TORONTO, Canada: While Rob Ford’s antics are the focus of a spiraling scandal gripping Toronto, the infamy of his misdeeds has only been made possible by the phalanx of journalists covering his every move.
Reporters, cameramen and producers from around the world have for 10 days been packed into the narrow second-floor corridors outside Ford’s office at City Hall.
It started when the mayor admitted to once smoking crack cocaine in a “drunken stupor.” He then waded into deeper trouble with his revelations of driving drunk and mingling with a suspected prostitute. When he attempted to dispel the allegations he made an obscene outburst. And through it all he has refused to quit.
What had been the beat of a handful of local politics reporters is now making headlines worldwide.
“There are crime reporters in the lobby,” one councilor complained.
American television networks have broadcast Toronto city council meetings live, while elected officials gave interviews to global news outlets.
Canadian newspapers such as The Globe and Mail and the National Post assigned teams of reporters to cover Ford’s downward spiral. International coverage has come from Britain and from the US late-night talk show circuit.
“God bless Canada, what a gift the Canadians have given us,” said “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno as part of his Thursday night monologue.
“Late Night” host Jimmy Fallon quipped: “It’s official, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is the best.”
For Canadians, the world spotlight is unfamiliar.
“We’re not used to that, having our mayor on the front pages of papers around the world,” said Andrew Coyne, a political columnist for the National Post daily who was on hand at City Hall to provide commentary for CNN.
“This is world-class levels of dysfunction in a person to begin with, and obviously it’s fodder for the late-night comics.
“For the world, it’s the combination of extraordinary levels of misbehavior on the part of the mayor and the seeming inability of City Hall to come to grips with it. It’s unusual that somebody with that level of dysfunction would continue on, would refuse to go, and could not be removed. So it becomes almost like a hostage-taking.”
Robyn Doolittle, a Toronto Star journalist who helped break the story after watching a video where Ford was seen smoking crack, said international fascination with the story comes from its unbelievably salacious character.
“A lot of people have been saying that if someone wrote this as a fictionalized account of life at City Hall, people would think it was too surreal to be possible,” she said.
“This encompasses all the hallmarks of a scandal: you’ve got allegations of prostitution, drug use, lies, abuse of staff, and Rob Ford is a larger-than-life character.”
Others say Ford’s raw style has broad appeal, or that his refusal to step aside is as incomprehensible as it is intriguing.
Inigo Gilmore of British public broadcaster Channel 4 said the international fervor for the story “speaks for itself.”
A bunch of maggots?
“Humans in power doing crazy things and yet defiantly in denial,” he said.
In a way, the media has also become part of the coverage.
On Tuesday, a cameraman was knocked to the ground by the mayor, who was sprinting up to his office.
Over the course of the week, Ford supporters have come to City Hall to heckle the media throng, criticizing them for hounding the mayor, and saying that the coverage has only served to fuel their support.
The mayor has profound disdain for the media and reporters’ growing scrutiny, once calling them a “bunch of maggots.”
But he has not shied away from the spotlight, giving one-on-one interviews to both CNN and NBC television networks this week, in addition to his gaffe-filled scrums and press conferences.
“This isn’t the media hounding, this is the media doing their job,” said Coyne. “And frankly, some sections of the media I think gave him a free ride for far too long.”
Doolittle stressed that journalists were just doing their job by following the news.
“If this isn’t news, I don’t know what is,” she added.