Though the allegations that our mayor is an actual crackhead may seem outlandish to many, they probably won’t surprise Torontonians who have been following the mildly catastrophic trajectory of Mayor Ford’s political career. Whether true or not, they represent the latest round in a battle that pits the liberal media (i.e., the Toronto Star) against the conservative faction running City Hall (the Ford brothers and friends).
As I have said in the past, I’m not sure that the amount of media attention dedicated to Mr. Ford’s personal life is entirely warranted. While I don’t agree with him on many points, I think it’s unconscionable for a paper of the Toronto Star’s caliber to dedicate more space to picking apart the mayor’s personal life than to, say, coverage of world events. It is, of course, the media’s job to scrutinize and hold our leaders to account; however, recent detailed coverage of how Ford seemed drunk at a party felt personal and unnecessary. I invite the media to focus instead on what Ford is accomplishing, or not, at City Hall. It is difficult to glean what exactly is going on over there when the majority of coverage is focused on the personal indiscretions of councillors. I’m sure there are myriad ways to take Ford down politically–so let’s keep an eye on his political actions instead of writing blistering 2000-word descriptions of a cellphone video shown to reporters by a scab-ridden drug dealer in the back of the car.
This is certainly investigative journalism, but the kind that’s more evocative of Rupert Murdoch than Seymour Hersh. I realize that this is not the intention of the reporters on the City Hall beat, but at a time when the very existence of the fourth estate is under unprecedented threat due to short attention spans and a general lack of appreciation for its function in a democracy, this type of news story does not help matters. The role of the media, and investigative journalism specifically, is to keep the public informed about how leaders are distributing taxpayer’s money to ensure the healthy functioning of society. Some will argue that bloggers now perform this function, but most do not have the resources, time, or persistence to get to the bottom of egregious governmental cover-ups. People will continue to underestimate the important role the media performs in a democracy if reporters continue to misuse its resources and connections in this manner. How much did those reporters pay to see that video, I wonder?
I’m not saying that anyone should be allowed to smoke crack with abandon–this is a matter that clearly requires law enforcement’s attention. I also understand that it is nearly impossible not to be distracted by yet another bizarre development in the Ford saga. Let us also consider the fact that Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi has managed to stage a political comeback while on trial for various offenses which include tax evasion and PAYING FOR SEX WITH A MINOR. Leaders should certainly be held accountable for their personal indiscretions, though a disastrous personal life need not be a precursor to professional failure (see: Bill Clinton). But in this age of oversharing and social media, it seems the personal and the public have become indistinguishable from one another. It is hard for the average person to have a private life when personal photos of them are splashed across Facebook for all to see; for someone in the public eye, privacy is all but impossible.
People in the public eye tend to deal with these pressures in different ways. I went to a taping of George Stroumboulopoulos’ show the other day and found that he is addicted to the natural energy drink Guru and rides motorcycles at 100MPH for fun. Perhaps that’s just his way of dealing with life in the public eye–jacking himself up on Guru and riding around so quickly that he is nearly invisible! I know that Guru helped me through many a tough time in my customer service jobs. Hey, whatever helps–he is one of the journalists fighting the good fight and making a case for the press’s continued role as investigator, whistleblower, and thought-provoker.
I’m not sure if the harassment (some would say bullying) Ford experiences at the hands of the media had any role in his alleged dalliance with crack-smoking, but if I were under such pressure, I don’t really know how I would react. People with a weaker sense of self, perhaps such as Elvis and Britney Spears, are adversely affected by these very same forces and tend to relieve stress by smashing SUVs with umbrellas. I am not making a case for the media to become uncritical of leaders: rather, I am making a case for clean reporting and taking the high road, whether keeping us informed about Britney Spears or City Hall. To do otherwise is hurting the subjects of such speculation as well as the strength of the press as a whole.