Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, November 1, 2013 7:55 pm

More like this, please


Six months ago, the Toronto Star published a story claiming that a video existed of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack. Ford not only denied it, he bitterly attacked the media, most especially the Toronto Star, which he tried to convince subscribers and advertisers to boycott.

Until Thursday, when Toronto’s police chief confirmed that the video exists.

To me, that’s not the news; to the extent I thought about it, I thought Ford was guilty as sin.

No, the news is this open letter from the Toronto Star’s publisher, John Cruickshank:

The truth finally found a few more friends in Toronto yesterday. It badly needed them.

For the past six months, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has waged a brilliantly cynical and manipulative campaign against the Toronto Star and any other media who dared to question him.

Exploiting character assassination, defamation and a numbing stream of self-serving lies, Ford obscured the truth and befouled the truth-tellers.

Until yesterday. …

Six months ago, Mr. Ford might have ’fessed up, done a stint in rehab and emerged to a chorus of congratulations. Everybody loves a redemption story around election time.

But the mayor did not own up to his behaviour. Instead, he turned on the messengers.

And in the success of his malign campaign, he proved how fragile the truth can be if our chosen leaders lead their followers astray.

Mr. Ford and his thuggish brother, Councillor Doug Ford, used their media access to label the news reporters of this city as pathological liars and anti-democratic maggots.

The Fords urged their loyalists to cancel their subscriptions to the Toronto Star and to pull their advertisements.

The Star’s owners and journalists were accused of pursuing an ideological vendetta against Ford. Star reporting was denounced as harassment. Called delusional.

Ford acolytes hauled the paper before the Ontario Press Council, charging that the Star’s use of unnamed sources was unethical and that the media’s focus on the issue was detrimental to the democratic life of the city.

Toronto’s divided and querulous council proved powerless to call the mayor to account or defend their own integrity.

Painful as it is, we must acknowledge as a community that the mayor has been startlingly successful in his deceit.

Many citizens, perhaps a majority, have gullibly given credence to Mayor Ford’s lies about his drug use and about the reporters and editors he vindictively targeted.

The public was persuaded to ignore his erratic behaviour and the intense secrecy he insisted on about the hours he kept and the people with whom he spent his time. Episodes of public intoxication were laughed off (though members of his inner circle conceded the mayor urgently needed intervention).

Latterly, we have heard a little bit about some of the potential harm that comes when a leading official surrounds himself with criminals. Letters of recommendation have gone out from the mayor’s office for a killer and a drug dealer.

We are likely to learn a good deal more about what has been at risk at city hall in the days ahead. …

This is work of a scale and seriousness that can only be undertaken successfully by what is now called “the mainstream media.” Others lack the resources, the experience and the credibility to call a senior official to account.

We feel tremendously proud today of our unwavering pursuit of a shocking story about a popular mayor.

It’s a good day for the city of Toronto despite this bitter period of deception we’ve been through.

And it’s a good day for journalism.

That letter 1) flips Ford and the paper’s critics the middle finger; 2) honors all the Star journalists who have worked on this and related stories; 3) re-emphasizes the value of quality investigative reporting from an outlet with enough financial and legal resources to do hard stories right and make them stand up.

Now, I don’t know Cruickshank from Adam’s housecat, and for all I know this is as much a personal vendetta for him as it is a journalistic endeavor. It would be a shame if that were so.

But I’m trying to come up with publishers in this area — hell, the state — who would have the stones to 1) pursue, publish and defend a similar story in the face of similar opposition; and 2) flip off in print the people who were wrong. I can think of maybe one, and I’m not even sure about him. That’s sad. To some reporters working on difficult and unpopular investigative stories, a big ol’ public “Get bent!” from the publisher to the paper’s critics might be even more valuable than a raise.

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