Both sides now

I’ll begin this by declaring that I think Mayor Rob Ford and his brother Doug have too little talent for their respective roles. But as a former journalist and someone who continues to write books, I believe that the journalists who pursue the Fords are also at fault for not doing their jobs properly.

The Toronto Star, the largest-circulation newspaper in Canada, has decided to bring down the Ford administration single-handedly. This is a worthy goal. Indeed, it should be the goal of any newspaper to ferret out facts that run afoul of what any government – municipal, provincial or federal – wants the people to believe. If, that is, there is a difference between seeming and being.

But, so far, there’s been a lot of lunging and missing at the Star. The investigative work by Kevin Donovan on ORNGE brought needed change. But when it comes to Donovan’s work, with Robyn Doolittle, on Ford, there’s a far lower level of realization. It’s all well and good to refuse to play cheque-book journalism, then watch a video and write about it, but the result lacks sufficient veracity.

The Globe and Mail has a similar problem. An 18-month investigation by Greg McArthur and Shannon Kari was finally published over the weekend. The story cited ten anonymous sources saying Doug Ford sold hashish as a teenager thirty years ago. Not one source would go on the record. Nothing was tied to the mayor. If the Star hadn’t published the video story, it’s unlikely that the Globe would have run its material. When I read it, I thought, “This is all so long ago and far away.” How many people in public office could withstand close scrutiny of what they did as teenagers?

So, sure, journalists should work had to expose truth. Where it is relevant, not just titillation. Where there is gravitas, not just a grab-bag of murky memories or grainy videos that allow the intended victim to wriggle out of allegations with such ease. These battles are not worth watching and do nothing for either side. It all reminds me of the Joni Mitchell song: “I’ve looked at life from both sides now/From up and down and still somehow/It’s life’s illusions I recall/I really don’t know life at all.”

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