Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Media scrutiny of Rob Ford is fair game

By: Ford For Toronto Published on Tue Aug 20 2013

There's this pervasive idea that Mayor Rob Ford, even though he's got his faults, has been treated unfairly by the media in this city. I don't buy it.

But it's not hard to find people who do. In an otherwise pretty even-handed column printed in the Ottawa Citizen last week, University of Toronto assistant professor Peter Loewen argued “there is no doubt that Ford has been treated with a much less even hand than any of his predecessors or his contemporaries. At turns, the coverage has been unprofessional, uncharitable, amateur, and mean.” That's right: mean!

The Toronto Sun, for their part, actually went as far as to call the Toronto Star's reports on the mayor part of a “jihad” in an editorial this weekend, which was probably not a great word choice. Though the editorial itself is actually pretty critical of Ford, they still toss in the claim “that no mayor in Toronto’s history has been subjected to as intense media and public scrutiny as [Ford] has, since winning office in 2010.”

The underlying assumption seems to be that members of the media simply have it out for Ford, and that at least some of the avalanche of coverage following the mayor can be partially chalked up to personal grudges and maybe a vendetta or two. But that complicated theory ignores a far simpler explanation: .

The media didn't create Ford's scandals. With rare exceptions, the coverage has been mostly focused on Ford's conduct as it relates to his public life. There have been no hidden cameras or sting operations. Nobody's wearing a wire. Ford has been given tons of opportunity to comment on the stories about him, but has usually neglected to do so. And despite claims that reporters follow the mayor and his family around on a daily basis, that doesn't seem to be remotely true. There are long stretches in which members of the media don't even know where the mayor is.

Besides, the notion that intense scrutiny surrounding Ford is unfair seems to suggest there are other politicians who have had similar personal scandals that have been ignored or under reported by members of the media. Like maybe there are other crack video allegations about more media-friendly public officials that simply get ignored and tossed aside because, hey, who cares? The idea, I guess, is that maybe reporters only bring attention to salacious political scandals when they involve guys they don't like. It's a bit of a stretch.

Still, I will say that I wish Ford's political record would receive the same kind of scrutiny that his scandals do. Ford's claims to have saved the city a bundle of money — maybe a billion dollars — often aren't challenged. When they are, it turns out that they're not true. Similarly, his record on transit and delivering subways is disastrous, made worse by a recent move to take out a pile of new debt to finance the city's share of an unnecessary subway line.

There's also the question of how exactly Ford will sell the public on a re-election platform that he probably won't be able to deliver on. Ford's inability to win votes at city council should be seen as a major liability for him. Unless he can convince the public to replace a number of his incumbent colleagues with more Ford-like candidates, a new council term under Ford wouldn't be all that different than this one has been. He might enjoy an early honeymoon period where he wins a few votes, but ultimately he'd end up on the losing end of things again — totally unable to actually keep many of his promises. But will voters understand that?

Without those kinds of questions getting the attention they deserve, I'm not convinced that any of the scrutiny focused on the mayor's scandals will matter much when it comes time to campaign in 2014. But that doesn't mean it isn't fair.

This post was originally published at on 2013-08-20T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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