmed the cockles of the left-leaning Toronto press establishment. As a result, the thesis that his media foes are gleefully spreading hideous allegations of drug addiction about a man they've always loathed using evidence they'd never otherwise tolerate, is, in fact, basically true.

Let's not forget, notes Christie Blatchford in the National Post, that when Ford says he can't comment on a video "I've never seen or does not exist" he's not being evasive, he's being honest, since only three people in the entire world can credibly claim otherwise. Any presumption of guilt, therefore, rests heavily on hearsay, if hearsay means anything at all.

"It's inarguable, I think, that with this story, the goalposts of the newspaper business in this country have been moved," Christie concludes. Standards of proof are weaker, journalistic morals lower. Would as much have been sacrificed to bring down any other politician?

Joe Warmington in the Toronto Sun doubts it. The "rumour, innuendo and anonymous sources" that dominate Fordgate reporting are starting to get completely out of control, he writes, with hater appetites for ever-more-lurid and fantastical stories about the Mayor escalating into a full-on arms race of tabloid sleaze.

Joe takes specific umbrage with the juiciest gossip of the moment: the allegation that there's some kinda link between the Mayor's office and a recent gangland murder.

It's a story that broke in the Monday pages of the Globe and Mail, with unnamed sources claiming a senior Ford bureaucrat had offered "a tip linking a video allegedly showing the mayor smoking illicit drugs to a recent Toronto homicide."

But then the cops clarified that the tip in question was actually "not related to a homicide." And now Warmington himself, after speaking to the Mayor's people, clarifies further that all the staffer did was tip about some "drug dealers taking over an apartment on Dixon Rd.," an obscure crime that had nothing to do with the crack video, murders or Mayor Ford at all.

"Sometimes great stories are true, other times they are too good to be true," says Joe.

Advice worth heeding to be sure. But let's not ditch Occam's razor either.

At the end of the day, either Gawker's John Cook and the Toronto Star's dynamic duo saw the video they claim (and their reviews basically align -- the best proof being, as I noted in a previous column, Cook's American confusion over some of the Canadian political references), or they're engaged in an impossibly elaborate conspiracy of fabulism.

And the video either depicts the actual factual Rob Ford (all three reporters agree it's "clear") or a bunch of Third World drug dealers have somehow acquired an incredibly high-quality forgery. There's a reasonably high-quality forgery circulating the Internet right now, and it's very obviously fake. There's respect for the principle of innocent until proven guilty, in other words, and then there's denial.

Senator Duffy's defenders, meanwhile, seem to be on reasonably stiffer ground.

Kelly McParland wrote a fine piece in the National Post yesterday documenting the myriad ways our cookie jar-handed senator has been tossed "under the wheels of the nearest speeding Greyhound" by his Senate buddies as part of some ostentatious effort to prove themselves "capable of something besides just counting their stipend and heading home for an early weekend."

Because Duffy is famous and funny-looking, his story has become -- thanks to press and politician alike -- the favored punching bag for the collective sins of the whole stupid Senate, even though, a) Duffy is the only member of the chamber's "big three" residency expense cheats to repay (however unethically) his ill-gotten gains and b) his morally dubious behaviour was hardly a Senate first (or last).

Kelly notes that Liberal Sen. Pana Merchant appears to be engaged in some manner of tax evasion, yet you've probably never heard of her. Nor are you hearing much about Senators Harb and Brazeau these days, even though, unlike Duffy, they've openly stated they have no intention of returning their phony living allowances. Or Senator Wallin, who's alleged living allowance corruption remains at large.

Duffy, clearly, is no saint. But he's been ostracized and reprimanded. His story survives mostly because of the Nigel Wright loan angle, and by extension its connection to the PM, and by extension to that, its power to perpetuate a sexy and scandalizing media narrative that the Harper government's mired in, as one wag put it, "end of regime behaviour." Though the elusive evidence for that remains largely the stuff of opposition dreams.

Bad guys unquestionably deserve bad press. But like the rest of us, they also deserve fairness -- particularly at a time when a cynical public's in the mood to swallow any negative innuendo they hear. Ethics aren't easy, but they're always right.

In fact, you could say they're what separates us from them.

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