As you no doubt know by now, Rob and Doug Ford launched their newest media venture this week, a YouTube series called Ford Nation.
Why not, right? Mayor Ford is already an online video sensation, racking up views with such viral hits as “Dancing to Reggae,” “Swearing in Patois,” “I Just Need 10 Minutes to Make Sure He’s Dead,” “Running Over a City Councillor,” “More Than Enough to Eat at Home,” “Party on the Danforth,” and that old favourite, “Yes I Have Smoked Crack Cocaine Probably in One of My Drunken Stupors.” The guy can’t open his mouth in the presence of cameras without lighting up the internet, so why shouldn’t he take advantage, especially now that his radio and TV shows have been cancelled in rapid succession?
Unfortunately, these new videos are produced by the Ford brothers themselves, which means the candid-camera magic of Ford in the wild is absent. They’re a bit of snore, actually. Still, we in the press, along with the online commentariat, can’t help ourselves—we sit through them anyway and breathlessly report on their contents.
That’s exactly what led to the wide embrace of a new slogan the mayor unveiled during episode one of his YouTube show. Talking about why he had denied the existence of the crack video, and denied that he had smoked crack, and, in fact, accused those reporting the truth of being pathological liars, he said, “Why did I lie?… I didn’t want to tell the truth. That’s the only answer I can give.”
Admittedly, it was handy to have this simple Rosetta Stone for Ford’s lies when, in the same videos, he once again claimed to have saved the city a billion dollars and that the unemployment rate has dropped four points to seven per cent. Both are howling, transparent falsehoods that have been widely and repeatedly discredited. One assumes that while filming, Ford still “didn’t want to tell the truth.” Print up the bumper stickers: It’s a catchy and accurate new motto for the mayor’s campaign.
And make no mistake, these videos are all about campaigning. No surprise there, of course. But as much fun as we can have dissecting the production values and on-screen performances, we might do well to keep in mind that this online “show” is nothing more or less than an ad for Ford’s 2014 mayoral campaign.
It’s a strange kind of advertising: The Fords apparently pay next to nothing to produce it, if the quality of the videos is anything to go by, and they pay absolutely nothing to distribute it. They just upload it to YouTube and let those of us debating their every word do the rest of the publicity work.
Indeed, if I were to guess who was behind the 15,000 or so views the most-watched of these videos received in its first 24 hours online, I’d say the press and the anti-Ford mob accounted for close to 100 per cent. Are Ford’s supporters and potential voters big-time YouTube viewers? Not for the most part, I don’t think. So why make a show if most of the people watching it are only doing so to stoke their own dislike and gather fuel to further discredit the mayor?
It’s kind of elegant, actually. The contents of the videos (and any outrage they inspire) get reported as news on radio, TV, and in print as the latest chapter in the ongoing Ford drama. The words of the Ford brothers are repeated to a broader audience by those looking to fact-check, debate, and mock them. And since tthey have long made their adversarial relationship with the pinkos and the press a part of their own message, the critique just becomes part of the advertising, too. Neat trick.
They are, in a significant way, a more effective form of marketing than traditional paid spots during the Olympics would be. And certainly cheaper. Let’s all bear that in mind as we watch Ford’s videos and the rest of the campaign hijinx that are sure to follow. These are ads, and if they become news, it’s because we make them news with our reactions. And while we’ll need to strive to keep all candidates honest during the election, we’re getting to the point where “I didn’t want to tell the truth” is less a Ford headline than his everyday, hum-drum mantra.