Rob Ford doesn't like talking to the local media. He thinks they're unfair to him, what with all those stories they write that he denies over and over until they turn about to be completely true.
But he does love talking about sports, and that's how in December he ended up becoming a regular guest on a Washington, DC radio show called the Sports Junkies.
Except for a break over the holidays, he now appears on 106.7 the Fan every Thursday morning under the pretext of predicting the outcome of NFL games, but even though the hosts mostly steer clear of serious questions Ford's almost superhuman ability to cause controversy often makes itself felt.
In only a handful of appearances he has declared that women "love money" and win football pools by "picking the cutest guy," defended the Washington Redskins' racist name, and repeated lies about Daniel Dale that the Star reporter says clinched his decision to sue the mayor for libel.
Ford isn't likely to grant NOW a one-on-one interview any time soon, so we did the next best thing: we talked to a Junkie. Host Eric Bickel (a.k.a "EB") agreed to talk to us about what it's like to being the only show to have a regular audience with the mayor, whether Ford will still be a guest once football season is over, and if he worries his goofy radio program might be trivializing the behaviour a man who has done some pretty terrible things.
How did Rob Ford end up on your show?
We talked about it many times, but basically, you know, he's a notorious guy, a character. Everybody's watching it from afar you know and kind of getting a kick out it. I'm sure Torontoans - or, is that how you would say it? - they have a different opinion.
Right, Torontonians have their own opinion of course.
Our producers, they're always brainstorming for different guests, and they said, ‘You know what, the mayor, he's always wearing these football ties and football jerseys and he's out at these games, and stuffing a hot dog in his face. We should see if he wants to come on the show.'
The first time we had him on it was sort of the perfect storm, another round of allegations had come out. We said from the beginning we weren't trying to bait him, and then try to ask him all these tough political questions, or try to nail him or anything. You know, we had him on and we were going to be fair to him and ask football stuff. But then we tried to ask one or two little questions about what's going on there just to maintain a little bit of credibility.
But we're a sports show. We're a show that's about fun.
What do you think of him now that you've talked to him?
I get a kick out of him. It's not for me to judge, that's not my deal. I'll let others decide that. But as far as a radio guy, he's radio gold. He's fun, he's uninhibited, he'll say whatever he wants. And we obviously love that. We try to get a few fun quotes out of him, that's basically what we like to do.
Did his staff give you instructions or tell you that any questions were off limits?
No. No instructions, no. We just kind of gave him our word, look we're not trying to screw him. We just want him to come on and take advantage of his fun personality.
Do you realize that he speaks to you more often and at greater length than he does to most media here in Toronto?
Yes. I'm aware of that. We became aware of that pretty quickly.
How do you feel about that?
We know what it is. I mean, we're not stupid. He's coming on with us because we're low pressure. We're not going to, you know, grill him. It's an easy way for him to come off sounding okay and having fun.
Do you follow the news about him?
Not really, no. Almost intentionally. I don't want to be caught up in it, I don't also want to be fake, like all of sudden I'm some political expert. We're not, we're sports guys
Aside from the crack scandal, there are lots of other serious allegations that he's faced, including allegedly sexually harassing a female staff member and a City Hall security guard, and racially abusing a taxi driver. There have also been numerous police visits to his house over the years for domestic incidents, and the Toronto Star reported that on one occasion Ford's wife allegedly arrived at her parents' house with bruises that she refused to explain to the cops. Are you ever concerned that having him on the show the way that you guys do could trivialize the behaviour of someone who has done some pretty terrible things?
I mean, that's a fair question. But we basically, we leave that to others. We're not investigative reporters, this is not 60 Minutes. I'm not Mike Wallace. You guys have that covered, for sure.
The frustration for some media here is he won't talk to us and answer those questions.
Maybe you guys gotta like football a little more or something over there.
Maybe we should try that. The football season will be over next month. Will he still be a guest?
I don't know. I expect the relationship will continue. Maybe it won't be as weekly, you know. But the guy does love his sports, so maybe the guy will pick baseball games for us once a week or something. Who knows?
Has having him on done anything for your ratings?
I mean it certainly was a tidal wave of publicity for us for a day. But by the next week nobody really cared. Except people in Canada. It does seem like the people in Toronto are in tune with it. But here more than anything else it's just kind of a fun segment.
This interview has been edited and condensed.