[URBAN NOTE] “A Rob-Ford-beat reporter’s advice to the scribes covering Donald Trump”
The Toronto Star shares veteran reporter David Rider’s advice to journalists covering the many issues of Donald Trump, with five paragraphs drawing from his experience with Rob Ford when that man was mayor of Toronto.
1. Lack of shame is a political stun gun: Public officials caught in lies usually duck, weave and when pressed, apologize. Trump is remarkably Ford-like in his ability to boldly lie and shrug off unwelcome facts, dumbfounding reporters. Your only defence is to keep asking key accountability questions over and over and over, wherever you can, and refuse to let him dictate the story. After the Star revealed Ford was impaired at a military ball, I had to interrupt softball questions after a “Key to the City” ceremony in 2013 to ask him if he was battling alcoholism.
2. Don’t count on your competitors: Freezing out and even demonizing specific media outlets while giving preferred access to rivals is effective — divide and conquer works. It’s great that a Fox anchor stuck up for CNN, but don’t expect mass boycotts or co-ordinated demands for equal access by competitive media outlets covering the biggest newsmaker in the world. When Ford froze out the Star, some rivals helped informally, passing on press releases or notices of events when they remembered. Others actively took advantage of our disadvantage.
3. Being blackballed has its benefits: As Bob Dylan sang: “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” Most great stories come from sources and documents, not news conferences and press releases. While it was inconvenient and unfair to be cut off from mayoral communications, it was also incredibly freeing not to have to worry about keeping the pipeline open More importantly, the flow of leaks and brown envelopes increased amid the Ford Freeze because we were seen as the outlet holding him to account. Also, some politicos felt sorry for us.