Seven Reasons Rob Ford’s Crack Admission Failed

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on November 5, 2013 – 2:25 PM

Back in May, The Toronto Star and the U.S.-based website Gawker published the sensational allegation that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was the star of an unreleased video in which he purportedly smoked crack.

Mayor Ford vociferously denied the allegations, attacking his accusers and defiantly pledging to run for a second term.

Here’s the video of his initial denial, just days after those reports emerged:  

As I noted at the time, Ford left himself some wiggle room with his carefully parsed statement:

“Notice specifically what he said at the beginning of this statement: “I do not use crack cocaine. Nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.” He used the present tense (“I do not use…) rather than the past tense (“I have never used…”), a Clintonesque and lawyerly verbal construction that guilty people frequently hide behind.”

Given that his guilt seemed rather obvious at the time, it didn’t come as a huge surprise to me that Ford finally admitted his guilt today. But the manner in which he did so won’t help him score many sympathy points.

Ford obviously should have come clean sooner. But let’s assume, for the sake of this post, that he hadn’t. What should he have done today instead of giving the defiant and disorganized press conference above?

First, he should have given an interview to one reporter—someone fair but tough—to whom he could have come completely clean. Doing so would have avoided the deer-in-headlights look of a man in the middle of a media scrum who, it should be noted, was whisked away after being asked whether he was high right now.

Second, he needed to convey humility and contrition, not defiance. (Yes, I know that’s not in keeping with his character. But if ever there was a time to debut the trait…)

Third, he shouldn’t have attacked the media. An admission of responsibility must be self-focused, not externally focused. Instead, he incredulously claimed “I wasn’t lying. You didn’t ask the correct questions.”

Fourth, he shouldn’t have re-litigated the wording of the exact question about his crack use from five months ago. The spirit of the original question was clear to any reasonable viewer. Doing so made him look as ridiculous as Anthony Weiner, who claimed he couldn’t say “with certitude” whether pictures of an erect penis in a pair of briefs were of him. 

Fifth, if he was going to do a media scrum, he should have made his statement without asking the reporter to first re-ask the question he had asked in May. Doing so made it look like Ford was playing a “gotcha” game in which he was trying to catch a reporter using slightly imprecise language.

Sixth, he should have articulated a plan for getting himself the help he needs immediately.

Seventh, he should have pledged to work with police and spare the people of Toronto additional and unnecessary investigatory expense.

Even with as much baggage as Ford was carrying, today’s admission still offered him one final chance to come clean the right way. Had he done so, I suspect that many people would have felt at least a shred of empathy for a man with understandably human failings. But a politician only gets so many last chances, and Ford blew his. 

And if you think that Ford’s “last chance” passed by months ago, think again. A poll released today—TODAY!—found that Rob Ford still has a 43 percent approval rating. According to Gallup, that’s two points higher than President Obama’s approval rating, which stands at 41 percent.

UPDATE: November 5, 2013, 4:55 P.M.

Mayor Ford just issued another statement on camera. The tone of this one was much different. Whereas he appeared arrogant and dismissive earlier this afternoon, he appeared shaky and chastened this time around. He also apologized to the people of Toronto, his staff, and his brother for misleading them.

Apologies aside, he also made clear that he isn’t going anywhere.

Mr. Ford would have been better served by issuing this more humble statement first. As a result of blowing the first admission earlier today, he’s likely to gain less public sympathy than he otherwise might have. Plus, media stories will now focus on the odd contrast of Ford’s demeanor earlier today vs. later today.

In my view, an admission of this sort without a specific pledge to seek immediate help is pointless. Mr. Ford has repeatedly exhibited the behavior of an addict — and unless he receives the type of serious treatment that addicts can benefit from, his verbal pledge to “never” let this happen again is nothing more than a well-intentioned but empty promise.

