Listen, not to defend whatever the hell the mayor did now, but…
Earlier today, Rob Ford admitted to reading while driving on the Gardiner Expressway, after a photo of him doing so went viral on Twitter. Although this isn’t technically illegal, I think we’re all in agreement that it’s a dangerous and stupid thing to do.
All of us, that is, except the mayor, whose so-called admission when he was asked about the matter at a news conference this morning was actually a rather cavalier “Yeah, probably.” He didn’t technically say he’d done it; he just acknowledged that it sounded like something he’d do.
“I’m busy,” he said. “I’m trying to catch up on my work and keep my eyes on the road. But I’m a busy man.”
Some would argue that this is why taxpayers are happy to pay for drivers for high-ranking public officials – including not only the police, but also the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug Ford, who said he should “absolutely” hire one.
The mayor, however, dismissed the entire line of questioning. ”I don’t know what that has to do with [the “trade mission” to Chicago],” Ford said, in reference to the point of the news conference, “but anyways. Ridiculous questions sometimes, seriously.”
In fairness to the mayor, if I were in his position, I think by now I’d be pretty tired of answering “ridiculous questions” about my behaviour. But in fairness to rest of us, I also like to think I’d have enough self-awareness to know that it was my own fault for behaving so… let’s say “questionably,” on what’s become a regular basis.
There’s a flip side to that coin, though. I’ve been trying to figure out the best and most delicate way to say it, because I don’t want to be accused of defending the mayor’s reckless driving, or any of his other low moments. But instead, I think I’ll just say it:
Even though I’m sick of the mayor winding up on the front page for doing something stupid, and I recognize that it’s his fault for doing that stupid thing, I’m also getting sick of the way we react to it. Especially online, where the whole thing becomes a contest to prove how progressive we are using only hashtags and snark.
I’m guilty of it myself, so if you want to point fingers, go ahead. I’m not saying I’m better or more mature than anyone else. What I am saying is that today in particular, among all the tweets and Facebook updates I’ve been reading, I’ve been picking up on a general sense of weariness. It’s a subtle but distinct hint of “Christ, not this again,” and it isn’t all that different from the mayor’s obvious exasperation over the latest round of “ridiculous questions.”
But we line up and do it again, like we did today. The mayor offers another round of belligerent excuses, the Internet whips up another batch of “look at our idiot mayor” jokes, and the media post the best of those jokes on their websites, call it City Hall coverage, and take the rest of the day off.
The mayor’s not going to be the one to break that cycle. The only way he could would be to stop doing boorish and dangerous things, and sadly, there’s nothing in his pattern of behaviour to suggest he will between now and the end of his term.
The press won’t be the ones to break that cycle. There are plenty of insightful journalists and columnists who are happy to cover municipal politics by focusing on the issues and the factors that affect them. They’re vital to our city, and they should be commended for the work they do. But they can’t be expected to prop up their papers and networks themselves, and with the mayor serving up so many gaffes and his citizens offering up so much retweetable outrage, why should they? That sort of stuff makes for quick, cheap and compelling copy.
Again, this isn’t to excuse the mayor’s behaviour, and it’s certainly not to make light of any elected official’s misconduct – or in this case, “probable” reckless disregard for fellow drivers. But it’s getting tougher by the day to picture the one great gaffe that would actually cost the mayor his job at this point, and it’s getting easier to feel like these outbursts and outrages are taking up too damned much of our collective time.
I think a lot of us are tired of the same old cycle, even as we grudgingly admit that we play our own role in it. The good news is, I think we’re also in the best position to break it.
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