05/04/2012 10:30 EDT | Updated 07/04/2012 05:12 EDT

I Wouldn't Follow This "Star" Reporter Into Battle


Maybe it's just me, but I think everyone relishes stories where reporters confront politicians -- and even more so when politicians challenge reporters.

That's one of the entertaining things about having Rob Ford as Toronto's mayor. One is never sure when there'll be an outburst. Keeps us media types on our toes.

We've got another one underway at the moment -- the Toronto Star's City Hall reporter, Daniel Dale, caught snooping behind Mayor Ford's home, supposedly checking public land that Ford wants to buy to accommodate a privacy fence around his property.

A neighbour told Ford of the "prowler," and the mayor charged out, ready for battle. Most of us in the news business can identify with the Star reporter. Most have been in similar situations, most of us have survived. Reporters often "cross the line" in small ways in pursuit of a story.

Just what the "story" was, in this case, is open to question.

Photographing a proposed fence area at 7.30 p.m. with a Blackberry seems odd, even for the Star. The Sun would have photographed the area in daylight with a real camera. But different things for different folks.

Personally, I pay little heed to the mayor's bellyaching about lines being crossed and his wanting to protect his family from peeping toms or intrusive journalists. Such intrusions are a hazard of his job. Even Mary Walsh ambushing him is ho-hum stuff.

What really disturbed me ("disturbed" isn't the right word, "embarrassed" would be better), is the behaviour of the reporter as quoted in stories about the incident.

In Ford's account, Dale was screaming "Help! Help! Help!" as the mayor rushed at him, and the reporter threw his phone and recorder on the ground and ran like hell.

Even in Dale's own account, published in the Star, he says "I began pleading with him as loud as I could," and admits "I became more frightened than I can remember; after two or three attempts to dart away, I threw my phone and my recorder down on the grass, yelled that he could take them, and ran."

Gracious! I guess they don't make reporters like they used to. And this guy has just won a National Newspaper Award! Maybe next year he'll expect another for the way he stood up to an angry mayor.

I recall the Sun's Joe Warmington ambushing then-Premier Mike Harris on a golf course and being scolded. Warmington's about as sensitive as a bulldozer, and stood his ground. Harris eventually apologized for his outburst.

The Star may even remember when Sun reporter Peter Young walked into their newsroom and said the city editor wanted a photo they'd taken in a hostage stand-off. He failed to mention that it was the Sun city editor who wanted the photo. We returned the purloined photo and gave Young a bonus for initiative.

When confronted, journalists don't usually yell for help, drop their camera and recorder, and run away. Maybe when facing a mob in Somalia, but not when a Toronto mayor catches you snooping. Unless you're a Star guy, that is. Star icons like Bob Reguly, Jocko Thomas and Ray Timson must be rolling in their graves.

I'm often teased at the Sun for my fixation on Jack Russell terriers who, to me, have the characteristic of good reporters. They are curious, fearless, and persistent. They rise to any challenge and seldom run away.

Maybe a new breed of reporters exists today -- King Charles Spaniel types: timid,

subservient, fearful, and apologetic.

The mayor says he's thinking of laying charges. Nonsense. He won't and he shouldn't. The unfortunate reporter's been scared enough already.

We await with interest the mayor's next bout with an "investigative" reporter.