The past couple of weeks have certainly been busy for Rob Ford in terms of press coverage. On Feb. 28, a replica of Ford smoking a crack pipe appeared on a float in the Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Then on Mar. 3, Ford appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live. Ford said the visit to Los Angeles was to promote the Canadian film industry.
While his appearance certainly elicited laughter when the host Jimmy Kimmel talked about Ford’s controversial incidents and wiped sweat off of the mayor’s brow, it also gave Ford exposure.
Thanks to late-night talk show commentary, Mayor Ford is becoming one of those rare Canadian politicians with wide recognition stateside. Although his rock star status is definitely different from Pierre Trudeau’s, images popped up on social media sites of passerby’s stopping to take photos with the famous Canadian mayor during his time in Los Angeles. And although the reaction during Ford’s TV appearance elicited a lot of online criticism, it was still more media coverage.
The question now is whether Ford’s attention in the States has any impact on his mayoral campaign back home.
The saying goes that there is no such thing as bad press, but that may not be the case for Ford. The media coverage in the U.S. is allowing Ford to spread his message. When talking to Kimmel, he mentioned that he has saved taxpayers’ money and claimed he is an “average, hardworking politician.”
But before the Jimmy Kimmel Live appearance, a Forum Research poll about Toronto’s mayoral candidates released at the end of February have both Ford and Olivia Chow – who has yet to officially enter the race- at 31 per cent support each.
John Tory, the ex-Ontario PC party leader, is at 27 per cent. Though if you take Chow out of the running, Tory actually leads the way with 39 per cent and leaves Ford at 33 per cent.
Nelson Wiseman, a political professor at the University of Toronto, says media in the U.S. are using Rob Ford for laughs. Wiseman also says Ford’s reaction to the Kimmel appearance, where the mayor claimed he held his own, shows he knew he was under verbal assault.
Kimmel did call Ford out on his alleged homophobia and fudging of numbers. He also made Ford witness all of his embarrassing video moments while they stood in front of a video screen. Basically, the U.S. media really isn’t helping Ford’s case. What would help, according to Wiseman, is taking a few months off since people do love a comeback story.
And although there may be some who vote for Ford because he is a familiar name, Wiseman says Ford may withdraw if his numbers drop and could even run for his old seat on council, the one Councillor Doug Ford currently holds.
Time will tell if all this media coverage, whether it’s the recent late-night talk show stint in the United States, Robyn Doolittle’s book Crazy Town or the general Canadian media, has any impact on the election in seven months. But for now, Ford at least has the knowledge that his interview with Jimmy Kimmel is currently one of the most viewed YouTube videos in Canada.
This story was first published in The Ryersonian, a weekly newspaper produced by the Ryerson School of Journalism, on March 12, 2014.