Globe public editor: The media’s complicated relationship with Rob Ford

By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail

By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has not had a good relationship with the media to say the least. This week he blamed the media for not asking the right questions about his drug use. Of course if you watch videos of reporters chasing Mr. Ford you know that not to be true. City Hall columnist Marcus Gee said “they (reporters) asked him precisely the right question – Have you ever smoked crack? – dozens of times over the past several months.”

Then after admitting he has smoked crack cocaine (after ignoring or denying questions), he said he has “nothing left to hide.” Were that true, he has many options open to him in terms of disclosure to the public and the media.

His current method of getting his message out has either been a one way street of talking with his councillor brother Doug on their weekly radio show or the scrum, a term used in rugby and in this case journalism to describe a crush of reporters trying to grab a politician’s attention to answer a question or two. In these scrums, he again responds to questions he likes and ignores many others.

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So if he wanted full disclosure, he has two options used by political leaders around the world. He could make himself available for a real press conference, with one question and follow up at a time. You see U.S. President Barack Obama doing these. Or he can do a longer sit down interview with one reputable media outlet which could ask follow up questions and broadcast or show the entire video of the interview.

Either way, the public would be able to see and judge his answers to every question still unanswered.

On another Rob Ford note, I received one letter from a reader who questioned why The Globe and Mail ran a photo of Rob Ford’s children, along with the Mayor, trick-or-treating on Halloween.

It didn’t run in the paper and was briefly up on the website until a decision was made that the gallery should be just about the mayor. “I am not a supporter of Rob Ford and not a resident of Toronto but I am ashamed that you would have a photographer follow Rob Ford and his children while out ‘Trick or Treating’ on his family time. Shame on you. Murderers, crooked civil servants even newspaper editors have privacy but not the innocent children of Rob Ford,” he wrote.

In the past year alone, Mayor Ford has invited the media along via press releases to events with his children including a visit to Staples when they were shopping for back to school items and at the Canadian National Exhibition where the Mayor held a brief news conference and then went on several rides with his children.

Globe and Mail Managing Editor Elena Cherney said: “We’re always sensitive about our use of children’s pictures and discussed the use of this one, which led to the decision to take it down out of concern for the children’s privacy. But it’s hard to argue that Mr. Ford had an expectation of privacy when he took his children trick-or-treating last week, especially since he has previously offered photo availabilities with his family.”

I think that given that he has allowed, even encouraged photos to be taken of him with his children, he has made the decision for them as their parent. If he were, at any point, to ask the media to refrain from taking photos of his children, I believe the media would respect that and stop, but he did not. On the night, there were many still and video photographers there capturing the scene of family fun.

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