Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is known to be outspoken and often bombastic. But his lack of a coherent response to a recent drug accusation is particularly puzzling, and provides a great case study for how not to address a PR crisis.
Three journalists claim to have viewed an unreleased video last month which allegedly showed the mayor smoking crack cocaine. The website Gawker and The Toronto Star newspaper originally broke the story on May 16. Mayor Ford essentially went silent in response to the crisis, a critical error which only made the public more suspicious, especially considering his well-known tendencies to aggressively respond to critics.
On May 17, the mayor gave a statement that was literally only seconds long, leaving much unknown. He called the accusations “ridiculous,” but did not actually deny the charge that he had been recently acquainted with a crack pipe. He blamed the press for attacking him (which, by the way, is never a recommended strategy for dialing down media interest in a scandal), and walked away from the podium without taking any questions from the media. His delivery of the spoken statement was weak and uninspired, and his subdued body language also seemed to betray him.
Eight days later (an eternity in a time of a major crisis), Mayor Ford provided a more detailed statement to the cameras. His second set of remarks was clearly more strategic and thought out, and seemed cobbled together by a team of lawyers and PR consultants. He wisely kept his statement short and sweet, but he moved quickly through his denial and again did not directly address the claims against him. The mayor stated: “I do not use crack cocaine. Nor am I an addict of crack cocaine.” He seemed to take pains not to say that he had never used crack cocaine, which is the main issue at hand. He also used the opportunity to let everyone know that he couldn’t respond to questions about the video because it either did not exist or he had not seen it.
Following his scripted remarks, the mayor did not take questions from the reporters who had gathered, but rather had his brother do so. By not fielding the questions himself, he probably gave credence to the perception that he is not being forthright about what took place. During the Q&A, the brother ignored direct questions about whether the mayor ever did crack cocaine, and he proceeded to use the exact same formulation of talking points denying the mayor’s use of the drug in the present tense and trying to raise doubts as to whether or not there is a video catching Ford in the act.
Three senior staff members have left the mayor’s administration since the scandal erupted, and many residents of the city are now actively protesting and calling for Ford’s resignation. The PR crisis for Mayor Ford is likely just beginning. Stay tuned to the Red Banyan blog for more news as the story unfolds.