Review by Geoffrey Plant
Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story
Anyone who hasn't been under a rock for the past year is familiar with the Rob Ford saga detailed in Robyn Doolittle's excellent book, Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story. Those following the antics of the mayor of Canada's largest city already know the basics: Allegations arose that the mayor was an out-of-control drug addict. They included a video of Ford supposedly smoking crack that was put up for sale by apparent members of a Toronto street gang. More allegations of drug use, racist and homophobic comments, sexual transgressions and misogyny followed. In a spectacular series of public statements, all allegations were denied by the mayor, who nonetheless continued to exhibit the same drunken and bizarre behavior for which he had become legendary. Finally, the mayor capitulated, announcing at a strange and impromptu press conference one morning that he had indeed smoked crack—qualifying this admission by noting that it was “probably in one of his drunken stupors.” This is where Doolittle's book leaves off and, although the Ford scandal continues, Crazy Town is a good read for reasons that transcend the engrossing Ford scandal.
[Robyn Doolittle’s] chronicle of the Ford family's rise to prominence in Toronto politics and their Kennedyesque pretensions toward national Canadian politics comes across as evenhanded and, above all, careful. With good reason; the Ford family is notoriously litigious.
Crazy Town is more than just a summation of the investigative reporting done by Robyn Doolittle, city hall beat reporter for Canada's largest circulated paper, the Toronto Star. Her chronicle of the Ford family's rise to prominence in Toronto public life and their Kennedyesque pretensions toward national Canadian politics comes across as evenhanded and, above all, careful. With good reason; the Ford family is notoriously litigious.
Chapters on the history and background of the Fords as a family and as public figures help shed light on Rob Ford's misguided pattern of denials and bluster. Both Ford and his brother Doug, himself city councilor for the ward that’s home to the above-mentioned street gang, were raised in privilege and expected to be in politics. Their father, Doug Sr., started an immensely successful Toronto-area sign and decal manufacturing business (still owned by the Ford family) and was a member of the Ontario legislature. Some of the Ford siblings have a history of crime and drug abuse. Above all, the Fords come across as tight-knit and protective of each other.
The Ford story becomes more perverse when one realizes how few Torontonians believed in the Star's reporting.
Doolittle carefully illustrates who Rob Ford is at work. He belongs to that genus of politician that is unwilling to bend, whose natural response to hurtful accusations is to flat-out lie. That there is always another shoe waiting to drop, another misguided PR move, another revelation or lapse in judgment, makes Rob Ford the scandal-connoisseur's kind of scandal. Fair readers, this fallen man has a good chance of being re-elected mayor of Toronto in October 2014—for the embattled and flawed often capture the hearts of voters. Doolittle describes this phenomenon: “Ford's approval rating had climbed since the crack story broke. Those close to him say he felt emboldened, having once again survived a scandal where others had written him off. Perhaps he felt invincible Or maybe he couldn't stop himself. Whatever the explanation, Ford's drinking and drug use didn't slow down that summer. If anything, he became reckless.”
Some of the most interesting portions of Crazy Town aren't the sensational “gotcha” moments readers might be expecting—though there are plenty of those—but rather Doolittle's discussions about the state of journalism today. Particularly interesting is her commentary on the public's perceptions of—and their expectations of—newspaper reporting. The Ford story becomes more perverse when one realizes how few Torontonians believed in the Star's reporting. Until the Toronto chief of police flat-out confirmed the existence of a video that indeed appeared to show Ford smoking crack, the Toronto Star was pilloried by the Fords, other media outlets and citizens. Probably the most compelling question raised in Crazy Town asks what proof a journalist must have these days in order to back up a story. “There is for sale a video of Rob Ford smoking what appeared to be crack” is not good enough. The public is easily persuaded to distrust reporting by the very individuals who are under the media's scrutiny. This distrust of the media and, according to Doolittle, newspapers in particular is well illustrated by the Ford scandal. At the height of the scandal in 2013, a sort of “truth panel” was convened at Ryerson University. Before a crowd of peers and foes, Doolittle and other reporters carefully provided irrefutable evidence for every allegation and fact they had reported. Nonetheless, citizens are increasingly inclined to believe that the media is out to “get” public figures. Even when the public figure is one so patently untrustworthy as Rob Ford.
On July 1 (Canada Day) Mayor Ford returned to office after two months in rehab. The accusations and weirdness continue to pile up. Mayor Ford is on the periphery of a major undercover police investigation into gang activity. Police claim to have the original crack video, and days before Ford mysteriously vanished to a then-undisclosed rehab, a new video of the mayor purportedly smoking crack (in his addict-sister's basement) popped up. While Ford was in rehab recently, a woman released from the same facility was arrested for DUI while inexplicably driving Ford's SUV. No one but investigating authorities know whether Ford is going to be called up on charges related to drug dealing, murder, secrecy, tampering, false statements, misuse of campaign funds ... the list goes on and on. While the Rob Ford story has developed considerably since the publication of Crazy Town, Doolittle's book will endure due to its careful detailing of what is either the downfall of the mayor Ford or just a bump in the road to greater and greater political success for the Ford family. It wouldn't be surprising if Crazy Town made the syllabus for some journalism courses in the future, a future where newspapers and other media outlets find themselves struggling to remain relevant and valuable sources of information.
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