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From Mike Duffy to Rob Ford: when politicians make news

Jeffrey Dvorkin is director of the journalism program at the University of Toronto Scarborough (photo by Ken Jones)

An embattled mayor is beset by questions about a video allegedly showing him smoking crack cocaine.

A senator and fundraiser for the Conservative Party of Canada resigns from caucus but keeps his seat when he is found to have used a personal cheque from the Prime Minister's chief of staff to cover his $90,000 debt to taxpayers; however, the chief of staff resigns.  

Political scandals have always figured prominently in the world of journalism but the past week has provided reporters a notably heavy stream of content. U of T News asked Jeffrey Dvorkin, in Los Angeles for a conference of the News Ombudsman Organization, to reflect on the media maelstrom engulfing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and Senator Mike Duffy.

Dvorkin, a former vice-president of news for National Public Radio and former managing editor with CBC Radio, is lecturer and director of the journalism program at University of Toronto Scarborough and executive director of the News Ombudsman Organization.

Two politicians, Mike Duffy and Rob Ford, have dominated Canadian news in recent days – why are these stories so compelling?

Senator Duffy is a former journalist so many in the media know him personally. There may be a bit of "schadenfreude" about his difficulties among his former colleagues.

As for Mayor Ford, he's been a political accident waiting to happen. He's been a gift to municipal affairs reporters.

What are your thoughts on the way media are handling these stories?

Both stories have been handled well overall. The complication has been Gawker and its tabloid approach to the Ford story. [Gawker has organized a crowd-funding campaign to raise $200,000 to purchase a video from an alleged drug dealer which allegedly shows the mayor using drugs].

That has made a lot of journalists uncomfortable about raising money for the video. That's an unfortunate precedent in Canadian journalism.

What about the participants – what could they do to move their names off the front pages?

Admit to any mistakes and ask the public for forgiveness and understanding. Works every time.

On May 21, Ford's woes became the top item on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart - has Ford's story now moved beyond journalism to the realm of pop culture?

Yes. If the allegations prove to be true, Mayor Ford joins the ranks of some legendary municipal figures including Camilien Houde of Montreal and Marion Barry of Washington DC. Both broke the law and were still re-elected. That could be our mayor's fate too.

What lessons or insights can be learned from these stories (about politics or journalism)?

Scandals and foibles feed the public's need for gossip. But the larger issue around integrity still needs to be addressed.

© University of Toronto Scarborough