Seven Reasons Rob Ford’s Crack Admission Failed

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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