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Mayor-elect Rob Ford being greeted by his supporters and making his speech at theToronto Congress Centre in Toronto on October 25, 2010, after winning the election. Mom, Diane, is left and wife Renata is right. (Peter Power/The Globe and/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Mayor-elect Rob Ford being greeted by his supporters and making his speech at theToronto Congress Centre in Toronto on October 25, 2010, after winning the election. Mom, Diane, is left and wife Renata is right. (Peter Power/The Globe and/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Why the media got it wrong Add to ...

Toronto's news media overwhelmingly billed Ford v. Smitherman as a heavyweight bout destined to go the whole 12 rounds on voting night. So why was it over eight minutes after the polls closed?

The race to be mayor of Canada's largest city was endlessly scrutinized, and while eventual winner Rob Ford entered voting day as the media's prohibitive favourite, their many voices were mostly united in predicting a virtual dead heat that would prove the old adage that every vote counts.

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As it happened, Mr. Ford scored a comfortable 12-point win while George Smitherman, who had regularly polled in the low 40s of late and seemed to have closed a once-cavernous gap, earned only 35 per cent of the votes. Elections are slippery by nature, but the stories many journalists had read in the tea leaves never made the front page, and a post mortem suggests several reasons.

Even after Mr. Ford took a commanding early lead, many on the beat still struggled or refused to believe he could sustain his popularity, given his history as an outsider prone to gaffes. The apparent late-game rally from the veteran Mr. Smitherman made more sense.

"For anybody who covered [Mr. Ford]for a long time, nobody believed it was possible [he would win]" said Jamie Strashin, a City Hall reporter for CBC Radio.

Even the Toronto Sun, which strenuously backed Mr. Ford's run, missed the mark as widely as its left-leaning counterparts when a selection of columnists predicted victory margins of between 1 and 5 per cent, not all of them for Mr. Ford.

"I think most of us fell into it," Sun columnist Rob Granatstein said. "I thought the Pantalone vote would scurry and go to Smitherman."

Mr. Granatstein also agreed with Ryerson University journalism professor April Lindgren's suggestion that, with polls handy, anecdotal evidence often gets short shrift.

"I think reporters have gotten away from trusting what they hear on the street because it's considered unscientific," Ms. Lindgren said.

But even the subtler signals of public intentions proved hard to read. Mr. Ford's overt decision not to court the mainstream media, and in some cases to shut writers out entirely, obscured what is often the best litmus test: the body language inside a leading campaign team.

"[Ford's team]basically gave the finger to the traditional media," Mr. Strashin said.

And some, including Globe and Mail columnist Marcus Gee, speculated that a spate of recent endorsements Mr. Smitherman garnered from public figures, including former mayors David Crombie and Art Eggleton, may have created a false sense of momentum.

Ultimately, Mr. Strashin thinks many journalists misjudged Mr. Ford's huge stable of campaign workers, many of whom "weren't seasoned politicos in any sense."

"One thing everyone underestimated was Ford's ability to get the vote out on election day," he said.

Follow on Twitter: @jembradshaw

 

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