I’m starting to develop a complex about over-tweeting certain writers. Should I be embarrassed that I always seem to be pumping the tires of scribblers such as Roy MacGregor, John McGrath and Edward Keenan? Does the way I express my respect for their work verge on stalking? I don’t know and until I can figure it out, I am going to keep sharing their stuff with others — on Twitter and on this blog. Here, for example, is Keenan’s “Ford Fact Check: LeDrew Live December Edition,” in which he enumerates the “misstatements and misrepresentations” Rob Ford made during his latest date with CP24’s Stephen LeDrew. By this point, no one who is paying attention is going to buy any of the mayor’s guff, but the problem is most people in Toronto aren’t really paying attention, which is why we need more journalists like Keenan.
After the Toronto Sun's Sue-Ann Levy whined about the Toronto Public Library paying for Playboy magazine, The Grid's David Topping pointed out that the Metro Reference Library (a place I love) has one microfiche subscription to the girly mag (at a cost of $278 a year) while all the branches have 78 subscriptions to the Toronto Sun (at a cost of $21,060 a year). Have to admit I haven’t read Playboy in years, but when I did, it had real journalism in it — which, needless to say, is more than I can say for the Sun. (Nit-pickers may point out that Levy is not a politician, and Fact Checking the Fords is supposed to be about calling out politicians, but her columns make her seem like she’s on the Ford regime’s communication staff, so what’s the difference?)
When The Grid's Edward Keenan goes after the Doug Ford, the mayor's keeper, in “Ford Fact Check: When facts cease to matter,” he doesn’t just call bullshit on the most powerful man at Toronto’s City Hall, he says smart and important things about spin, lies and the state of democracy in this country.
(On a crabbier note, though, I think Keenan — the best City Hall writer at any Toronto paper — deserves a lot better copy editing than he’s getting. This piece is rife with grammatical errors and while I realize that most people don’t care about dangling modifiers, agreement problems and so on, if The Grid hopes to be as good as its writers, it should take copy editing seriously.)
In “Why mandatory minimum sentences cost billions—and don’t reduce crime,” Graham F. Scott, editor of This Magazine, goes beyond pointing out that crime rates in Canada are low and falling to look at sentencing. While even some US states are abandoning mandatory minimums, the Canadian government has promised to pass legislation that will add $3.1 billion to the corrections budget — and won’t reduce crime. Perhaps what we need are mandatory minimum IQ scores for our politicians.
John Michael McGrath — who in simpler times, when he was my student, went by the more prosaic John McGrath — finally makes his debut on Fact Checking the Fords, though I predict it won’t be his last appearance (#FutureBabble). In “Of monorails and malls: Doug Ford’s waterfront plans get cool reception from Queen’s Park,” he does a brief fact check of the brother’s keeper’s appearance on CBC Radio’s Metro Morning for torontolife.com. Turns out, Americans don’t have access to twelve times as much shopping as Torontonians (as if that were a good thing); in fact, they have only twice as much as we do (still not a good thing). McGrath also takes issue with Ford’s contention that the city’s core “really has only one place to shop—that’s the Eaton Centre.” No doubt that line didn’t endear the councillor to all the downtown shopkeepers who don’t operate out of that soul-less mall.
I usually think of a political fact check as a piece that uses facts, stats and other verifiable information to prove what a politician has said is wrong. So this one is a little different, but maybe a bit more brilliant because of it. In “The tale of Rob Ford and how he’s lost the plot,” Dan Yashinsky, founder of the Toronto Festival of Storytelling and co-founder of the Storytellers School of Toronto, doesn’t need numbers to show us that the mayor isn’t telling us “a true and a strong story.” As a Grade 2 boy once said to Yashinsky, “Never Finish!”
This isn’t a fact check, but it’s an excellent explanation of why journalists need to do more fact checks. In “Winning back the words: reclaiming ‘elitism’ in the age of Rob Ford,” the perspicacious Sol Chrom looks at “the deliberate cultivation of stupidity” since Ronald Reagan debated Jimmy Carter in 1980. Of course, politicians lied — or were confused or misinformed — long before Reagan (Hi, Tricky Dick), but now ignoring the facts is a deliberate part of political strategy. So now the federal Conservatives develop a tough on crime policy despite falling crime rates and the Fords tell whoppers as part of their partisan pandering.
Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt) takes a hard look at Toronto’s budget and separates fact from misperception and misdirection. People who think the city’s spending is out of control should check the chart that compares Toronto with the provincial and federal governments.
Scott Tracey of The Guelph Mercury looks at how crime stats and the federal government’s tough-on-crime agenda are out of sync in “Lower crime rate an inconvenient truth for ruling Conservatives.” This part is gold: “’Unlike the opposition, we do not use statistics as an excuse not to get tough on criminals,’ Pamela Stephens, a spokesperson for Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, told reporters, apparently with a straight face.”
Here’s an excellent blog post called “How can journalists know the truth? A Twitter dialogue” by David Akin. He’s right, sometimes — particularly when science is involved — it is difficult for a journalist to know the truth. On the other hand, sometimes it is not.
Today’s Globe and Mail has a story about Councillor Doug Ford, brother of Mayor Rob Ford, blaming unions for orchestrating criticism of proposed budget cuts. The reporter, Elizabeth Church, quotes the brother’s keeper ranting about how unions are issuing “marching orders” to their members and claiming that “Ford Nation is too busy working, paying taxes, creating jobs. That’s what they are doing.”
What the story doesn’t do is offer any context or fact checking. After reading the piece online last night, I tweeted:
Two people I have a great deal of respect for immediately disagreed with me. First Jonathan Goldsbie tweeted:
And Ivor Tossell backed him up:
Well, Ford’s comments may come across as self-evidently vile to people who disagree with him, his brother and their political agenda. But it’s a mistake to assume that there aren’t people who will read that piece and nod in agreement.
So what is there to add? A quote from a union leader perhaps. A sentence or two about the role social media played in filling the gallery at city hall for the Jarvis bike lane debate. Recognition that members of Ford Nation (though it wasn’t called that then) did show up at city hall to yell “Shame” at David Miller and his council when an issue moved them to do so. Hell, even a code word such as “bizarre” to describe Ford’s statements would have helped.
Yes, perhaps I am over-reacting here — wouldn’t be the first time — but I think the problem is this story is representative of a long-term problem in the Globe's coverage of city hall. So it's at times such as these that I miss long-time no-guff columnist John Barber the most.
After Edward Keenan fact checked Rob Ford’s July 22 date with CP24’s Stephen LeDrew, Matt Elliott (@GraphicMatt on Twitter) figured the mayor’s performance was worthy of a highlight reel. So he created one.
Bernie Farber, a candidate for the Ontario Liberals in the provincial election, wrote a piece for Shalom Life that all but blamed the Mike Harris-era Conservatives for the death of his sister-in-law because of hospital closures, layoffs of nurses and longer waiting times. After the woman’s widower disputed that take in the comments, the Toronto Sun’s Christina Blizzard called him up and wrote “Bernie Farber fables?”
You’d never know it from the media coverage, but Canada’s crime rate is falling and is now the lowest it has been since 1973. But Stephen Harper’s “tough on crime” Conservatives are not fond of facts — why do you think they hobbled the census? — so they just ignore them. In “Tories judge evidence of falling rates inadmissible,” Globe and Mail columnist Jeffrey Simpson calls them out on it.
Toronto Councillor Doug Ford said, “We have more libraries per person that any other city in the world. I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Hortons.” Maureen O’Reilly of the Our Public Library blog didn’t have to go to the stacks to get the facts.