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Rob Ford: Canada's biggest news export, media-monitoring study says

Jon Stewart mocks Toronto Mayor Rob Ford on 'The Daily Show' on Nov. 14, 2013. COMEDY NETWORK.

The Rob Ford saga has received more intensive media coverage in the United States than any other Canadian news story since the turn of the century, newly released media-monitoring figures suggest.

If the Toronto mayor were an advertiser trying to buy up all the global media space he occupied over the month of November, it would have cost him $1.1 billion, says the Influence Communications analysis, released to The Canadian Press.

Ford’s headline-making streak continued Wednesday.

Newly released court documents suggest Toronto police, in the throes of a drugs-and-guns investigation, overheard alleged gang members on wiretaps suggesting they had images of Ford using drugs that could be used for blackmail purposes.

That revelation capped a day in which Ford landed a weekly gig on a U.S. radio show titled “Sports Junkies”; commented on the controversy over the Washington Redskins’ NFL team name; and made a Time magazine list of the year’s most memorable apologies.

“No story in the 21st century has given Canada this much exposure,” said Jean-Francois Dumas, president of the Montreal-based media monitoring firm.

“It’s not just the tabloids. It’s not just People. It’s the New York Times, the New York Post. All sorts of media covered this. It became a social phenomenon…. It’s truly exceptional in terms of coverage.”

Ford, of course, became internationally notorious last month when he admitted having smoked crack cocaine, “probably in one of my drunken stupors,” while apologizing and insisting he’s not an addict.

According to the Influence calculations, Rob Ford was mentioned in 14,385 stories on U.S. TV, radio, websites and in newspapers between Nov. 4 — the day before his fateful admission — and Dec. 1.

Dumas said the story appeared in 75 countries and was the third most-covered story in the world on Nov. 6, while nearly 80 per cent of the foreign coverage occurred in the U.S.

The Ford brothers are well aware of their growing celebrity. They say they’ve turned down reality-show offers — from “everyone from Oprah to Dr. Phil,” according to councillor Doug Ford — although word emerged Wednesday that the mayor would soon be heard in a weekly CBS Radio sports segment.

Earlier in the day, Ford lambasted the idea of changing the name of the Redskins, which many people consider racist: “What are we going to call the Cleveland Indians? The Cleveland Aboriginals? Where do we start? The Skins are the Skins and I stick with the Washington Redskins,” Ford told reporters in Toronto.

He was also asked about having been named No. 2 on Time magazine’s list of memorable 2013 apologies.

“Not No. 1?” he replied in jest.

Dumas compared the Ford coverage to that of other major Canadian stories.

His firm’s “media prominence score,” which tabulates the prevalence of a story over a given period of time, found that at its peak, the Ford saga drew 1.4 times the U.S. coverage of Quebec’s Lac-Megantic rail tragedy and twice that of the Robert Pickton murder trial.

“It also received more coverage than the (Luka) Magnotta story, without any doubt,” Dumas said. Magnotta has pleaded not guilty to a charge of first-degree murder and four other charges in the May 2012 death and dismemberment of Chinese student Jun Lin.

Ford even drew six times the coverage of Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut whose social-media antics and breathtaking photography during his recent mission at the International Space Station made him a global celebrity.

The Influence analysis also concluded that:

— The Toronto mayoral controversy represented 57 per cent of the foreign media coverage devoted to the province of Ontario and 19 per cent of the coverage devoted to Canada as a whole during the month of November;

— If broadcast on a single network, the Ford coverage could have filled almost four years’ worth of airtime;

— It could have filled an entire daily newspaper, seven days every week, for six consecutive years.

Some of the U.S. coverage has been serious. Much has been treated as comic relief.

In one memorable segment, late-night host Jon Stewart managed to combine both the solemnity and the knee-slapping in what was essentially a televised intervention.

“Mayor Ford’s a lot of fun to ridicule but, my guess is, not a lot of fun to eulogize. And that’s where this thing is headed,” the Daily Show host said during one of his multiple segments on Ford.

“Even though I will lose precious material, please go to rehab! Will I lose jokes in the short term? Of course. But my guess is, it’s a long-term investment. You’ll be back. Get some help.”

Don’t count Dumas among those expressing worry that the incident might tarnish the image of the country, and its largest city, or turn off visitors or investors.

“It’s very funny. It’s very burlesque. But I don’t believe that, ultimately, it will have a long-term negative impact on the country,” he said.

“It’s just one guy. The day he’s gone, it’s over. It’s not (stories about) violence, collusion, corruption. It’s just one individual, doing dumb things.”

Before Wednesday’s release of new court documents, which are likely to touch off a fresh feeding frenzy, U.S. media interest in Ford appeared to be abating in the U.S. in recent weeks.

News stories mentioning him dropped from a peak of 6,327 during the first week of November to 670 a month later, a decline of nearly 90 per cent.

“They’re still talking about it. They’re talking about it a lot. But they’re talking about it a lot less than in the initial weeks,” Dumas said.

“Which is altogether normal, by the way.”