Ling: It’s time for the Toronto Star to get back to journalism

Newspaper

So where are Toronto’s business, cultural, academic and moral leaders when it comes to the Rob Ford saga?

To date — minding their own damn business, apparently, and being generally uncomfortable with being labelled a ‘moral’ leader, I imagine.

John Honderich posed the above question in his Toronto Star paper early last month.  He concluded that those icons were AWOL; over the fence; deserters; yellow-bellied sissies.

Missing in action.

And so Honderich, as ex-publisher and current chair of the TorStar board of directors, used his column to call them out of their caves.

Where are the well-reasoned op-eds?  Where are the full-paged ads?  Where are the outraged interviews?  He pondered, pacing around the obvious irony.

Honderich spends his column lamenting the deafening silence from the city over Ford’s misdeeds.  (Honderich, apparently, does not read his own paper.)

Virtually the only commendable figure in Honderich’s book is Emperor Ford’s Brutus, councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, whom the Star patriarch applauds for standing up to the mayor in an orchestrated council floor face-off that was “eerily reminiscent of the Oka standoff years ago.”  Let that one sink in.

Honderich pens his column, sits back, and waits for the uprising.

But none appears.

So, despite the Star being the highest-circulation paper in Canada, the assumption appeared to be that not enough people had read the column.  So they sent it out to this societal upper-crust to elicit responses.

They sent it to 70 thought-leaders: 51 responded, 12 called for Ford to resign, 14 were disapproving of his conduct, four were neutral, but — can you believe it — none defended him.  Gasp.  Can you believe it?

We’ll take a quick break here to point out the remarkably strange journalistic precedent set out by picking 70 people on a whim, sending them a column from your corporate director, demanding a response, then printing their name if they refuse.

I’m not terribly sure what brilliant new insight the CEO of the Art Gallery of Ontario can bring the ongoing Ford debacle.  Evidently, he was similarly unsure and declined comment.

But luckily — luckily — Jim Cuddy, frontman for Blue Rodeo, was available to offer his analysis on the mayor’s failed budgetary restraint.  What saving grace.

Weirdly, the most coherent response to the paper comes from former Harper minister Peter Kent.  And it comes in all caps.

He refused to answer, what he saw as, a “CRUDELY CRAFTED, VEILED THREAT THAT I (AND OTHERS) ENDORSE AN EDITORIAL COLUMN WRITTEN BY TORSTAR CHAIR JOHN HONDERICH … OR FACE CONSEQUENCES IN YOUR EVENTUAL STORY.”

While that may have been conveyed better by not screaming into his dictation program, Kent pretty much pinned the heavy-headed cajoling of the piece.  Kent, himself a former editor at Global Television, actually knows a thing of two about journalistic integrity that may, from time-to-time, shine through his greasy political veneer.

“YOUR LETTER IS A PRIME EXAMPLE OF WHAT MIGHT BEST BE DESCRIBED AS CRUSADE JOURNALISM; A NEWSPAPER’S ATTEMPT TO IMPOSE ITS EDITORIAL WILL FAR BEYOND THE BOUNDARIES OF ACCEPTABLE JOURNALISTIC PRACTICE,” he wrote to the Star.

If you can look beyond his 12 year-old use of the caps lock button, Kent is right.

The Star should be given a big ol’ pat on the back for helping uncovering one of the most serious moral lapses by a Canadian elected official in recent history, if ever.  But perhaps it’s time we stop lauding them on their campaign to oust the big man.

It might be time to hold an intervention.

By most accounts, Ford has been — more or less — sober for the past few months.  There have been no stupefying revelations of late.  And despite the obvious awkwardness, he is still the elected mayor of the city, despite lacking most of his powers, and he retains the support of a good chunk of the city — those kind of citizens who don’t count themselves on the Star’s Rolodex.

Let’s not forget that the Star has not quite set itself clear of the ethical fog that it sauntered into a few months back, in deciding to pay top-dollar for a video of Rob Ford shouting and being mad on camera.

But despite Ford’s relative even keel of late, the Star is still pushing forward.  Every time Rob Ford gets a photo snapped of him at a bar (sans drink), mentions his less-than-romantic cash Christmas gift to his wife, or gets Instagram’d dancing in a church, it hits the Star’s pages.  Even though there is virtually no news quality to any of those stories.

And the coverage always stretches on longer than it should.

As though the followup to Honderich’s column wasn’t enough, there was the second followup — “Toronto elites won’t defend Rob Ford,”  reads the piece, citing the Star’s “informal poll” as evidence for their headline.

Not to detract from the talented journalists at the Star, but maybe it’s time to get back to journalism, rather than using the paper as a narrative-shaping exercise in unseating a mayor you do not like.

The fact is: Ford, barring a huge cock-up, is staying in his position of relative power until the next election.  Then, voters can decide whether his misdeeds ought to be punished.  And they should have all the available information to do so.  But they don’t need to know about every time Rob Ford’s mug pops up on some tween’s Instagram, or what the Regional Vice President of Disney Inc. thinks about the mayor.

Maybe it’s time to stick to the facts.  And just the facts.  Ma’am.

Unless Drake gets back to Honderich.  That, I want to read.

—————

Other articles by Justin Ling

Tories Attempting To Stop ‘Revenge Porn’

Green With Fundraising Envy

Flaherty’s Last Act

Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling

 

Share this article

6 Responses to “Ling: It’s time for the Toronto Star to get back to journalism”

  1. Western Guy

    The Star is the paper of Toronto’s elites. It is not the daily reading of Ford Nation.

    Reply