Because Conrad Black’s interview with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has vanished from Vision TV’s website, and was taken off YouTube, I feel a duty to paint a picture for those who missed it. So get a mug of hot cocoa or a glass of mulled cider, and come and sit by the fire.
The interview was broadcast Monday night on a program called The Zoomer – a “zoomer” is a “boomer with zip” and ... oh dear, now you’ve spat up mulled cider on me, but never mind, my darlings, I understand.
The show was scored with swelling, canned, classical music and featured a kindly, elderly Conrad Black sitting with an affectedly “chastened” Rob Ford, to whom he offered guidance. I’d have had wardrobe put Mr. Ford in a nightshirt and cap, but it was hardly needed: To watch Mr. Black interview the mayor was like watching the world’s worst Christmas special.
In the years to come, when people tell tales of this interview, some will say that stories of just how seemingly sycophantic Mr. Black was have been exaggerated, so I’ll say now that his interview made the queries of a good mall Santa to a child seated on his knee look like Frost/Nixon.
Mr. Black has since defended himself to Carol Off on the CBC’s As it Happens, saying, “They are not really interviews. They are conversations.”
I will accept “fireside chats,” as done for Tiger Beat magazine, because when an interviewer begins a sentence with, “If you don’t mind me saying so and I’d think you’d say so yourself,” I can almost see flowers in the guest’s dressing room. They are the garlands on the grave of actual journalism, something Mr. Black used to know about.
And, naturally, a beaming Rob Ford didn’t mind one bit, and how could he? Mr. Black essentially played the Ghost of “Hey, Christmas Presents!” by serving up questions as sweet as treacle tart, and frequently leaping in at the end with the answers, like dollops of clotted cream.
It was as though he was concerned Mr. Ford might be stumped by questions such as what the most “offensive events – abrasions – that have been perpetrated on you or your family by the media” might be, and the like.
Mr. Ford had no problem at all with this one, claiming the most offensive perpetration award would go to Daniel Dale, a fine reporter with The Toronto Star, who in May, 2012, went to view some public land behind the mayor’s house that Mr. Ford was, in an unusual move, attempting to buy from the city. He has said repeatedly that Mr. Dale stood on cinder blocks, peered over his fence and took pictures of his house, in the near dark.
None of these allegations – they’ve been investigated by the police, Mr. Ford has yet to produce the surveillance tape of this “intrusion,” although tellingly the police have seen it, and it wasn’t dark at the time (the diligent spring sun itself may be consulting a libel lawyer) – proved to be true. But this time another one was made. Mr. Dale, the mayor told a credulous Mr. Black, was “in my backyard taking pictures. I have little kids. When a guy’s taking pictures of little kids – I don’t want to say that word, but you start thinking, ‘What’s this guy all about?’ ”
Now, the list of people Mr. Black has sued for libel merits its own Wiki – he has an ear for libel the way some people have an ear for music. I imagine that knowing waiters take his breakfast order and go with “will allegedly have an egg-white omelette” when they reach the kitchen, and only then if they have three sources lined up back at the table.
So, it’s curious that he didn’t bat an eyelash when someone right in front of him claimed that a journalist standing on public land (this is very much on the record) was instead in the mayor’s yard and taking pictures of children – children the mayor has said previously were inside. (Mr. Dale certainly feels the mayor was insinuating that he is a pedophile and has served notice that he will sue if Mr. Ford doesn’t apologize in a hurry.)
Although not as curious as how complacent Mr. Black was at another of Mr. Ford’s allegations: that Police Chief Bill Blair has investigated drug dealing, extortion and murder in Toronto (in other words done his job) only because the mayor asked him to make “efficiencies.”
But I will leave that tale for the Ghost-of-Christmas-Yet-To-Oh-Come-On! As it is, the tape of the Zoomer broadcast has vanished, which tapes can do in this town. Was his unfortunate interview with the mayor Conrad Black’s crack video?