Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Taking on Mike Del Grande's Message

Photo by Christopher Drost/Torontoist
In today's Sun, Mike Del Grande guest-writes a column that's very critical of the CBC and Toronto Star. He essentially accuses them of agenda-based character assassination against the mayor. Those are strong accusations to print, so they deserve a close and thorough look. In that vein, I'll look at some key passages in Del Grande's article:
“If you cannot derail the message, derail the messenger.” That is the essence of the continuing harassment of Mayor Rob Ford by certain journalists and media outlets in this city.
 Del Grande begins his article with an ironic argument. After all, he's attacking the messengers in the media, the CBC and Toronto Star, that he deems are unfairly critical. Presumably this is because members of the CBC and Star  cannot adequately and fairly criticize the policies of the Ford administration, but this hardly seems to be the case. It is true that these outlets have gone after Ford, but they have gone after him for inconsistency in statements or genuine concerns over the direction of the city. 
Ford said he was alarmed and concerned for his young child, whom he was taking to school, so he called 911.Many in the media ignored the fact someone showed up at the mayor’s home, uninvited, invading his personal space.  
Del Grande has a fair point here, that This Hour Has 22 Minutes showing up on Ford's driveway was crossing a line most people would deem unacceptable. Initially, this was in fact the story, with political science professor Nelson Wiseman saying that Ford should get (and deserves) a lot of sympathy for the incident. 

However, when more details about the incident emerged it became not about THH22M going after Ford, but the honesty and judgment Ford used in dealing with the situation. As the Star pointed out on its front page, Ford's statements about his daughter 'retreating into the house,' it being 'dark outside,' and the number of 911 calls placed were all either inconsistent or wrong. To be fair, THH22M's claim that they were at the edge of Ford's driveway was also incorrect. 

As Edward Keenan points out, Ford's false initial claim, and subsequent pseudo-apology and re-positioning are part of a pattern for him, and that's a problem that deserves investigation, including from the CBC and Star.  

The media have a responsibility to act with integrity and professionalism, which some media tend to forget.Let me remind them: They’re supposed to have standards for factual, accurate reporting.
Del Grande is also correct that media must act with integrity and professionalism as it's fair and not doing so could erode the public trust placed in the important institution. That statement goes equally for politicians, including Rob Ford. He and his administration have not shown a good track record for the truth. Politicians deserve to be called on this; it's part of the job and strengthens our discourse. 

As for acting with integrity and professionalism, I would suggest that Giorgio Mammoliti setting up a Facebook page and filtering out 'communist' voices is unprofessional and the administration's cavalier attitude with the truth lacks integrity. 
Often, when I’m interviewed by the media — and here I would single out papers like the Toronto Star — there is an obvious “agenda” indicated in the questions.  
I can think of another newspaper which would be an excellent candidate for this statement.
Many people believe if something is reported in the media, it must be true. Many continue to believe it even when it is shown to be false.What people often don’t realize is, even when proved wrong, the media are reluctant to say, “We made a mistake”.  
Del Grande is right here, and it certainly is a problem. For both the media and politicians, what gets repeated most often becomes the truth regardless of whether or not it is true. 

The media should take more responsibility and admit its mistakes, in particular the CBC who really, really goofed on this story. But don't single out critics for that standard. The Sun, publishing this article, should be held to that standard too. But they just dropped out of the Ontario Press Council which ensures members adhere to proper standards and procedures. 

Politicians should apply this standard to themselves too. That means when a phony, fear-mongering 34% property tax number floats that you know won't apply, you say so. 

After citing waste as the electorate's motivation for choosing Ford, Del Grande writes:
Apparently they [the Star and CBC] cannot stand to think changes in the way City Hall operates are imminent, and they will do all they can, not to offer any alternative, but to derail them, simply for the pleasure of saying, “I told you so”.
Here Del Grande connects the motivation for critical attention from the CBC and Star as them wanting the 'waste' at City Hall to continue. He doesn't provide any supporting evidence for this rather important claim, instead letting it sit as an essentially personal broadside that runs counter to his article's stated intent. 

The CBC doesn't have as much a presence at City Hall (although Metro Morning does a great job), but the Star does. Between David Rider, Daniel Dale, Paul Moloney, Robyn Doolittle and Royson James (although I have my quibbles with the latter) they do a great job. Regardless of the Star's editorial bent, they are thorough and follow-up, even on the smallest stories

Yet the response from the Ford camp hasn't been to address their questions, but to freeze out the Star, as Goldsbie provides the context here. Just yesterday at Executive, a motion came forward to ensure fairness to all media outlets at City Hall. The motion was ostensibly designed to ensure the Star is treated with the same standards and fairness as all other outlets. Not in terms of tips and leaks, mind you- that's fair game to give preferences- but in terms of informing the media on basic facts. 

The motion was unanimously deferred, ensuring that we will not hear from it again. 

There are many genuine, substantive reasons to have disagreements with the Ford administration. People are going to disagree on arguments, and they're going to disagree on which facts are most appropriate. Criticism of this sort is good. 

If there are problems with their facts and arguments, then get into that. Simply dismissing something as, 'oh, it's the CBC or Star' is tantamount to saying, 'oh, it's Rob Ford and he's an oaf'. Both arguments are reductionist and unfair. 

If you want to discuss the message, then show leadership, own up to your flaws as the CBC should to theirs. Standards and principles apply to everyone, not just critics.     


  1. I started to read this with great interest, but I'm afraid the multiple use of "have went" in just the second paragraph (third if you count the passage from Del Grande) was too much to overcome. In case this isn't clear, you should have said "have gone" in both cases.

    One of the labels of this blog post is "media criticism". I am all for that - and likely on board with the message here - but to be taken seriously as a "media critic" one must keep one's own house in order a little better, in my opinion.

  2. @WanderingPeng1 Thanks for the comment. Apparently my past participle/simple past choices need work. The correction has been made.

  3. Thanks for the post David. I feel very much the same way, and I just sent a note of complaint to Del Grande's office.

    His column was completely tone-deaf and self-defeating, except for the fact that Sun readers will probably eat it up because, as Del Grande says, "Many people believe if something is reported in the media, it must be true."

    I didn't like the coverage of this latest CBC-Ford incident at all, but Del Grande is acting like the events happened in a vacuum, and that none of the past criticisms of Ford are relevant to the present issue. Del Grande's column just makes me feel sick.

  4. @David: Thank you! Thank you for reading the comment, thank you for taking it seriously, thank you for making the changes. Truly a breath of fresh air these days. Kudos to you.

    And thank you, as well, for this article. I came back to read it and it was excellent. I will be following Adam's lead and sending a complaint to Del Grande's office.

  5. In case you or anyone is interested, I wrote up the brief e-mail exchange I had with Del Grande: