Rob Ford: Built For the Road Ahead?

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford
RENE JOHNSTON / TORONTO STAR

I recently spent a few days in Canada, home to some of the nicest, most polite people — and one of the best national anthems — on earth. I’m obligated by patriotism to name The Star Spangled Banner as my favorite national song, but while Americans sing along softly to our anthem at sporting events and solemn ceremonies, we can’t match the enthusiasm and boisterousness of a bunch of Canucks fans belting out “O Canada” at a hockey game. Theirs is an anthem best served loud.

So it is fair to say that Canadians have a lot of national pride, which is being put to the test by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. While I was in Vancouver (2,600 miles away), efforts by the Toronto City Council to revoke most of his mayoral powers – and Ford’s response to this – dominated news coverage. Over and over again, Canadian reporters and citizens said, in effect, “The world is laughing at us.”

I can’t speak for the whole world, but I promise you Toronto… If America is laughing, we are laughing WITH you, not at you. Yes, thanks to social media and reality TV our attention spans can be fairly short, but no one here has forgotten three-time D.C. Mayor Marion Barry (crack cocaine possession), New York Governor Eliot Spitzer (prostitution), South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (“hiking the Appalachian Trail”), Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (racketeering, fraud and terrible hair), or U.S. Representative Mark Foley (explicit emails to a young male staffer). The cringe-worthy examples go on and on. Toronto, we feel your pain.

While I see parallels with Barry and Blagojevich here – unabashed confidence in constituents’ support, and claims of being unfairly targeted by political opponents — others draw comparisons between Mayor Ford and Anthony Weiner. The big difference is that Weiner’s behavior reflected poorly on his character and judgement, but it wasn’t illegal. Just about everything Mayor Ford has been accused of (and admitted to) can get a person fired in any other arena – and in some cases can land him or her in prison.

As fascinating as the Rob Ford train wreck is to watch, I was pretty surprised to see that he and his brother were interviewed by Matt Lauer on the TODAY show this morning. (I watch CBS This Morning, never TODAY, but saw a clip of the Fords’ interview online.)

TODAY is American TV. Toronto is in Canada. Rob Ford’s constituents are Canadian, and have morning shows of their own that are covering this story aplenty. Exactly who was Matt Lauer trying to serve with the interview, and why was it one of TODAY’s top stories? I find Mayor Ford repulsive, but he would have scored points with me if he’d declined Lauer’s request for a sit-down, because Americans don’t vote in Toronto.

I wonder whether Weiner, Blago and Spitzer – political figures in two of America’s largest northern cities – ever held as much fascination for Canadians as Mayor Ford holds for Americans. Did any of them appear on Canadian morning television? Were they the lead story on Canada’s national news, night after night? I doubt it, with the possible exception of Weiner. He raised (or did he lower?) the bar for eye-rolling political scandal. It was pure comedy gold.

Anyway, Rob Ford and his brother appeared on TODAY, where the Mayor issued (as readers of this blog already know) my least favorite mea culpa:  He never said he was perfect, so why can’t everyone just move on?

“We’ve all made mistakes. I’m not perfect. Maybe you are, maybe other people are, (but) I’ve made mistakes. I admitted to my mistakes.”

Apparently, exoneration is all in the admitting.

He also argued that going on a weekend bender – which he explained only happens some weekends, not every weekend – and potentially being incapacitated when faced with a city emergency, could happen to anyone at any time.

Um, technically it probably could…but it doesn’t.

To his American audience, Mayor Ford positioned his issue as merely a weight problem, not a binge drinking, crack smoking, drunk driving, or sexual harassment problem. He boasted that he’s now training daily – a mental image that almost makes ME want to go on a bender — and in six months he’ll be a changed man because, “actions speak louder than words”.

Seriously? Rob Ford had better hope not.

The good news: a few nice pics from beautiful Vancouver.

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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Americans can be quite loyal to their morning news programs, and as such can take great offense when an anchor or other on-air personality is replaced.

I mock the Today Show, but have watched it for years.  I have yet to make a clean break from it — not because I am so attached to the personalities who supply me with the news, but because I have grown accustomed to the show’s pattern.  I don’t need to watch the clock; I know that I can usually wait until Natalie Morales finishes up at the news desk before I must jump in the shower.  If I linger to catch Al Roker, I know I’m pushing it.

I am also a big fan of several NBC political correspondents, particularly Chuck Todd for White House and election coverage.

All that said, I am now officially auditioning morning news programs.  This week, it’s been the recently retooled CBS This Morning with Charlie Rose, Erica Hill and Gayle King.  I’m not sure what to make of the triumvirate approach at the anchor desk.  No offense to Ms. King, but Charlie Rose is a heavy-hitting interviewer and journalist who, at times, can make her seem a little out of her depth.

The show is seriously low-key, and mercifully unlike Today in that no one seems to be going for the big belly laughs from the crew.  No jovial weatherman, no brotherly/sisterly teasing between anchors.  And so far, nothing remotely tabloid-ish.  Everyone sits around a big table, where the average IQ is at least 150, talking about real news.  Even – hang on to your hats, here – international news that does NOT involve what Kate Middleton wore to buy groceries last week.  It’s all very… PBS.

Perhaps best of all, there are no screaming crowds outside the studio.  No tourists captivated enough by the prospect of being on TV that they lug signs from Minnesota to New York City.  “Duluth Loves Al Roker!”

Next week I will give Good Morning America a shot, although after the cerebral CBS This Morning I think it may throw me into a fit from overstimulation.  The backdrop is Time Square, everything is a bright color, and there are two anchors, one news guy and one weatherperson crammed behind a teeny anchor desk — for easier banter, presumably.

No matter which network I settle on, it will be an improvement over Today.

Today showThe Ann Curry fiasco represents everything that’s wrong with NBC News; Today Show ratings drop over the past year, and since veteran reporter Ann Curry is the newest add to the anchor desk… she must be to blame. Fire her. Never mind that Today is hands-down the fluffiest, most vacuous of all the morning news shows. Forget that Matt Lauer seems bored and disinterested, and editorializes his way through just about every segment, especially those that involve a debate over good vs. bad parenting.  (What about objective journalism?)

Some recent Today lowlights?

  • iPhone video of a girl and her screaming dad on a death-drop roller coaster, rerun several days in a row.
  • Multiple-morning check-ins with an alleged “soccer mom madam”, who has finally been released from jail. NO JUSTICE, NO PEACE!
  • A long, drawn out series about Madonna Badger, who lost her entire family in a tragic Christmas day house fire.  The promo clips of Matt Lauer asking whether she could see her children through the window of her home as they perished were both shameless and tasteless.
  • An unhealthy obsession with a bullied school bus monitor from New York state.  Yes, it started out as an important story.  One of those “teachable moments”.  But by day five, the kindly old lady herself seemed confused about why Today kept inviting her to appear.
  • “Really Hot” ambush summer makeovers.
  • Segments featuring Kathy Lee Gifford.

I will miss Today for political coverage, though. Following this morning’s Supreme Court ruling on President Obama’s healthcare legislation, NBC worked like a well-oiled machine.

As a CBS reporter tried to digest the ruling on camera as we all watched — and CNN and Fox News went one step further by misunderstanding it, and declaring it a White House defeat – Today had one veteran reporter on camera, and several seated off camera, to quickly parse and digest the complex ruling and draw the appropriate conclusions.

Best of luck Savannah Guthrie – Magna Cum Laude Georgetown Law graduate, former criminal defense attorney, and newest co-anchor of Today.  Wonder how many cute videos of puppies you’ll report on, before you want to knock yourself in the head with a judge’s mallet?