Have reporters gone too far in their pursuit of Mayor Rob Ford? There they were again this week, those ravening jackals of the media, chasing poor, beleaguered Mr. Ford right across Nathan Phillips Square and into the lobby of City Hall, shouting impertinent questions as they went.
Even by the standards of the Ford carnival, it was a wild scene. One photographer was bowled over in the crush. Yelling “go,” Mr. Ford charged up the stairs to his office, tailing security guards like a running back following his blockers. To many viewers, it looked as if the mayor was the victim.
In fact Mr. Ford brought this on himself. He could easily have avoided the scrum on the square by making himself available even briefly to take questions on the big news of the day: the release of court documents about the crack video and the police investigation that followed. Instead, he refused to comment or even to say whether he would comment.
You never know with Mr. Ford. When he finally owned up last fall to having smoked crack, the admission came in an unscheduled brush with reporters at the door to his office. There have been many other off-the-cuff comments, such as the one about his domestic dining habits.
Because the mayor and his staff are evasive or vague about where he is or whether he will speak, reporters have no choice but to hang around outside his office or follow him to events in case he does in fact answer a question – like “Do you smoke crack cocaine?”
They don’t do it for fun. Most would much prefer the chance to question the mayor in an organized setting without having to holler questions in a public square or risk getting trampled. But it is their job to ask questions and the questions they have for Mr. Ford are urgent and, so far, unanswered.
Consider some of the questions that reporters hurled at Mr. Ford on the run Wednesday. “Did you ask Mr. Lisi to get the crack video?” That is an obvious one. Alexander Lisi, the mayor’s friend and occasional driver, is charged with extortion over attempts to obtain the famous crack video. What everyone wants to know is whether Mr. Ford was egging him on.
“Were you buying drugs from Mr. Lisi?” is another question the mayor ignored. Police who followed the mayor and his friend last year found that the two met and called each other regularly and that “Some of these communications and meetings have been indicative to that of drug trafficking.” What does Mr. Ford have to say about that?
“Why did you decline to see the video?” was yet another perfectly legitimate question. Since the police confirmed the existence of the crack video last fall, the mayor has been calling on them to release it so he and everyone else can have a look. We learned from the latest document that when police offered him a chance to see it, subject to conditions, he turned them down. What were his reasons?
“Why won’t you answer some basic questions?” one frustrated reporter asked the mayor as he fled on Wednesday. And: “Do you have anything to say about voters who are curious about what happened today?”
Answer came there none. Mr. Ford maintained his silence the next day. The mayor had several brushes with the media on Thursday, dodging questions each time.
Is it rude for the media to keep asking questions just because the mayor isn't answering? Of course not. If they are following him around, sometimes even waiting outside his house, it is only because he rarely allows himself to be questioned in detail in a normal setting. He prefers giving interviews to comics (Jimmy Kimmel), breakfast-television stars (Matt Lauer) and sympathetic souls (Conrad Black).
Are reporters who cover him always on their best behaviour? No. Tempers can flare in the pressure cooker of covering Mr. Ford. But most of the time reporters ask their questions politely, addressing Mr. Ford as “sir” or “mayor.” At an event in Scarborough on Thursday, they held back as the mayor talked to locals, holding their questions until he was done.
When things get crazy, it is not because the media lacks respect for the office of the mayor or for the rules of decorum. It is because the mayor neglects his duty as a public official to account for his actions.