That has got to be it. The climax. The end. The point where fatigue sets in. Or stupor.
On Monday night, TV coverage of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford moved from late-night jokes to some kind of prime-time factual entertainment. And, "folks," as the chief subject of the programming would say, it was gruesome. A lot like being berated and then run over by a 300-plus-pound gorilla bellowing self-righteous humbug – hypocrisy and cant such as "actions speak louder than words." Anyone who had built a drinking game around the phrase "actions speak louder than words" was seriously hammered by 10 p.m. EST on Monday. And better off for it.
CNN's two-part special on Ford was the big-ticket item. Juicy bits were teased all day and at last it aired in full, announced as "The Full Ford" on Anderson Cooper 360. Cooper looked very concerned as he introduced it, as well he might. Such was the ferocity of the "full" Ford details that it trumped news of the arrest of George Zimmerman on assault charges. Yep, the guy acquitted in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, in the most electrifying racial controversy in recent United States history, was pushed to the side. Of greater weight was CNN reporter Bill Weir's attempt to explain the Ford saga.
Cooper has rarely looked so troubled since he surveyed the damage that Hurricane Katrina wrought on New Orleans. This was a big–time dread and abhorrence. Ford, it seems, is America's true horror story. Somewhere in the U.S., people went to bed worried that a Rob Ford might descend like a monster from a Stephen King story – a large, red-faced, sweating man bellowing indignation – on their well-ordered hamlet.
The CNN chronicle was already made redundant by televised coverage of the Toronto city council meeting in the afternoon, a solemn occasion that abruptly and briefly turned into the running of the bulls. But Weir went on anyway, framing the story of Ford's rise, difficulties and fall into a cautionary, ultra-American urban fable. A crack-smoking mayor. "The projects." (An apartment building in the Rexdale neighbourhood in northwest Toronto, more specifically.) The views of poor black folks on the wacky mayor. The report included the bizarre act of accompanying Rob and his brother Councillor Doug Ford delivering gifts to underprivileged kids. One expected the soundtrack to swell with Elvis singing In The Ghetto. Rob squealed in indignation at suggestions he hadn't been truthful about drug and alcohol use. Mistakes made. Just a regular guy. Actions speak louder than words. And a nice but enervated person from "the projects" declaring of the mayor: "He is real."
The highlight, beauteous beyond imagining in storytelling terms, was an unexpected, screw-you comment from a local, directed at Doug: "I know a lot of friends who bought hash from you." Later, Cooper and Weir discussed Rob with the air of men who had seen crises and catastrophes, but never this. It was all a bit much. Boys, it's only Rob Ford from Etobicoke, braying and berating, as usual. In Canada, we've been there, done that.
Meanwhile, on Sun News Network, the first and surely final edition of Ford Nation unfolded. An hour of Rob and Doug Ford jawing on about how great Rob is. Apparently it took more than four hours to tape this 47 minutes of television. It felt like it was four hours long. The show included an appearance by Toronto Sun reporter Joe Warmington acting as inquisitor. Plus a long, colourful monologue by Ezra Levant which featured Justin Trudeau, the Kennedy family, Princess Diana and an allegation that Jack Layton was found "stark naked in a whorehouse." Levant was every inch the actor who had wandered into the wrong show, but failed to realize his mistake.
And yet Ford Nation was far more devastating than anything on CNN. Rob talked a lot but didn't look directly at the camera once. Not for a second. He looked like the shiftiest guy in Canada. That's the thing about TV when it isn't framed by a CNN reporter trying to make a story accessible to Americans. It tells you everything you need to know, without effort. The camera doesn't add 10 pounds. It shrivels bluster.
But that wasn't all. Anyone who tuned into The National on CBC on Monday found Pastor Mansbridge engaging with the Ford brothers in the sweetest, softest interview imaginable. Constant viewers of The National will have seen Mansbridge made more quizzical by Amanda Lang's lipstick than by Rob Ford's obfuscations.
It was a wearying, joyless night of TV, all-Ford, all phony, all the time. Factual entertainment it wasn't. Fatigue is what it brought and, somewhere, there's got to be a TV channel not carrying Rob Ford coverage. It must be found before the stupor sets in.