Whenever Rob Ford says or does something outrageous – which is to say, most days – people ask the same thing. Why don’t you just ignore him? The media only gives him oxygen. Stop covering him. That will fix his wagon.
Why even bother to report it when he pulls an obnoxious stunt like sitting through an ovation for the organizers of WorldPride? Hasn’t he already made his feelings abundantly clear? Or why not just boycott him when he holds an invitation-only press conference and refuses to take questions?
It is tempting, that’s for certain. Reporters don’t relish chasing Rob Ford through parking garages or barking questions he refuses to answer (then occasionally does, making the constant Ford watch a necessity). Opinion writers get tired of correcting all the nonsense he spouts, calling over and over for his resignation and finding polite ways to say, “What a bozo.”
It is hard to think of a Canadian politician who deserves a shunning more than Mr. Ford. Fellow political leaders and other public figures can certainly choose to turn their backs on him. Why, in the same week as the mayor’s ugly little Pride sit-down, did federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver sit grinning along with the mayor on Friday as they signed a gas-tax agreement?
Like it or not, Rob Ford makes news. When reporters aren’t busy comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable, leading a national conversation or reflecting Canada to Canadians, their job is to cover it.
Asking reporters to stop covering him is like asking a weather forecaster to stop covering thunderstorms. You never know when there is going to be another Ford-nado. What will he say next? What will he do, or admit to have done? Even his sobriety coach’s foot makes news.
Mr. Ford is the subject of countless “Have you seen the latest? Can you believe it?” water-cooler chats and dinner party conversations. You can bet that many of those who write in calling for a Ford boycott have followed every move of his snakes-and-ladders journey.
That is why reporters do the same: not, as the Ford brothers claim, because they are out to get him or panting to sell papers, but because people are interested in hearing about him. Along with recounting his antics, the reporters covering Mr. Ford have been checking his dubious facts, uncovering his misdeeds and in general holding him up to scrutiny, and doing a better job of it than his bickering fellow politicians. For the media, to ignore him is to give him a free pass.
Remember, if you can stand the thought, that Mr. Ford is still the mayor of Toronto and a viable candidate in the Oct. 27 mayoral election. You can’t boycott the chief magistrate of Canada’s largest city, even if he does something that seems to cry out for a boycott.
He did just that last week when he barred some reporters from his back-from-rehab address at City Hall. The restriction was wrong and unnecessary. Some argued that the media should have stayed away in protest. Wouldn’t the Fords have loved that. You see, they could have said, the media really is ganging up on us. The last thing the media should do is act like some kind of cartel.
In response to the limited-access press conference, city council passed a new rule this week that banned city politicians from holding invitation-only media events on city property. That was an over-reaction. It is not for city council to decide whom the mayor should invite to his press conferences.
Better to let voters judge the mayor’s behaviour. If he is picking and choosing whom he talks to, doling out interviews to a favoured few – his usual practice – then people will see that and act accordingly. Journalists are free to point out what he is doing, but it won’t do for them to simply stay away.
When the most notorious mayor in the world comes back from a stint in rehab and launches a bid for re-election, it is news. At least for the next few months, Rob Ford is a figure of compelling public interest. Ignoring him is not an option.