Rob Ford's say-nothing strategy is better than the experts think
Communications experts are saying that Mayor Rob Ford's failure to respond to stories about a video that apparently shows him smoking crack is a total disaster, but I'm not so sure about that.
It's been a week since the Star and the Gawker website in the U.S. reported on the infamous phone video, shown to Star reporters Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan and on another occasion to a Gawker editor by people trying to sell it for a six-figure sum.
The Star has yet to buy it (and I agree with my colleague Rosie DiManno, who says we should), while Gawker has raised more than $100,000 from the public for its purchase, which means there's a chance it'll come out soon.
But there's been nary a word of denial or challenge of the story from Ford, other than to describe it last Friday as "ridiculous," and a smear by the Star.
Brother Doug told reporters Wednesday that he believes the mayor when he says it is untrue, and spent nearly 10 minutes reciting the successes of the Ford administration, talking over reporters peppering him with questions about the mayor and the video.
Even many of his most faithful supporters want to hear him at least say something, while the rest of the public think it is unconscionable for the mayor to not address such serious allegations.
Robin Sears, a well-known political communications strategist, said it's "mindboggling" that Ford hasn't responded by now. "This will go into the textbooks of how not to do something like this."
So let's try to figue out the thinking - if there is any - behind this strategy.
Pretend you're Ford for a minute. No, you don't need a glass pipe. Just go along with me here. Word gets out of a video that compromises you in the worst possible way, and there is no explaining it.
You can jump up and down and deny it, claim it's a fake, send libel notices to the Star and Gawker and stick to the line that the Star is out to get you, which is gospel to Ford Nation.
But if the video comes out and is verified as undoctored, you'll still be expected by most of the world (after all, it is a worldwide story), to explain it, and you will also wear the additional shame of having lied about it.
Ford has some experience with that.
If you keep mum and run away from the media for long enough, and simply refuse to talk about it when there's no getting away, the questions will eventually ease up. The reporters will get distracted by something else. Guaranteed.
On the bright side, it may never end up in the hands of any media. And you can bet Toronto police are trying hard to find the video and grab it from the guys peddling it. We will quite likley never know if the cops get their hands on it, and that'll be the end of it.
Also, there's always the option that the Ford camp could buy it. Anyone who believes the Ford Bros. wouldn't love to get their hands on it, and have the money to pay for it, is kidding themselves. If the video is genuine, the mayor absolutely has the, uh, connections needed to talk to the right guys.
So for now, the best strategy may be to play for time. Rope-a-dope, Muhammad Ali style.
If the video comes out, then decide what to do, or say. And if doesn't, you can take your chances that Ford Nation will believe it's just another smear job.
Listen to talk radio and it's obvious that a lot of his supporters are sticking with him. Some even say they don't care if he smokes crack. And Brother Doug's address was clearly directed at the faithful, to shore up support.
As for the rest of the public, Ford knows he has lost most of them anyway, so why cave in to their demands that he speak?
For a guy who clearly has no intention of confessing to anything, it's the percentage play.