Friday, August 27, 2010

VERITAS: FUMBLE – FORD MISHANDLES BAD NEWS STORY, MAKES IT FAR WORST


This week's perspective from Bob Reid:
When Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford’s phone rang Wednesday afternoon it was Toronto Sun reporter Jonathon Jenkins, asking if he had ever been charged with possession of marijuana. Ford categorically denied any such thing ever happening. Jenkins informed Ford that he had a Florida arrest record to the contrary. Ford said he would have to call the reporter back. At that point, the candidate had a critical choice to make. He chose wrong. Ford did call back, and told Jenkins that he had completely forgotten about an incident in Florida 11 years ago, in which he was in fact charged with pot possession after police found “one joint in (his) back pocket” at a traffic stop. The charge was later dismissed, and Ford said he had given the matter so little thought since that he just plain didn’t recall it – “You probably think I’m BS’ing you, but I’m not. It completely, totally slipped my mind.” Thursday morning, with the Sun story on page one and reverberating around morning drive radio, Ford held a news conference to address the matter – and dropped a bombshell. The pot charge was one of two he received that night, Ford revealed, the second being for failing to provide a breath sample to police who suspected he had been drinking and driving. That charge was plea-bargained out for a fine and community service. When asked how he could possibly have forgotten about the pot charge, Ford said it was because the other, “more serious” one (his words) was “the first thing that pops into my head,” when Jenkins asked his questions. So let’s look at the communications play: by deciding not to reveal the full story to Jenkins at the time the reporter disclosed he had evidence about the pot charge, Ford ensured that what could well have been a one-day story about two long-resolved issues (hey, a number of politicians have admitted pot smoking in their youth or have had alcohol-related driving charges, and their careers have survived) now had legs like Beyonce. Because, predictably, his opponents pounced on the non-disclosure of the full truth at the first opportunity (the Sun interview) as an issue of honesty, integrity and character. Up to this point, one dimension Ford had owned in the campaign was that of being a (sometimes brutally) honest straight shooter. Had he disclosed the full story to Jenkins at the outset, he could have told all other comers that he revealed everything about the Florida incident the moment he was asked about it, and that there are more important issues than mis-steps made on vacation 11 years ago. Instead, the front-runner has handed his challengers a weapon that has the potential to at least partially undermine Ford on the ground he had so solidly held, until now.

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