Exciting times! This past Friday, Rob Ford, the Mayor of Toronto, issued a statement to the media denying that he is a crack addict. “I do not use crack cocaine, nor am I an addict of crack cocaine,” he said in a surprisingly terse statement to the media. Only this, after a week full of allegations and speculation concerning a video that allegedly shows Ford smoking crack and dissing his political opponents. A busy time for the Mayor’s press office, to be sure.
The Toronto Star and Gawker.com both claimed to have seen the video and confirmed that the star of the show was none other than Mayor Ford. The video, which no one else has seen, was being hawked by drug dealers for $200,000. Gawker promptly started a fundraising drive amongst readers and raised close to $180,000 (a sure sign that the recession is over). Alas, the dealers have vanished. Drug dealers not good to their word? What is this world coming to…
Meanwhile, Friday’s denial from Ford, however robust, failed to put the story to rest. The weekend media was full of more lurid, detailed allegations. His Honor repeated on a radio show – his brother’s – that this alleged video doesn’t exist, unwittingly adding that the media are a “bunch of maggots.” That comment wasn’t likely to dim the spotlight on this story.
THE PR VERDICT: “F” (Full Fiasco) for Mayor Rob Ford. This story is now officially out of control.
THE PR TAKEAWAY: Deny, yes – and then follow up with an action plan. Why the Mayor of Toronto took over a week to respond to wildly circulating rumors remains unclear, but by the time he said something, simply denying he uses crack was not enough. The missing ingredients: an additional statement about being genuinely bewildered as to how this story has come about. Expressing astonishment that reputable news organizations are willing to pay acknowledged drug dealers for an unverified video. And confirmation that he intended to refer the matter to the police. Without these important components to a successful deflection, Toronto’s citizens will inevitably stay tuned.