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Enough With the Fat Jokes, Already
We'd all be better off if we avoided making connections between the mayor's policies and his girth. Journalists especially.

In a Toronto Star op-ed Wednesday about the failings of Ford Nation, R. Michael Warren, a generally serious guy with a meaty resume, launched his argument with the following schoolyard nut-shot: “After eight months in office some people think that Mayor Rob Ford is punching above his weight – a considerable feat.” Yikes. Enough already. Can’t we do better than that? Indeed, here’s my challenge to the journalists, headline writers and pundits who are in the business of commenting on the (mostly flawed) policies of the Ford administration. It’s time to pack up the fat jokes and put them away – for good. We’d all be better off if we avoided making connections between the mayor’s policies and his person. And by the way, the fact that the right frequently dismissed David Miller and George Smitherman with extremely nasty personal put-downs, especially about Smitherman, doesn’t make it okay. Everyone who offers up their words for publication (and I include the bomb-lobbers of all political stripes who populate twitter and the comment strings of media websites) should think long and hard about the damage this kind of language inflicts on the city’s democracy. The intriguing detail about Warren’s op-ed is that his opening salvo indicates just how acceptable it has become for the media to use Ford’s physique as a cudgel for critiquing his policies. I found lots of similar examples without too much trying. This from Global TV after the election: “If you were following the Toronto civic election last night on Twitter, you’d be excused for thinking the city’s new mayor-elect was the tubby love child of Lucifer and Richard Nixon.” “Will Toronto lighten up under the ‘Mayor of fun’?” (Toronto Star, June 20) “It ain’t over until the fat lady sings…Ford just sang.” (Star online during Pride weekend) The mayor’s regrettable gravy metaphor, and his insistence on the abundant waste in the city budget, has unleashed legions of puns that strike the same chord: “Cutting into the fat of Ford’s first budget” (National Post). Some reporters have noted eating habits that wouldn’t otherwise merit any attention: “Mr. Ford spoke briefly to reporters,” a Post reporter observed, “and then went down to the cafeteria, where he purchased 250 ml of 2% milk.” So? Others have chosen to commit to print the sort of off-colour jokes that propagate like c. difficile in press galleries. Here’s one, from the Sun of all places, about his infuriating reluctance to explain himself to the media: “It’s reached the point where the joke at City Hall is, how do you lose a couple-hundred pounds? You make Rob Ford mayor.” Rim shot, please. While I made a New Year’s Resolution to swear off this kind of stuff in my writing, I must add my own mea culpa. In a recent Spacing column, I noted that Ford didn’t have “the slimmest” shot at leading the Big City Mayor’s caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I could have used a different word, but the temptation to pile on with the puns proved to be too great. Nor is there much risk making those mental connections. In fact, the growing acceptability is the key detail. During the election, the press and the public mostly avoided the mayor’s weight. The subject cropped up briefly during one all-candidates debate, in the form of a question about whether Ford is healthy enough to wear the chain of office. The comment got some media airplay, Ford said his doctors insist he’s in reasonable shape, albeit overweight, and that was that. Anyone who wants to pinpoint the moment when the harsh private talk became fair game in the press would, of course, chose the infamous issue of NOW Magazine, which showcased Ford’s face photo-shopped onto two nearly naked corpulent bodies. We all smirked and squirmed and then I think we may have quietly, and possibly unconsciously, lowered our collective standards. I’d be remiss in leaving this subject without noting that Ford, in many ways, is reaping what he sows. To select but one of many examples, he has routinely insinuated that the city’s bureaucrats line their own pockets instead of acting in the public interest (heaven knows he doesn’t put it that way). And his rhetoric as a city councillor – when he actually used to speak in public – was absolutely polluted with personal attacks against his political opponents. Indeed, Ford’s policies mirror his rhetoric – troublingly simplistic, aggressively partisan, and recklessly dismissive of alternative viewpoints about what the city should be doing for residents. In almost half a year in office, I have found very little to praise in his approach to governing a city as diverse as Toronto. From my perspective as a journalist who comments on local politics, the most effective way to hold Ford accountable is to vigorously critique his policies, not his inseam. Let’s toss the political trash talk into the garbage where it belongs.

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