If newspaper readers could overhear some of the conversations that take place in newsrooms everywhere, it would debunk once and for all any notions of journalistic “objectivity.” Reporters are not scientists empirically sifting facts to arrive at a reasoned conclusion. More often than most would admit, it is the reverse—a search for facts to support a conclusion already drawn. The trick is to not get caught as blatantly as the Toronto Star has in its relentless pursuit of dirt about Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. The latest episode came just before Christmas when National Post writer and founder Conrad Black revealed that a Toronto Star reporter Marco Chown Oved had sent a letter to 70 prominent Torontonians inviting them to comment on the mayor’s crack smoking and possibly drunk driving.
That, as a news gathering tactic, in itself is stooping pretty low for a major metrpolitan newspaper, but the request took on the tone of a shakedown with the following words… If you do not wish to respond, we appreciate if you would tell us why. If we receive no response, we will publish that also.” In other words, “if you don’t participate in this gang-tackle, we will out you as some kind of fellow traveller.” Wrote Black, “It won’t fly — any of it… The Star’s attempted coup was a failure, and the hare-brained effort to dragoon civic leaders, bankers and advertisers into the plot backfired.” The Falstaffian Ford is an easy target given his public persona as a binge drinker and crack cocaine user. But the Star’s issue with Ford is none of that—much as they would protest to the contrary. For the Star, the issue with Ford is that he openly sneered at what he considered a gaggle of politically correct, precious urbanists who read the Star like it’s the New Testament and flocked to the likes of David Miller and Barbara Hall. Despite a furious editorial campaign to prevent Ford from getting elected, he prevailed easily, outstripping his nearest opponent by almost 100,000 votes. The boozing and crack use are not the reason the Star hates Ford, they hated him from the outset and the personal peccadilloes provide justification for the newspaper’s obsession with removing Ford from office.
Just last week a Star columnist was whining that it wasn’t Rob Ford who was the community leader during the ice storm, it was the deputy mayor. That may be, but it was Ford’s face that was seen several times daily at news conferences during the crisis. It is a sad comment on the diminishing influence of journalism these days when the largest paper in the land can throw everything they can muster at an admittedly flawed personality only to see his approval ratings remain in the high 40 percent range–a number that is sure to slip as Ford, like other addicts backslides from time to time. Whatever damage the Star revelations have caused to Ford, the self-inflicted damage to the newspaper’s reputation by this campaign of bullying and intimidation is much greater.