Ah, the sweet taste of vindication.
A week ago, I made a deeply depressing suggestion: that a critical mass of the electorate are simply prepared to accept just about any level of corruption and abuses of power on the part of a party they believe can best deliver economic benefits. Nope! There are limits, some of my readers retorted: the conservative right simply won’t put up with egregiously immoral behaviour.
And lo! a test case has arrived. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for a month, you’ll know what I’m referring to: a string of thus-far-unproven allegations levelled by the Toronto Star, Gawker, and the Globe & Mail, amongst numerous other media outlets, that Toronto mayor Rob Ford is a drug user and that his brother Doug, now a city councillor and key political ally of the mayor, is a former drug dealer.
The crucial evidence, thus far, consists of a great deal of anonymous he-said-she-said, frequent allusions to a video which even councillors close to the mayor now say probably exist (but can’t speak to its contents, because aside from its owners, only three reporters have ever seen it), a string of progressively more confident denials from the mayor and his brother, and a gargantuan number of anonymous sources being mined for information by the Globe and the Star — exactly enough for a massive campaign in the media, and nowhere near the sort of standard you’d have to meet in a court of law.
All of this may be enough to bring down Ford in the end, but in the unlikely event that happens, it’s important to realize that it’s not Ford’s conservative supporters who will do him in: it will, in the end, be the media. Judging from the online reaction, anyways, Ford’s supporters are rallying around him enthusiastically. Many seem to feel that even if the allegations are true smoking crack would not really be that huge an indiscretion on the part of a mayor — not when compared, for example, to being a leftist. Many more have been conditioned to treat any criticism of Ford from the allegedly left-wing media as left-wing smears against “their guy.” Say what you want about their intelligence or their ethics, but you can’t deny that the New Right is very, very good at standing loyally by their leader, come what may.
Is there really a video of Rob Ford really smoking crack? It seems fantastically unlikely, especially since Ford has indicated that it doesn’t exist. However, for Ford to be taken seriously on this, we must postulate that he and his brother are the victims of a conspiracy of massive proportions.
That conspiracy includes either the Toronto Star, the Toronto Sun, and Gawker (for conspiring to make up the story), or, more likely, some local drug dealers who were tech-savvy enough to doctor a video but dumb enough to think that any Canadian media outlet would pay a six-figure sum to a known drug dealer under the table.
It includes a dozen more “anonymous sources” rounded up by the Globe & Mail to claim that Doug Ford used to be a drug dealer.
It reportedly includes Ford’s chief of staff Mark Towhey, who — according to media reports — was sufficiently persuaded of his boss’s sins that he urged Ford to go into rehab before Ford fired him.
It reportedly includes Ford’s operations director David Price, who — according to media reports — contacted Towhey after the story broke to tell him he knew the address at which the video was located and that the video might be connected with the death earlier this year of a young Toronto man, Anthony Smith.
And it even reportedly includes Ford himself, who — according to media reports — told several staffers, including Price, that he knew where the video was located.
And, of course, it includes whichever anonymous sources inside the mayor’s office have been feeding all of these rumours to the media, day after day after day.
Now, like everyone else, I haven’t seen the video. I’m not saying that Rob Ford uses crack cocaine. I have no evidence that Ford uses crack or any other drug. I’m not saying I have that evidence. But the professional media — not in Canada normally known for this sort of tabloid fare — is acting awfully confident about this even in the face of unsteady but mounting denials from the Ford camp. And if Ford is right that this is simply the media out to get him, it’s worth asking exactly why and how the Toronto press corps would pull off such an immense smear campaign.