WASHINGTON – America’s fascination with the Rob Ford crack cocaine scandal is showing no signs of dissipating almost two weeks after news emerged of an alleged cellphone video that appears to show the Toronto mayor sucking on a crack pipe.
NBC’s “The Today Show” featured a segment Wednesday on the latest developments in the scandal that’s engulfed Ford’s administration, while an array of different U.S. and international news outlets are covering each and every twist and turn in the saga.
“Any time you have to hold a press conference and say: ‘I don’t smoke crack’ — not a good day,” “Today” co-host Savannah Guthrie said of the show’s report from Toronto.
Ford has called the crack-smoking accusations against him “ridiculous” and said the alleged video doesn’t exist.
But interest in the story has only intensified in the U.S. amid an exodus of Ford employees this week and a reported tip to one of the mayor’s closest staff that a young man could have been killed in relation to the alleged video.
“Murder Now Part of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford’s Crack Cocaine Video Scandal,” shrieked a headline earlier this week on the Hollywood Reporter website.
“Was Someone Murdered For The Rob Ford Crack Video?” asked another in New York magazine.
Toronto police, for their part, have reportedly said their investigation of the matter isn’t a homicide probe.
The Atlantic, meantime, poked fun at Ford’s denial last week of crack cocaine use.
“I did not have smoking relations with that crack pipe,” a post on the magazine’s website jokingly quoted Ford as saying, a nod to former president Bill Clinton’s infamous denial of an involvement with White House intern Monica Lewinsky in the 1990s.
On Friday, an embattled Ford told reporters: “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.” His use of the present tense raised eyebrows.
“Way to go, Canada!” Wonkette, the D.C.-based political website that delights in skewering politicians of all stripes, wrote Wednesday.
Wonkette carried a piece about a weekend Globe and Mail article that alleged the mayor’s brother, Coun. Doug Ford, dealt hashish in the 1980s in suburban west-end Toronto. Doug Ford has categorically denied the allegations in the Globe story, which was based on unidentified sources.
“In America, these characters would be living in Mississippi and mailing homemade ricin to the president,” read the Wonkette post. “In Toronto, they’re the mayor’s kinfolk. Netflix Original Programming, are you paying attention?”
Rob Ford has been in the midst of a media firestorm ever since two separate reports — published in the Toronto Star and on Gawker, a U.S. gossip website — claimed the mayor had been videotaped smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine. Neither of the reports about the video has been independently verified, and the Star has said it can’t vouch for its authenticity.
British media are also following the story intently, perhaps for the same reasons U.S. news organizations can’t tear their eyes away — it’s simply too juicy and too un-Canadian to be ignored. The Guardian, the Independent and an array of British tabloids have featured several stories on the scandal.
“And you thought Boris Johnson was scandal-prone?” read a headline on a Ford piece in the staid Independent earlier this week in reference to London’s mayor.
The story contained this classic bit of British understatement about the emergence of the alleged crack video: “Reporters are not (Ford’s) favourite breed because they have deemed this worth pursuing.”
Esquire magazine, meantime, featured a dispatch on its website from Torontonian Stephen Marche entitled “Why You May Want A Crack-Smoking Mayor.” Marche described the scene in Toronto — and in Canada as a whole — for those who might have been otherwise unfamiliar.
“In Canada, stories like this don’t happen,” Marche wrote.
“Literally this morning there was a scandal in Winnipeg about the mayor of that city spitting gum on the street …. Then there was the guy who fended off a cougar with his skateboard and felt bad about it. Those are your typical Canadian stories. Not mayors huffing rock.”
Which is exactly why the story continues to have legs south of the border, says Rick Rockwell, who teaches journalism ethics and is the director of the International Media School at American University in Washington, D.C.
“It’s a back-handed compliment to Canada — it’s news here because it’s not what we expect from Canada; it goes totally against the images Americans have in their minds about Canada and Toronto,” he said.
Every development in the Ford scandal further surprises Americans, he added, and shows them that Toronto, one of the largest cities in North America, is a player in terms of gritty, big-city problems.
“It resonates with us — this is our kind of scandal,” Rockwell said, making reference to D.C.’s Marion Barry, who was caught smoking crack in an FBI sting in 1990. “Americans are looking at the city quite differently because of this story.”
In his Esquire piece on Toronto, Marche shared a similar sentiment.
“The story is not humiliating to Toronto, no matter what they say. Quite the opposite: The craziness is a sign that the city is growing up.”