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Media Bites: Five Media Perspectives on Rob Ford

11/07/2013 07:59 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

To the endless delight of click-bait authors everywhere, Rob Ford is showing no signs of leaving the headlines anytime soon, particularly in the aftermath of his big reveal that the Toronto mayor had, by his own admission, "smoked crack cocaine" in the recent past.

The pundits have been smashing their keyboards in wild fury ever since, so what are some of the conclusions they've been drawing? May I present to you Five Media Takes on the Present State of the Honourable Robert B. Ford.

Take #1: Rob Ford is a lying liar

This is the perspective of the Globe and Mail editorial board, who, on Tuesday, released their second "Ford must resign" editorial in six days. As we discussed on Monday, there's long been a fair bit of incoherence on the part of the Mayor's enemies regarding precisely why they're demanding his head. His drug use? His criminal buddies? His alcoholism? His weight? It's a bit of a challenge since Ford hasn't actually been charged with any crime and politically-correct pundit types are usually loathe to demand political consequences for private failings (such as, I dunno, cheating on your wife at an erotic massage parlour).

The last pro-resignation Globe editorial contained a lot of vague stuff about how Ford "disrespects" his "office and the voters" with his antics and how "Toronto deserves better," but as far as indictments goes, it all seemed a little week. Thankfully, the Globeos have now settled on a much firmer conclusion -- Rob Ford must go because "Rob Ford is a liar."

We might be able to handle "a mayor with a drinking problem" they concede, or possibly "even a drug problem." But one the board simply can't handle is "the lying" about it all.

This is more than a bit disingenuous. As anyone who's been following the sad tale over the last couple of months can readily attest, one of the most notable things about the Ford story is actually how deliberately, awkwardly, and forcefully Mayor Ford has actually avoided lying at all costs in order to craft a thin veneer of innocence based around plausible deniability and Clintonian distortions of the English language.

The statement the Globe singles out as Ford's primo lie -- "I do not use crack cocaine" -- is grammatically speaking, not technically false, even in the wake of this week's admission of past use. Verb tenses matter in our language, and as Gawker's John Cook -- the man who broke the crack video story back in May -- noted when the statement was first uttered, Ford merely "said he does not smoke crack cocaine, which is the sort of thing that someone who woke up this morning and decided to stop smoking crack cocaine might say, on the grounds that it's not presently untrue."

The famous quip about scandals is that "it's not the crime, it's the cover up." But sometimes it's neither a crime nor a coverup, it's just that the politician is a horrible embarrassing moron that no one likes. But that's hard to say openly, let alone in an op-ed.

Take #2: Rob Ford is ruining Canada

Or at least our global reputation. Since this insecure nation of ours loves nothing more than being acknowledged and talked about by people that matter (ie: Americans), the fact that the Ford story is making international (ie: American) headlines, and for all the wrong reasons, has many folks in a funk.

But it's not all bad news. The Canadian Press had an interesting story on Wednesday featuring ample quotes from Dr. Peter Graefe, a Canadian poli-sci prof and evident expert on our pop culture standing abroad. In the eyes of folks elsewhere (i.e.: America), Pete said, hearing about our largest city's crack-smoking boss "breaks the narrative of the uptight Canadians," but it also "plays to another narrative they have of the very liberal Canadians."

First prize for sheer intellectual contortions required to reach that latter conclusion surely has to go to good ol' Jon Stewart, who on his Monday show quipped that "it must be nice to live in a city so problem-free that it can be run for years by a hard-drinking crack-mayor." Someone who actually does live under the rule of the crack-mayor might disagree, but Americans have always been pretty good at viewing our syrup jug as half-full.

Take #3: Rob Ford is getting a free ride

Talking of Americans, not all of them find all the Ford-drama hilariously charming.

Clinton Yates in the Washington Post, for instance, finds the whole spectacle an embarrassing reminder of the racial double-standard for crack-mayors; while "a white Canadian mayor admitting that he uses drugs is looked at as a source of comedy," the crack use of the former mayor of Clinton's hometown, the infamous Marion Barry of Washington, DC, "was a reason to vilify a majority-black city for a drug epidemic that took countless lives." While Jon Stewart can hoot about how a crack addicted mayor must personify a city with no problems, the reaction to Barry was "look at those people, even their mayor is hooked."

Frankly this whole Ford saga, says Clinton, reveals a fundamental absence of class. In more ways than one.

 

Take #4: Rob Ford is as good as Toronto's gonna get

The closest thing to a defense of His Embattled Worship is offered by radio talk show host Jerry Agar in the Toronto Sun (of course), who frets that while Ford may be a druggo and a clown and a giant cement weight around the ankles of his entire nation and whatever else, well, he's still a fiscal conservative, and such creatures are rare in Toronto. (No doubt he agrees with the Mayor's own recently-stated lofty opinion that "when it comes to my fiscal policy, I am by far the best mayor the city has ever had.")

If Ford falls, worries Jerry, then who's going to wind up in charge? Karen Stintz? She's "in favour of more revenue tools to fund public transit." David Soknacki? You mean the "budget chief under former mayor David Miller's spendthrift administration"? John Tory? He "supports big government programs." Shelley Carroll? "Likely to raise taxes." Olivia Chow? "That's nightmare territory."

I have no clue who any of these people are (save Mrs. Jack Layton, of course), and there's something more than a tad unsettling about a columnist so dogmatically ideological that he can churn out 600 words on municipal fiscal policy while standing in the smoldering glow of an enormous human train wreck, but Jerry's piece is nevertheless a useful read for anyone still boggling at the oft-cited stat that Mayor Ford's approval rating has actually risen during this latest round of scandal.

A similar phenomenon explains the re-election of morally questionable Republicans like Louisiana's prostitute-loving Senator David Vitter, or South Carolina's wife-swapping governor (now Congressman) Mark Sandford -- if you're dead set on low taxes über alles, there's a lot you can force yourself to forgive.

Take #5: Rob Ford is a product of a failed political system

This one's my own. By "failed political system" I don't mean, as many ornery urbanites seem to, an electorate willing to appoint an uncivilized boob like Rob Ford to the city's highest office, but rather a system of municipal government with absolutely no provision for removing one.

Toronto city council, as many have noted, lacks an impeachment mechanism, meaning that mayors can do just about whatever in their four-year term -- not just smoke crack, but theoretically loot the treasury, rig construction contracts, sell stadium naming rights to the Mafia and so on (basically a typical Tuesday in Montreal) -- without ever having to fear expulsion. In that sense, Toronto City Council is a lot like the senate, though as we've seen, even Senators can occasionally get brief unpaid suspensions for bad behaviour.

A lack of impeachment means more than just a lack of discipline and accountability, however, it also provides no incentive for a politician like Ford to ever be remorseful, reflective, apologetic, or contrite for his sins when caught red-handed, since there's absolutely no political benefit to any of those emotions, nor, for that matter, any downside to being endlessly stubborn, deceptive, and secretive. Just as a bratty child can't spoil herself, a crappy mayor can't endlessly embarrass his city unless his city lets him.

At that point, who's really to blame?

 

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