The headlines are enough to make any public figure shudder:
- "Rob Ford in 'crack cocaine' video scandal" - The Toronto Star
- "Toronto Mayor Rob Ford denies drug-video allegations" - The Globe and Mail
- "Toronto Mayor Rob Ford at centre of crack cocaine allegations" - CBC
- "Ford denies crack video" - The Toronto Sun
- "Rob Ford, Canada's Marion Barry? Crack story getting American attention" - The Canadian Press
To say that Rob Ford's relationship with the media has been rocky since he became the mayor of Canada's largest city would be an understatement. Calling 911 on a beloved CBC performer who was in his driveway. Threatening to punch out a photographer near his home. His high-profile dissing of the Pride Parade, bailing on the Mayor's Art Award on short notice. His brother Doug calling the Toronto media a 'bunch of pricks'. Publicly addressing allegations of groping former mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson by accusing her of 'not playing with a full deck'...the list goes on.
Even with this kind of media relations track record, this is a very, very bad day for Rob Ford.
While the social media lynch mob is out in full force today, it's worth noting that only three reporters have admitted to seeing this video so far. In a society where people are considered to be innocent until proven guilty, it would be helpful to have some verification done to determine whether this video is authentic. Let's all remember the video of the eagle snatching the baby last December. That looked real too. And it generated 5 million views before the creators admitted it was a fake.
This video is clearly much more serious and has complex and far-reaching implications. But before we rush to judgment, let's get the thing analyzed by experts.
Having said all that, whether or not the tape is genuine doesn't really matter at the present time, because Rob Ford (and, arguably, the City of Toronto) has found himself in the midst of a crisis. The clock is ticking. And there are essentially three approaches for someone in this situation to choose from:
- The Vigorous Denial: If the person in question knows the video is a hoax, we can expect to see them issue a very strongly worded denial. This denial could be strengthened by a threat of legal action and/or volunteering to take a drug test.
- The Sad Confession: If the video is genuine, it could be a matter of time before we see a sad/angry press conference, a Lance Armstrong-like apology and even a stint in rehab.
- The Tiger Woods News Vacuum: And whether or not the video is real, he could opt for the Tiger Woods strategy of sticking his head in the sand and hoping this all blows over, which it won't.
As we've seen in the past few years, however, #3 is the worst option of all for anyone looking to protect their reputation. David Letterman and Tiger Woods both faced similar situations back in the fall of 2009. David Letterman came out ahead of the scandal and 'confessed the mess', publicly admitted everything, giving an apology and saying he would never talk about it again. In doing so, he essentially turned it into a one-day story. Tiger Woods didn't address the media for many months and the rumour mill was filled with information from numerous other parties. David Letterman kept his sponsors, his show and his marriage. Woods lost sponsors, millions of dollars, his marriage, his golf game and his reputation took a hit that only now, nearly four years later, he is recovering from.
The same could be said about Maple Leaf Foods and XL Foods. Both companies dealt with high-profile tainted meat crises. Maple Leaf proactively took their products off the shelves, found the source of the problem, fixed it, settled their class action lawsuits, communicated with the public and the media throughout and moved on. XL Foods dragged its feet, hid from public view, suffered irreparable reputational damage in the media and was sold off to a Brazilian company in January 2013.
As of the writing of this post, all we've heard from the Mayor is a passing denial as he was getting into his SUV, saying, "It's ridiculous. Just another Toronto Star..."
Hardly a vigorous denial.
We'll know more over the next few days about the approach he'll take.