The Media’s Worrisome Crack Addiction

For those who may have spent the last month hiding from the authorities in a remote cabin north of Whitehorse, or building houses for the disenfranchised in Sub-Saharan Africa (for which I commend you), Toronto has a crack-smoking mayor. Indeed, Rob Ford has ended months of speculation, coming clean regarding the accusations that have hung over his head for the better part of the last year. Though one could have expected that moment to be rock bottom for the embattled mayor, new footage has come out depicting him as a violent drunk, keen on murdering a still unknown person – further embarrassing both Ford and his family. But the drama continues: in his latest interview with Vision TV, Ford expressed his concern regarding reporter Daniel Dale having taken photographs from Ford’s backyard of his house and family… And the media went wild, accusing him of calling Dale a pedophile.

While recent events shed a negative light on the mayor, Toronto, and Canada, the Ford-saga also constitutes a new low for Canadian journalism. From the onset, let’s clarify one possible point of contention: Rob Ford should indeed step down as mayor of Toronto. Beyond the fact that his behavior is unbecoming of a mayor, the recent slew of accusations and the media circus accompanying them takes too much of Ford’s time and efforts away from his job at the helm of Canada’s largest city. By remaining in his position, he also continues to serve as the butt of jokes for comedians all over the world, which inevitably affects the international perception of Toronto. More importantly however, Ford should step down because he is clearly dealing with some issues for which the media has absolutely no sympathy, as they ruthlessly continue their assault on the man. Under the thin veil of righteousness, news outlets around the country have been conducting an onslaught on Rob Ford for the sole purpose of selling copies and achieving their political objectives.

There is a clear line between relevant, professional journalism and malicious gossip. As details of Rob Ford’s life away from the office continue to dominate front pages across the nation, it is clear that the Canadian media has crossed that line and lost all forms of integrity. The difference between appropriate and spiteful reporting is so maddeningly clear that it is impossible for outlets to justify their actions. On the one hand, a video depicting the mayor of a major metropolis smoking crack is certainly a story worth reporting; consuming such substances, despite their effects on health and them being illegal, is in no way an exhibition of the sound decision-making expected from a city’s highest ranking official. Publishing a cellphone video of a man on a drunken rant in a private setting, however, is quite literally libelous – though in fairness, Charlie Sheen would likely call that free publicity.

While crack smoking is obviously indicative of poor decision-making, all that the infamous “killing” video suggests is that the mayor has treacherous and gutless friends. Not something to be proud of, but neither a crime nor something to which we are all immune. Let he or she who has never been deceived by a friend cast the first stone. While it would certainly be preferable for any individual to be sober at all times, that is a standard that very few people follow. Further, there was no evidence whatsoever that Ford had abused an illegal substance prior to this video being recorded, and while he did say some regrettable things in his now infamous stupor, there is little merit to taking those threats at face value.

Considering the mayor’s previous embarrassing incidents involving alcohol, a proper response to such a video would have been to show some form of decency and concern for the man’s well being rather than following such a malicious and confrontational route. However, Canadian media have made pimps of themselves by turning private footage into shameless revenue sources. Gone are the days when journalists took pride in their occupation and viewed their jobs as a true profession. Instead, it seems like gratuitous bashing and easy money-grabbing is now the norm for the industry. Word on the street is that Rob Ford is so clumsy, he once was on the receiving end of a nasty paper cut; get ready for the breaking news alert!

The fact of the matter is that left-centric media – virtually all media – have never liked Rob Ford, both for his policies and eccentric personality. Moreover, the mayor never cared to win over journalistic hearts either, which must have struck a nerve in the heart of this pompous community. Take a look at Ford’s depiction through time in news outlets.

When the man volunteers his time to coach high school football, he is not praised but scorned for not being at the office around the clock, and mocked for tripping over on a handoff. When he rightfully complains about media members taking pictures of his house and children, no second thought is given to his parental concern – rather, the slanderers that have hounded the mayor for months now want to sue him due to their unverifiable belief that the mayor implied they were pedophiles. When he attempts to lose weight and fails, his effort is turned into further material for mockery and is somehow interpreted as a great hyperbolic metaphor for his alleged shortcomings as a mayor. A fair criticism considering journalists’ reputation for being freakish athletes. Then comes the issue of alcohol abuse and other behavioral problems that media vultures prey on.

There is little doubt that Ford’s brashness begets some of the prejudice and dislike towards him. Furthermore, any mayor should certainly be held accountable for smoking crack, allegedly having ties to the murder of Anthony Smith, or being drunk at public functions. With that being said, it is not the media’s job to be the jury and the executioner in such cases. Reporting on issues that are relevant to society and the public good is one thing, but consistently assailing an individual, each and every time a new embarrassing anecdote is unearthed, is a different story. Consider for an instant if, rather than Ford, a media-darling such as Olivia Chow were to have been caught up in a similar situation. Would the coverage have been as merciless and persistent? The answer is likely no. Months into this controversy, only two things are for certain: that it is in the best interest of both Ford and of Toronto for him to step down, and that the shameless, unethical media are addicted to crack stories. On the upside, who wouldn’t want to see the Toronto Star merge with the National Enquirer?

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Bull & Bear.