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Toronto Mayor Rob Ford suggested ‘political’ motives were driving the police investigation of the mayor’s activities. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford suggested ‘political’ motives were driving the police investigation of the mayor’s activities. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

Public editor: Reporters need a thick skin – but this is too much Add to ...

In my 20 years or so as an editor responsible for working with this newspaper’s legal counsel, I’ve heard from a few reporters who are so angry with comments made about them, they want to sue for libel or slander.

Some reporters have been called unprofessional or sleazy and at times scurrilous stories have been made up by people angry with the media coverage when they want to get back at the reporters.

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While I have recommended various ways of stopping or controlling the slander, such as writing stern letters or columnists responding in their work, or responding on Twitter, I have always stopped short of agreeing that a lawsuit should be launched.

If I worked at The Toronto Star today, I would be making a different argument. It is one thing to be called a “maggot” or “sleazy” or have a claim that a reporter deliberately misquoted someone. In those cases, you have to have a thick skin and accept you will be criticized in public for your work.

It is quite another to have someone suggest a reprehensible personal slur.

In this case, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford told Conrad Black in a television interview that aired last night that a Toronto Star reporter was in his backyard (in truth the reporter was legally on city property next door) and taking pictures.

Here is a description of what Mr. Ford said, according to Globe columnist Marcus Gee’s article:

“‘I have little kids. When a guy’s taking pictures of little kids’ – and here Mr. Ford shook his head and gave a small, skeptical laugh – ‘I don’t want to say that word but you start thinking, ‘What’s this guy all about?’

“The insinuation was clear. Watch the interview online, if you can stomach it. There is no doubt what he is getting at. If that is not what he was saying – if he wants to argue, once again, that he was misinterpreted and it was all just a big mistake – he had better come out and say so, and do it fast. To leave such a slur hanging would be unconscionable, if such a word can be applied to a man such as Mr. Ford.”

Shooting the messenger when you don’t like what is being written might be part of the game, but this has gone too far.

You can contact me at publiceditor@globeandmail.com

 

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