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Comments (8)

  1. By Here’s Mayor Rob Ford’s ‘Yes, I’ve Smoked Crack’ Press Conference - PRNewser:

    […] Media Training just posted a list of Seven Reasons Rob Ford’s Crack Admission Failed, the first of which could have been “uhh, he smoked […]

  2. By Nedra Weinreich:

    Wow, Brad, you didn’t even mention that he twice says that it may have happened in one of his “drunken stupors”! To me, the way he said that as if it were an excuse, without being self-conscious about it, and saying it in a way that implied that this happens all the time, was the biggest flub of all. The fact that he drinks way too much is well-known, but can he really think that being blasted on a regular basis means that he should be trusted with the responsibility of running a city? it’s amazing what people can justify to themselves, and I guess that also colors how they think other people will react as well. Toronto deserves much better!

  3. By Brad Phillips:


    Thanks for your comment!

    I suppose I was left so slack-jawed by the casual manner in which he mentioned that he was in a “drunken stupor” that I didn’t even think to mention it. That said, perhaps it was a stroke of genius. People tend to understand alcoholism a lot better than the use of crack – so perhaps he was trying to reduce the thing he was being associated with. (Nah…that’s giving him far too much credit.)

    I hope the man gets the help he clearly needs. I also hope he resigns, so the city can get the help that it needs.

    Thanks for commenting,

  4. By Brett:

    Hey Brad,
    Funny enough, the Mayor did give a one on one interview to a Ford-friendly host the day prior to his big admission. He was asked repeatedly whether he had ever tried crack-cocaine and he either dodged the question or denied any drug use.

    Then, a short 24 hours later he admits to having smoked the drug in a drunken stupor to a throng of reporters after challenging them on the wording of their previous questions? This behaviour is not rational; clearly he’s not employing any strategy. As many pundits have said, it’s indicative of an addict who hasn’t fully comprehended the seriousness of his problem.

    By staying on, he just exposes himself to more scrutiny and more ridicule. His council is about to revolt and take whatever measures they can to minimize his power, and there are more court documents which may be released that could point to further (yet undisclosed) inappropriate, embarassing and potentially criminal behaviour. So, although the Mayor has declared himself ready to move on, I doubt many people feel the same way. There are far too many unanswered questions still floating about.

    I agree with you Brad, I hope this man gets help… and soon.

  5. By Brad Phillips:


    Thanks very much for your comment. I agree with you on every point.

    Your comment made me think of one more mistake: when he said “I have nothing left to hide.” That will be taken as a dare by reporters, who will relish the prospect of proving him wrong. Based on the facts of this case, I’m guessing they’ll succeed.

    Thanks, as always, for reading.

  6. By Art Aiello:

    Brad: As I was following his admission, I wondered about the Geraldine Ferraro marathon press conference approach that you’ve discussed before. Might there have been value in coming clean and exhausting any questions the media might have of him, so as to shut down the ongoing conversation?

  7. By Brad Phillips:

    Hi Art,

    First, thank you for remembering my post about the “marathon press conference” technique! (That post is here for those of you who missed it:

    The only time a marathon press conference works is when the spokesperson is committed to being completely honest, open, and disciplined. My strong suspicion, based on his erratic behavior over the past couple of days, is that Rob Ford has a lot more to hide. Because he’s still seemingly reeling from his own demons, I’m not sure any press conference would have been his best bet.

    For his sake, and the city’s, I hope he gets the help he obviously needs.

    Thanks again, Art.


  8. By Bob LeDrew:

    Hey Brad:

    Insightful analysis of the many, many things wrong with how Ford dealt with this. But one piece of context missing is the remarkable combination of hostility and ignorance Ford has demonstrated with the media since his time as a Toronto councillor. Two examples:

    This Youtube clip from a film called “Hogtown: The Politics of Policing” shows Ford confronting a reporter from Toronto’s “The Globe and Mail” in 2008.

    And here’s an interview he gave CBC Radio’s flagship current affairs show “As It Happens” the day after he was elected mayor in 2010, from my blog:

    Assuming or expecting anything other than seemingly random actions from Ford when it comes to media is a recipe for disappointment.

    As always, love your blog.

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