The media vs. Rob Ford: Barbara Amiel explains why the war is over the top

'Has anyone been smelling the stories on Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford these days?'

The attack on Rob Ford is over-the-top

Mark Blinch/Reuters

“Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odour of mendacity in this room? There ain’t nothing more powerful than the odour of mendacity,” says Big Daddy in Tennessee Williams’s play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. “You can smell it.”

Has anyone been smelling the stories on Toronto’s Mayor Rob Ford these days? They come cloaked in high-flown speeches about the public’s right to know and breast-beating sanctimony, but for me, they’ve got that smell. I don’t know Rob Ford. I have no idea whether he has an alcohol or drug problem, not my alley. Still, Toronto voters elected him. Yet here we are, bang in a local edition of the culture wars—and, my, hasn’t everyone come oiling out of the closet. There’s not a hair’s breadth of disagreement between the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star, when it comes to Rob Ford.

A quick reprise. There is said to be a tape showing Mayor Ford smoking crack cocaine. Who cares, would be my response, but that’s idiosyncratic. Still, the actual tape has never appeared. Posses of journalists are asking the mayor if he is a crack cocaine addict. Every crack cocaine addict I have ever seen is a bundle of skin and bone. Mayor Ford could be their poster boy: Smoke crack and not lose an ounce.

Possession of crack cocaine could, under Section 4 of the Criminal Code, result in suspended sentence, discharge, fine and/or jail, depending on the circumstances and judge. Having a mayor convicted of smoking crack cocaine could make him vulnerable to attempts to get him booted out of office on grounds of bad behaviour. I still think that the best way to boot out mayors is through the ballot box, but then, I am an old-fashioned gal.

Now comes the really smelly stuff. The Globe and Mail on May 25 publishes a five-page article which is introduced with Biblical sonority as “an extensive examination of the Toronto Ford family’s decades-old connection to illicit drugs.” The article is trumpeted as an exemplar of journalistic rigour, although all I can see is rigor mortis of self-righteousness.

It is alleged that from approximately 1979 to 1986, the mayor’s older brother Doug sold hash in Etobicoke. He was never arrested. Doug Ford would have been 21 years old in 1986, making younger brother Rob Ford 10 years old when the alleged dealing began and 17 when it ended. These allegations are made by 10 people whose names cannot be disclosed. Brother Randy was arrested some 27 years ago for assault and forcible confinement but the Globe doesn’t know if the case went to court. Some unnamed person alleged that Randy sold hash as well. Then we have the lurid past of sister Kathy, eldest of the Ford siblings. Hers is a tale of woe indeed, in which her long-time beau announced he was going to kill Rob Ford, which, one would think, makes him an ally of the Globe and Star and he had indeed earlier shot Kathy in the face. However, the Globe tells us that these charges were dropped. So I’m not entirely clear why we are told about them in the first place.

But, wait, there is more—as late-night infomercials say when trying to sell you another self-retracting hose. Kathy was also involved with white supremacists. A former Klansman (unnamed) remembers hanging out in the Ford family basement although he couldn’t remember meeting the Ford brothers. Young Kathy, he says, was not a “real believer . . . others just join to piss off their parents or carry out some personal act of rebellion. Clearly [Kathy] was in the latter camp.” The Globe doesn’t say whether they think it’s better to be a true-blue believing Nazi or just a Nazi for fun—hard to say, I suppose.

In summary. The elder brother of Rob Ford is alleged to have sold hash, a soft drug that both the Globe and the Star have suggested should not be criminalized—except perhaps when it involves the Ford family. There is zero evidence for these allegations. So what is the crime—dealing in soft drugs or being a member of the Ford family? This story has been 18 months in the making. The reporters worked hard but came up with nothing. Not their fault; it happens. You don’t publish. Was all that consulting and agonizing described by the Globe in a note with the story simply its editors wrestling with the morality of making accusations with no evidence? Do they think the absence of evidence is evidence? This is about as bad as journalism gets.

By the 1980s, psychiatrists at Ontario’s Addiction Research Foundation had backed the idea that people should inform themselves about the consequences of drug use and make their own decisions. Even earlier, we had the LeDain royal commission on drugs recommending decriminalization. If every word about Doug Ford and family were true, what we have is a 26-year-old story of a couple of kids who were selling soft drugs at a time when controversy over usage was declining.

For me, Mayor Rob Ford lacks any charm that might mollify his enemies. Even his sensible suggestions—God knows Toronto needs an expanded subway system like every other major capital in the world—get ditched because of his ham-fisted, in-your-face approach. Still, this campaign against Ford is self-evidently an attempt to bury a conservative political family outside the normal political process aided by the media behaving like snakes hissing around prey. One can only imagine the hysteria and accusations if this were done to a protected icon of the progressives: if newspapers or TV aired “alleged” nasties about the family of David Suzuki or Stephen Lewis. They would rightly be told where to get off. Right now and here.

Comments: For another take on Rob Ford, read Feschuk’s take on Ford.