Saturday, December 14, 2013

To what extent is the media responsible for Rob Ford being mayor of Toronto?

Very little about this Rob Ford saga has surprised me.

I mean, I wouldn't have guessed crack and cunnilingus specifically, but, extrapolating  his public behaviour before becoming mayor, I was completely unsurprised by drunkenness, drug use, sexual harassment, and anger issues.  When rumours of organized crime affiliation first reached my ears (shortly after Gawker first reported on the crack video story - long before the official police reports started coming) my first thought was "That would explain everything!"  When the video of him ranting and raving and threatening to kill someone came out, I was rather surprised that there weren't already similar videos in public circulation.  He strikes me as having enough anger issues that this wouldn't be an unusual occurrence.  (Although maybe that's why there's no video - perhaps it's business as usual Chez Ford?)

Basically, everything that has come to light has been within the range of what I would have expected of him back when he was running for mayor.

So why did so many people not see this coming?

And to what extent it this the media's fault that they didn't?

Heather Mallick has written that perhaps the media has been too polite to Ford. But I think it's eve moreo than that. I think the problem was that the media was automatically treating him as a frontrunner in the 2010 mayoral election. As I blogged about during the last Toronto election, there were some 40 mayoral candidates, but the media treated only a handful of them as remotely viable candidates. And this handful included Rob Ford.

With 40 candidates, surely any viable position must be duplicated in there somewhere.  And, with 40 candidates, surely there must be a few people who are less problematic individuals than Rob Ford.

Should the media have been covering others more prominently and treating them more seriously rather than treating Ford as a front-runner (and for far longer than a municipal election even deserves to be covered for) just because, like, they've heard of him?

But they did treat him as a front-runner, which may have led some voters to think that he must be a viable and reasonable candidate.  Toronto is a city with a lot of newcomers - both from other countries and from other parts of Canada.  We're probably more dependent on the media to contextualize our elections than other communities with fewer newcomers would be.  How many people weren't completely up on Ford's history but were led to believe that he would be a reasonable candidate because the media had placed him in the top 5 out of 40, and then in the top 30 out of 40?

Lately I've been seeing articles  being tweeted into my twitter feed proposing various people as candidates for the 2014 mayoral election.  I'm not happy about this, because the last municipal election lasted way too long and it's even earlier now.  But this also has me wondering whether this premature coverage is leading to the same kind of premature declaration of frontrunners that may have given us Ford in the first place...


laura k said...

It's a serious problem, and I think it happens on the federal and provincial levels, too. Despite all the new media, most people get their news from only a few sources, owned by only a few giant companies. This is one way - one important way - the over-conglomerated media harms democracy. A more diverse media would report on more candidates.

impudent strumpet said...

The irony is that I learned what I knew pre-election about why Ford is problematic from mainstream media. They had this information, and they reported on it at the time. But for some reason they didn't get as far as questioning his candidacy.

laura k said...

Yes, me too. In fact, all that attention, even though much of it is negative, contributes to the perception that the candidate is a front-runner. The attention alone does that.