When Jimmy Kimmel taped his interview with Mayor Rob Ford on Monday evening, a handful of journalists watched it live from a green room at Kimmel's Hollywood Blvd. studio. Toronto Sun columnist Joe Warmington was not among them.
But that didn't stop Warmington from publishing a piece declaring Ford's appearance to have been a "victory," prior to ever actually seeing it.
According to the datestamp, the column was first posted at 9:13 pm and later updated at 10:17 pm; from the tweets of those who were in studio, Ford's segments were taped from roughly 9:40-10 pm Eastern time. The show airs on the east coast at 11:35.
Here are some of the things Ford cheerleader Warmington said about the program he could not have yet seen:
• "From the push back and social media indignation, you'd think Ford's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live on Monday was an apocalyptic moment in Toronto's history."
• "Just 24 hours after the Oscars, Kimmel did not bring out a movie star but a new kind of sensation. And it doesn't matter that the skilled comic relentlessly poked fun at Ford and his Chris Farley, Tommy Boy-like journey and skillfully lampooned him."
• "It doesn't matter if people were laughing with him or at him. He has proven himself to be a good sport with a sense of humour."
• "Meanwhile, this appearance is a victory for Ford and Toronto - much to the chagrin of those who loath to acknowledge his mayoralty let alone offer some deserved credit for pushing Toronto's strong points in a nontraditional way to an audience much larger than any conventional platform could provide."
• "This was vintage Rob Ford."
Warmington also attempted to argue, without irony or awareness, that Ford's impact on Toronto has not been worse than that of O.J. Simpson on L.A., and that concerns about him dragging down our reputation are therefore misplaced.
Canada.com's Marc Weisblott first tweeted out the column at 10:31 ("Joe Warmington reviews a show before it airs"). Fifteen minutes later, amid suggestions from those in studio that the appearance had been a disaster, the Sun pulled it down. (You can read it in Google's cache.)
It was like a prematurely published Chinese-state-media report on a successful spacecraft launch that was in fact still several hours away.
I publicized the odd situation on Twitter, prompting this exchange between a respected National Post sports columnist and an editor at the Toronto Sun:
- Cynthia McLeod (@SunnyCynthia) March 4, 2014
- Bruce Arthur (@bruce_arthur) March 4, 2014
Just after 11 pm, Warmington got Doug Ford on the phone and took a second stab at writing about the appearance without having seen it. It opened like this (spelling and punctuation retained):
It seems Mayor Rob Ford walked into a bit of an ambush.
An all out barrage maybe a better way to put it.
Turns out Mayor Rob Ford's appearance on with Jimmy Kimmel was a lot tougher than he was expecting.
The American TV star was relentless in his questions and showed four embarrassing videos.
He probably should have seen that coming.
It went on to quote Doug saying that the mayor was "a little upset" but "did his best."
"In the background" of the call, Warmington wrote, "I could hear the mayor saying he was 'set up' but did not seem angry or pouting."
This version went online around 11:40, during broadcast of Kimmel's opening monologue. It's unclear on what Warmington was basing his understanding of Ford's segments; Kimmel, for example, showed eight videos of the mayor, not four.
After actually watching the interview himself and evidently realizing that it was neither as rote as his first version had it nor as brutal as his second version did, Warmington penned a third take, which began:
No question Mayor Rob Ford walked into an ambush.
An all out barrage may be a better way to put it.
But he handled it a lot of better than he thought he did and the way people were reporting he did.
People such as Warmington himself, apparently. Other highlights include:
• "Kimmel did a masterful job of pulling all the sagas together but it didn't come across nearly as damning as the guy at the centre of it thought it did."
• "He held his own. Ford hung in there OK. There's no shame in it at all."
• "When you step back from it for a few minutes, it's not nearly as bad as one thinks. Not even close."
• "In fact, Ford had some great comebacks and jokes of his own - especially when, after Kimmel read out a laundry list of naughty deeds, he quipped 'that's all you got.'"
• "The crowd wasn't just laughing at Ford from my read of it. They were laughing at his jokes and enjoying his being a good sport about it all."
• "They seemed to like him. Even Kimmel seems to like him."
The online story was later updated at least one more time to incorporate brief quotes from the mayor himself (e.g., "It was fine"). But the version that ended up in the print paper was actually stitched together from elements of Warmington's first two attempts, along with some additional material.
I reached out to Warmington for comment on the way this unfolded - as well as on the Canadian Press story suggesting he may have played a part in bringing Ford to Kimmel in the first place - but he declined, saying he may address it on his radio show Tuesday night.
If anyone is interested in writing a magazine-style feature on Warmington, this would be an excellent episode with which to open.
UPDATE (3/5/2014, 3:30 pm): Warmington did address both questions on his Newstalk 1010 show The Late Shift on Tuesday night.
On his role in putting Jimmy Kimmel in touch with Mayor Ford, he explained:
Well, what happened there was, I forget who it was at the desk, but somebody came by, said 'Bill Brioux's on the phone.' Bill Brioux is a great writer, used to work at the Toronto Sun, a TV writer. And I'm not saying he's a close friend, but I was always very friendly with him when he worked at the Sun; we worked for many years together.
And so I took his call, you know, 'cause, uh... And he mentioned that he was a good friend of Jimmy Kimmel's and that they were trying to get the Fords to come on the show. So you know I, knowing and having contact with the Fords, I sort of passed over phone numbers of the people from the show. It's about the extent of what I had to do with it, and I sort of stayed in touch with the Kimmel people because I wanted that scoop - and I did get that scoop, by the way - that they were appearing on the show.
On the questionable evolution of his column, he said:
You saw I did three columns on the thing. One of them, oops, was just kind of more notes that ended up, uh, someone pressed the button and put it online. And it really wasn't a column, it was just kind of, uh... I'd never been in a situation like that where - again, I wasn't able....
... We had sort of a framework thing ready to go, it was never supposed - it was supposed to be like a seat-warmer kind of thing so that everyone could see the length and how it was gonna fit on the page. And the story was always gonna be developing, it was never meant to go up online, but it ended up, someone made a mistake. It was only up for a couple minutes and pulled down.
And, again, and then it didn't get any easier because when the story did happen - I had some sense of what the show was supposed to be like, because there had been some sort of a production meeting.
And I was privy to some people that were involved in the show, who gave me some sense of what was supposed to happen. None of which did happen. So it made it trickier, and then of course trying to get a hold of the Fords, which I did.
On the lesson to take away from all this:
So, again, that's what my column is: it's raw, it's not supposed to be fancypants like all the critics of the Fords.