“We do not have a vendetta against Mayor Ford,” Toronto Star editor-in-chief Michael Cooke told the Ontario Press Council in September. “We simply don’t.”
Does Cooke’s boss know that?
On page two of Friday’s Star, publisher John Cruickshank high-stepped into the end zone, taking shots at the mayor, his brother and the “Ford acolytes” who “hauled the paper before the Ontario Press Council,” before praising the work of his paper’s journalists who have pursued this story for half a year. Near the end of his commentary, Cruickshank wrote that it was “a good day for the city of Toronto despite this bitter period of deception we’ve been through.”
Public editor Kathy English took a similar tone, writing to the non-believers that she was “trying to resist the urge to say ‘I told you so.’” (A few paragraphs later, English wrote that Thursday “was not a time of gloating,” which explains the celebratory mousepads that Cooke handed out after police chief Bill Blair’s news conference.)
To be sure, the Star deserves high praise for its coverage of the scandal that has engulfed the mayor since May. Its reporting has been thorough, accurate and necessary. Cruickshank and English are not wrong to note that many didn’t believe the story and accused the Star of wanting to take down the chief magistrate—something that the mayor and his councilor brother alleged time and time again.
From 1972 to 1974, TheWashington Post faced similar problems. As it chiseled away at the Watergate story, the Post dealt with Richard Nixon’s denials, press secretary Ron Ziegler’saccusations that then-editor Ben Bradlee was biased against the administration and Attorney General John Mitchell’s threat to do something we’d rather not reprint to publisher Katharine Graham.
In her autobiography, Personal History, Graham described the strange feeling of being in the newsroom on August 9, 1974—the day after Nixon announced that he would resign:
“At the Post, we received a lot of unpleasant phone calls, many readers expressing the sentiment that they had imagined we were all popping champagne corks to celebrate the result we had wanted from the beginning—in short, the ‘I-hope-you’re-satisfied’ school of thought. What I mostly felt was relief, mingled with anxiety.” Graham did not write anything for that day’s paper. The lead editorial did not mention that the Post had led coverage of the scandal. (This is not to say that there were no smiles in the Post newsroom: later, six Postjournalists gave Graham a wooden laundry-wringer, which she kept in her office until she died.)
August 9, 1974, and October 31, 2013 were both great days for journalism: vindication for reporters who had doggedly pursued stories of hubris in high office, despite vicious denunciations from their subjects. But Watergate was about an abuse of power; the Ford story is something else entirely (in Cooke’s defense, English quotes him as saying, “We mustn’t forget that this is a sad story.”) Nixon’s resignation was the end of something; Blair’s press conference may only be the beginning of something else. With much still to comeand with the stakes so high, was Thursday a day for gloating? Was it a “good day for the city of Toronto”? Was it a day for a page-two publisher’s note? Was it a day for mousepads?