Doug Ford's war on journalists intensifies as relations with media continue to sour

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford. Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

The war between Doug Ford's government and the news media escalated this week when the Ontario premier and his finance minister Vic Fedeli took off for New York City on Monday, ostensibly to sell U.S. corporations on the idea that the province is "open for business."

While there, Ford popped up on the Fox Business Network, the right arm of the decidedly right-wing Fox (infotainment) News Channel on which, if something is in the public interest, it's dubbed "socialism."

During the surprise four-minute segment, conservative host/commentator Stuart Varney buttered up a beaming Ford by comparing his government style to that of Donald Trump's -- all of which the premier lapped right up.

"You say you're open for business, you're cutting red tape, you're cutting taxes on business. That's Trumpian," Varney triumphantly declared, as if he were reading from Conservative Party-provided cue cards filled with talking points.

"Well, I don't know," Ford demurred. "We were in politics well before the president was."

More firstly than even Trump!

Ford, who has been making a misery of Ontario citizens' lives with current cuts or coming ones to everything from autism programs to public health to education to daycare to you-name-it, then grandiosely invited Americans to look for work in Toronto.

"Actually Stuart, we have so many jobs right now in Ontario, we don't have enough people to fill the jobs," he said. "So if you know of any good people on Fox (sic), come on up to Toronto, Ontario and we'll put you to work."

Which would be news to all the hundreds of Ontario teachers, librarians and public health workers facing an uncertain future.

The interview was a masterstroke of mutual massage but Toronto news organizations could only tweet in frustration when they learned of it -- and of the trip itself.

That's because the only camera crew that got to accompany Ford and Fedeli was the taxpayer-funded Ontario News Now, Ford's personal fluffer channel.

In reply to actual journalists' complaints about not getting sufficient advance notice of the trip, Ford's press attaché Ivana Yelich tweeted:

"Despite putting out numerous advisories and news releases on Premier @fordnation meeting with some of the biggest companies in America, I received one media request for information regarding his trip. And they wonder why @OntarioNewsNow exists."

Which, according to Queen's Park journalists, is not how it went down.

Not at all.

Tweeted the Canadian Press' Allison Jones, "On Friday, CP asked what was on tap for Monday and the premier's office didn't bother mentioning this trip."

The Toronto Star's Robert Benzie:

"1. The media were given no notice about the premier's trip until the night before he and the treasurer jetted to New York.

2. The Star asked about his trade mission yesterday and today.

3. Ontario News Now does video press releases not journalism."

Indeed.

CTV's Colin D'Mello took it further, cornering Ford in Toronto, pressing him on Ontario News Now's exclusive access and who pays for it.

"That's part of our budget," Ford mumbled, adding he makes "no apologies" for "getting the message out."

If there is anything "Trumpian" about Ford, it is his relations with actual news reporters who work for legitimate news organizations, organizations his government has called "fake news."

The hostilities began right after @FordNation was sworn in. Last summer, for example, news conferences with ministers saw reporters corralled behind ropes, metres away from ministers, and asking their questions into mics controlled by political aides while follow-up queries were drowned out by staffers' loud applause.

Ford has boasted that social media allows him to "circumvent" journalists entirely. Also just like Trump!

And last month, he launched a full-on assault, attacking reporters for how they mocked Conservatives' gas station selfies on the eve of the implementation of the carbon tax.

As he told a conference of conservative types, "I like (reporters) but it's like the cheese slipped off the cracker with these guys and they just went far left."

Ford seems to believe he and his BuckaBeers should skip over the minefields that scrums might be when reporters are allowed to do their jobs.

But, sooner or later, shooting the messengers often leads to things blowing up in politicians' faces.

It's not a flattering look -- and the longer Ford tries to avoid reporters, the uglier it will get.

Antonia Zerbisias, former CBC-TV journalist and Toronto Star columnist, writes about society, media and politics.

Photo: Premier of Ontario Photography/Flickr

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