Is there nothing this man won't do to save his skin? Are there no words he will shrink from saying, no reputation he won't sully, no barrier he won't cross?
Just when it looked as if he couldn't sink any lower, Mayor Rob Ford did something truly vile. In an interview with his new publicity agent, Conrad Black, broadcast on Monday night, he hinted that he thought a Toronto Star reporter might be a pedophile.
Mr. Black, the former press baron, asked him to name the most "offensive events – abrasions – that have been perpetrated on you or your family by the media?"
"Well," replied Mr. Ford, "I guess the worst one was Daniel Dale in my backyard taking pictures. I have little kids. When a guy's taking pictures of little kids" – and here Mr. Ford shook his head and gave a small, skeptical laugh – "I don't want to say that word but you start thinking, 'What's this guy all about?'"
The insinuation was clear. Watch the interview online, if you can stomach it. There is no doubt what he is getting at. Asked on Tuesday afternoon if he would apologize to Mr. Dale, as Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly urged him to do, a defiant Mr. Ford said that "I stand by my words" and "if you watch the interview you'll know what I said." To leave such a slur hanging is unconscionable, if such a word can be applied to a man such as Mr. Ford.
Perhaps actionable, too. Mr. Dale's editors are getting their libel and slander lawyers on the case. "Mr. Ford calling reporter Daniel Dale a pedophile tells you all you need to know about our mayor's brain," said Star Editor Michael Cooke. "So sad for all of us."
Mr. Dale is a respected colleague of mine at the City Hall media gallery and one of the sharpest reporters in town. He was only doing his job when he went to a property next to Mr. Ford's house in Etobicoke in May 2012. The mayor was trying to buy the small parcel of land from the conservation authority, an unusual move that failed in the end. Mr. Dale was checking it out, as any responsible reporter would. The mayor dashed out of his house and confronted him – Mr Dale says with a cocked fist. Mr. Dale fled.
Now he finds himself confronted with … this. When Mr. Ford said what he said on a widely anticipated, much-watched program, he must have known the smear would travel far and wide. Vision TV, which broadcast it, and The Zoomer, the show which produced it, should have known, too. The show was taped on Friday. Editors, if there were any, had all weekend to look it over. Did they fail to understand what Mr. Ford had said, or understand perfectly and decide to broadcast it regardless?
Either way, they have a lot to answer for. So does Mr. Black, who let the remark pass unchallenged, along with just about everything else that came out of the mayor's mouth. He not only lobbed softball after softball at Mr. Ford, whom he has defended in his newspaper column, he ran around behind the plate and started swinging at those fat pitches himself.
His interview, if you can apply that word to this chortling love feast, was peppered with friendly interventions like "I am leading the witness here" and "if you don't mind me saying so and I'd think you'd say so yourself…." There was no need for Mr. Ford to make his case. His Lordship was happy to make it on the mayor's behalf, only with bigger words.
In classic Conradese, he assailed "elements in the media" for "whipping up a lot of confected sanctimony" and "tearing this building" – that is, City Hall – "apart looking for things to criticize you for."
But, in the end, Ford outdid Lord with his ugly attack on Mr. Dale. The mayor said he doesn't like it when his critics "get personal," presumably about his drug use, deceptions and other misbehaviour. He showed no such scruples when he got personal about Mr. Dale and jeopardized a young man's good name.
Watching him on TV, it was hard not to think of the famous words of lawyer Joseph Welch when he confronted anti-Communist crusader Joseph McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1954. McCarthy had accused a young attorney in Welch's firm of having once been a member of a supposed Communist front group.
"Have you no decency, sir, at long last?" said Welch. "Have you left no sense of decency?"
In this case, the answer would appear to be no.
Editor's Note: A previous online version of this article incorrectly stated that lawyer Joseph Welch confronted anti-communist crusader Joseph McCarthy at the Army-McCarthy hearings in 1950. In fact, the hearings took place in 1954. This article has been corrected.