Toronto Star public editor Kathy English has thrown quite the hissy fit over her paper’s story about Mayor Rob Ford being caught exiting a KFC outlet with the dirty bird in hand.
Before I go much further, you can see the video and read the April 18 story: Laughing woman stands by Rob Ford KFC video.
An excerpt, leading with the woman who shot the video:
“I know teaching my child to eat french fries at KFC — that’s not fine. But you know what? I didn’t commit to a weight loss challenge. He did,” said the woman, a 29-year-old child-care worker named Cordella, who declined to give her last name.
“The reason why I did it was: I’m a voter. You’re promoting something within the city, you stand behind what you’re promoting. Show some dedication. If you’re not committed to the diet that you committed to — nobody forced you to go on a diet and tell everybody — how can you be committed to the taxpayers of Toronto and making changes in Toronto?
“Rob Ford needs every bit of encouragement. And maybe this will be a bit of encouragement.”
The video, and the Star’s decision to publish it online Wednesday, generated an emotional response, most of it negative. On Twitter, residents and pundits of all political persuasions expressed sympathy for Ford and displeasure with the newspaper.
English was one of the critics (Mocking gotcha video of Ford at KFC leaves bad taste), but walked a curious line by saying she had no real problem with the story. Her beef (so to speak) was with the video.
I agree that Daniel Dale’s story was written with a light touch, reflecting the humorous tone of some of Doug Ford’s comments about the difficulty of losing weight in a very public manner.
But, the woman’s hysterical laughter at catching the mayor with his bag of fried chicken makes fun of Ford in a manner that does seem mean-spirited and juvenile. This was something I would expect to see on YouTube*, not on the website of the Toronto Star.
* Afterthought: This pretty much was a YouTube video
Certainly anyone who has struggled to lose a few pounds or confront other bad habits or addictions understands that slip-ups are part of the journey. My weekly Weight Watchers at Work sessions provide plenty of testimony to that reality.
English also conceded this point:
Of course, there is a strong case to be made that in launching a public weight-loss challenge, the mayor must surely know he would be subjecting himself to this level of public scrutiny for every bite that goes into his mouth.
I read the original story online (it was updated) and had no problem with it. I didn’t look at the video. When I did look at the video just now, it still hasn’t stirred up the same degree of moral indignation that has suffused Ms. English.
To me, this isn’t the same as mocking an average citizen in the pages of the Star. This is the most public person in Toronto — one who had committed to an effort to lose 50 pounds by June.
Ford even has a slogan: “Cut the waist.” It plays into his stated agenda of cutting the size and cost of government in Toronto.
This week, Ford’s weight was up by a pound, and his weight-loss effort has seemingly plateaued. But Ford was saying his problem was not doing enough running. He didn’t mention not giving up on greasy chicken.
To my mind, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t have public weigh-ins and simultaneously expect your dietary choices to be off the public agenda, particularly when those choices are near the bottom of the bucket in healthiness.
As someone who’s battled with weight issues, I wish Ford luck. Losing weight and keeping it off is very tough to do. But as someone who’s been there, I can say with authority that the road to a leaner body doesn’t pass through the doors of KFC.
If the Star had simply written a story on KFC-gate without also posting the video, would English still object?
When does audio editorial commentary accompanying a citizen-shot video of a public figure make that video unfit for publishing?
If a public figure’s public behaviour is at odds with one of his stated goals, should it be an object of reportage?
Finally, here’s Heather Mallick’s take – Fat or thin, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is still lousy at his job
Addendum – April 22-23
Mayor Ford promised to address KFC-gate during his weekly Newstalk 1010 radio show. He didn’t show up on Sunday, April 22.
Note the headline on the Star story: Want to meet Mayor Rob Ford? ‘Bring a box of KFC,’ Doug Ford jokes
It’s probably worth noting for the record that Mayor Ford has been in a feud with the Star and refuses to talk to the paper.
On Monday, April 23, Mayor Ford cancelled his appearance at his weigh-in, saying he was feeling under the weather.