Suddenly, the Ford family’s penchant for calling 911 stopped being quite so funny, or even funny at all.
Far from simply being a roundup of 911 calls placed from the house, the story reported by the Toronto Star ended up being a sad and troubling intimation of marital strife. Nobody knows what’s really going on, only that there’s domestic unrest bad enough to have the police called in repeatedly, but apparently not involving physical violence.
Almost as soon as the story appeared, you could all but hear the city’s political machinery gasp and seize. A story like this, stingy on details, nebulous in exactly which pieces of information came from whom, and no doubt lawyered to within an inch of its life, is terrifically hard to respond to. It confronts us once again with the question of where a politician’s personal life ends and his public life begins, but forces us to do so without the benefit of a complete story to work with. But, whether or not we should be talking about Rob Ford’s home life, the story has run. Now we’re talking about it.
So, let’s start with what we do know. Assuming the Star has its facts right (and it usually does), we know that 911 has been called to the mayor’s house repeatedly. There have been no reports of physical violence. The police are investigating, but there have been no recent charges. The in-laws are implicated, and seem to be making and retracting allegations. We just don’t know why.
In fact, there’s plenty that we don’t know, starting with what the story here really is. So much has been left to the imagination that readers are all but forced to conjecture a narrative just to make the pieces fit. Firm facts are so thin on the ground that an observer could plausibly concoct two contradictory stories, both fitting with what we know. Some of Rob Ford’s opponents in the community can hardly contain their gleeful disgust at interpretations that are still conjectural.
The level of discretion that the media owes to public figures shifts constantly. It’s easy to say that politicians’ private lives are only relevant insofar as they impact the performance of their duties, but since any character trait arguably bears on a politician’s work, that standard is completely arbitrary.
More often, politicians are judged by the standards of their own public image, and by expectations of their gender and demographic; these standards have cut Ford a lot of slack so far. After all, he was elected on a record that included a rocky personal past, including marital discord. (Compare this to the fate of Adam Giambrone, who was drummed out of the race after his squeaky-clean image was auto-besmirched.)
However, there’s far less room for hemming and hawing where it comes to the privacy that police owe to the mayor. It’s not clear how much of the Star’s information came from police (some of it came from FOI requests, and other parties might well have chimed in) but the story does cite police and emergency informants, and 911 operators were directly implicated in the leak of Ford’s call regarding Mary Walsh. Rob Ford’s presumption of privacy is as important as yours or mine. The powerful are vulnerable to leaks, and if the police won’t protect Rob Ford’s privacy, whose will they protect?
Adam Vaughan, Ford’s frequent critic, has urged caution in probing Ford’s private life, but suggested that the mayor’s various roles in governing the police force puts him in a conflict of interest position. Insofar as he is the subject of an investigation, this is fair. The public does not need to know about Rob Ford’s marriage, unless charges are laid, or substantiated allegations are leveled. But it does need to know that cases involving the mayor’s family will be investigated as fairly and thoroughly as any others. This is a time where we need to be able to trust in police professionalism – yet leaks throw that trust into doubt.
It’s tempting to jump into the question of whether “character counts” in a politician, and whether Rob Ford’s character should have knocked him out of the election, instead of winning it for him. But today, it’s important to remember that we haven’t yet learned anything about Rob Ford’s character from this incident. For now, what counts is process, and I’d sooner that process came from the Toronto Police than the Toronto Star. This is a lousy case for the court of public opinion.
Source: Toronto Standard