Crisis Management Nightmare: Toronto Mayor Filmed Smoking Crack

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    What would your advice be in this ugly situation?

    Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is in serious trouble after two separate media outlets were shown video of him (allegedly) smoking crack cocaine with a pair of drug dealers.

    The Toronto Star published an account of the video, written by the reporters who viewed it, Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan, that’s sure to induce cringing in any crisis management pro. Here’s a small sample:

    It appears to show Ford in a room, sitting in a chair, wearing a white shirt, top buttons open, inhaling from what appears to be a glass crack pipe. Ford is incoherent, trading jibes with an off-camera speaker who goads the clearly impaired mayor by raising topics including Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and the Don Bosco high school football team Ford coaches.

    “I’m f—ing right-wing,” Ford appears to mutter at one point. “Everyone expects me to be right-wing. I’m just supposed to be this great.…” and his voice trails off. At another point he is heard calling Trudeau a “fag.” Later in the 90-second video he is asked about the football team and he appears to say (though he is mumbling), “they are just f—ing minorities.”

    Since the accusations emerged, Ford has refused to answer the question of whether he uses cocaine or not, instead laying extremely low and avoiding most public appearances.

    So far, the video has not been published because the owners want a massive pile of money to hand it over, but it’s looking to be only a matter of time. Already Gawker, the other media outlet shown the video, has kicked off what it’s called a “Crackstarter” fund, and donors have pitched in a whopping $80,000 towards acquiring the footage.

    Honestly, at this point there may not be a crisis management tactic strong enough to restore Ford’s reputation. Unless three veteran reporters were terribly mistaken, the video does show Ford using some type of drug, and making unsavory comments about his constituents, plenty to guarantee that he won’t be winning any more elections. His choice now may lie between incriminating himself and a disgraceful, close-lipped exit from office.

    Much like the situation Lance Armstrong found himself in after being busted for using performance enhancing drugs, the choice to stay silent may actually have less negative impact than fessing up, leaving Toronto’s mayor with a crisis management nightmare on his hands.

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    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management
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    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is Social Media Manager for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]