if you thought mayor mel'sscripted mea culpa over his recent racist quip was perplexing, try wrapping your head around the Toronto Star's initial downplaying of the offensive remarks.Understanding how the Star played the boiling pot quote has been like trying to figure out how Mel's brain works: you may have a theory, but unless you get inside you can only speculate. The Star certainly isn't saying much.
Curly, of course, said sorry and nothing but sorry for off-the-wall remarks he made before he travelled to Mombasa, Kenya, in June.
"I just see myself in a pot of boiling water with all these natives dancing around me," the mayor said.
The chief puzzle about Mel's latest monumental gaffe is that the paper didn't publish the inflammatory comment until nearly two weeks after he made it, and then buried it in the sports section. It was only after Mel issued a hasty public apology that his heart of darkness ascended to the top of the fold on the front page of the Star and every other newspaper in town.
What we do know is that Mel made the offending remark to Star freelance reporter Chris Atchison while he was pitching Toronto's Olympic bid in Barcelona early in June. But according to the Star, Atchison didn't tell his editors right away that he had the quote.
Instead, he had bylines on two other stories that ran June 9 based on quotes from the same Barcelona interview.
One story in the news section was about Mel's tacky, son-of-a-moose idea to install giant unicorns on city corners. The other, which ran in the sports section, had Mel rambling on about Toronto's chances of winning the bid for the 2008 Olympics.
Atchison would wait nine more days and in that time file another story from Rome on the Italian Series-A soccer final before letting his editors in on Mel's high anxiety about Mombasa.
Attempts to contact Atchison by e-mail for this story were unsuccessful.
But Atchison's father, Mark Atchison, happens to be the deputy sports editor at the Star. He explains that his son, a young journalist, is travelling in Europe on a shoestring budget. He communicates and files stories via the Internet when he can get connected.
Atchison Sr. says his son was rushing to catch a train to Italy the day he interviewed Mel, and at the time he thought the mayor's unicorn pitch would make a good story.
"He knew he had the (Africa) quote, but he didn't talk to anybody about the quote, and basically it was only when he went over his notes (later) that he realized the impact of this quote, " says Atchison Sr. "As (Chris) says, "(it was) a rookie mistake.'"
Star sports editor Steve Tustin says they ran the quotes as soon as they got them from Atchison.
"Chris filed the quotes Tuesday afternoon (June 19), and they appeared in the paper the next day," he says.
But Mel's quip was buried on page 9 of the June 20 sports section, the second note in a four-item column by sports reporter Jim Byers, under the headline "Politically Incorrect."
Byers declined to comment for this story. And Tustin won't comment on why the explosive quote was downplayed on page 9.
"I'm not prepared to talk about internal operations at the Star," he says.
Tustin, who was also a city editor at the Star for over two years, has the same response when NOW asks if there were any discussions with other sections about the significance of the quote.
Star city editor Jonathan Ferguson also declined to comment for this story.
Could it be that, just like young Atchison, the veteran reporters and editors at the Star sports section simply didn't realize what they had? Or was the Star, a T.O. Olympic bid booster, reluctant to play up an item that would cause Hogtown to break stride on the final lap?
We can only speculate. @@@@@
WHERE WERE THE WATCHDOGS?
So much for the assurances that no public money would be spent on Toronto's Olympic bid. On the same day that Mel's racist quote hit front pages, news that T.O. Bid is expecting nearly $6 million of taxpayers' dough from the provincial and federal governments got mixed play (or none at all):
Toronto Star: page 2, sports Globe and Mail: page 18, news (lead Toronto story)
National Post: didn't run story
Toronto Sun: page 104, sports
June 9: After interviewing Mel in Barcelona, Star freelance writer Chris Atchison has bylines on two stories about unicorns and Toronto's Olympic bid. He does not file racist quotes from the interview at this time.
June 19: Atchison story on Italian soccer championship match in Rome appears in the sports section. He files racist comments for the first time.
June 20: Star runs the offensive quote on page 9 of the sports section as a note in Jim Byers's column. Mel issues a public apology for the remarks.
June 21: Mel's quote is the banner story or at least somewhere on the front page of every newspaper in town.