Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

In Mayor Rob Ford's media war, Toronto loses

By: Metro Toronto Published on Tue Sep 25 2012

“Lie? They're pathological liars. That's what drives me nuts.”

– Mayor Rob Ford on the media

Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Coun. Doug Ford have a lot of things they want to say about the media. They don't like us very much.

Their anger has been ratcheted up over the last few weeks. Between Ford's conflict-of-interest trial, the ongoing football coaching saga and new allegations that he used his influence to prioritize roadwork outside his family business, positive portrayals of the Ford administration have been few and far between. Even good news stories, like business ties forged on the mayor's trade mission to Chicago, have been overshadowed.

And so the Fords have gone to war. For the last two weeks on their Newstalk 1010 radio show, Rob and Doug have come out swinging with all-out attacks against the city's media. Their comments—which always verge on hyperbolic—have been far-reaching, even going after would-be allies at the Toronto Sun and the very same radio station that airs their program.

Things reached a fever pitch yesterday morning after a meeting of the city's budget committee, when Doug Ford was overheard calling reporters a “bunch of pricks.”

“Let me say something, folks, when you go back at the media… man, they are like a bunch of sucky little kids. They whine and cry and moan, they sensationalize—and they lie through their teeth.”

Is the Toronto media too obsessed with the mayor? Does he get unfairly nitpicked and maligned where other politicians get a free pass? Is there any truth to the Ford vindictive?

I don't think there is. By definition, reporters who cover City Hall can't be obsessed with the guy who was elected to lead it. Ford, for whatever reason, just happens to be an important public figure who has found himself at the centre of more high-profile weirdness over the last couple of years than most municipal politicians experience in a lifetime. With few exceptions, the stories that have so artfully coloured the mayor's time in office are entirely of his own making.

Take, for example, the Fords' latest bugbear. They're mad that the media keeps contradicting their claim that the Chicago trade mission came at no cost to the taxpayer. But the media isn't contradicting the mayor and his brother because they have some wild vendetta against the Fords. They're contradicting because the facts didn't entirely jibe with what the Fords are saying.

There was zero reason for the Fords to make their bizarre no-cost claim in the first place. If they had just kept their mouths shut, they would have saved themselves a ton of grief.

“You don’t take anything good about all the positive stuff we say, it's just a couple of negative things. And it gets frustrating at the end of the day.”

– Mayor Rob Ford on the media

I will grant that those of us who write about Toronto City Hall have some responsibility to focus on things beyond the weekly Rob Ford sideshow. It's too easy, sometimes, to get mired in the latest foot-in-mouth statement while other stories go uncovered. But there's also a level of responsibility that has been shirked by the mayor and his staff. For months, they haven't really had a central message.

Yeah, there's the cavalcade of talking points referring back to early achievements or vague concepts of reducing government and saving money, but there's little on the horizon. Ford has talked only briefly about his budget goals this year. Despite his vow to keep fighting, he hasn't presented any kind of plan to continue working toward underground transit—or any kind of expanded transit at all. He's had little to say on things like Coun. Ana Bailão's revised housing strategy or the city's childcare crisis, which gets more serious by the day.

It's gotten harder to write stories about the mayor's policies or priorities because he often seems to have none. Ford's all-out assault on the media isn't going to change that.

There's only two ways this war can go.

One outcome sees the Fords successfully convince a significant portion of the voting public that they're being unfairly bullied by an elitist, out-of-touch media horde that simply doesn't like the way the mayor has smashed unions and busted budgets. Just as the conservative media in the United States has convinced their base that they are all victims of a liberal media, the Fords can work the same kind of anti-media sentiment to transform Rob Ford back into the plucky underdog that proved so popular—and electable—in 2010.

Then there's the other path, which sees the Fords pointlessly wage this one-sided war-of-words for months, wasting time, political capital and far too much energy. Even without the political upside, they continue to put personal grudges ahead of actually getting done at City Hall, leading to more lost opportunity at a time when this city is in desperate need of strong leadership.

In this war, Toronto loses either way.

This post was originally published at on 2012-09-25T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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