TORONTO -- Rob Ford's shocking admission that he's used crack cocaine clashes with the image many foreigners have of Canadians, a political expert said Tuesday as news of the Toronto mayor's drug confession took the world media by storm.

"The idea that the good Canadians would have a crack-smoking mayor is kind of interesting as a humourous gambit or maybe also fits with this other image of Canada... as some sort of liberal haven," said Peter Graefe, a political science professor at McMaster University in Hamilton.

"It either breaks the narrative of the uptight Canadians or it plays to another narrative they have of the very liberal Canadians," he added.

Ford dropped the bombshell in an impromptu news conference at city hall shortly after noon, abruptly changing his tune after months of denials and claims of a smear campaign.

The mayor said he is not addicted to drugs but said he tried crack roughly a year ago while in what he called a "drunken stupor."

Moments later the news was splashed across major news websites abroad, including CNN and the BBC.

"Toronto Mayor admits to smoking crack" cried a headline on the British broadcaster's front page.

"Toronto Mayor Ford admits crack cocaine use, mistakes 'in past'," read one featured in the American network's top news of the day.

Several U.S. networks carried the mayor's second, late-afternoon news conference live.

The unfolding drug scandal has been a particular favourite with U.S. media, with some observers comparing the Ford affair to the case of former Washington, D.C. mayor Marion Barry, who was busted smoking crack cocaine by an FBI sting in 1990.

Ford has also been a recurring target for late-night talk show hosts, and they were at it again Tuesday night.

Jay Leno, David Letterman and Jon Stewart all poked fun at the the mayor over his latest revelation.

Stewart, after joking about Ford's admission, took a more serious tone and said the mayor should get help.

"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's headed," Stewart said. "Even though I will lose precious material, go to rehab."

Even some serious American news outlets have taken a more lighthearted tone in covering the controversy, something Graefe attributes largely to distance.

"It's not news when it's in other cities... it's comedy," he said.

A story posted on the Washington Post's website highlighted the vastly different reactions stirred by the Ford and Barry scandals.

"It's a different world now than it was in 1990. Between social media and 24-hour news networks, a white Canadian mayor admitting that he uses drugs is looked at as a source of comedy," Clinton Yates wrote in the piece.

"In those days, it was a reason to vilify a majority-black city for a drug epidemic that took countless lives."

Ford's name was trending on Twitter for much of Tuesday, with some weighing in from south of the border.

"Rob Ford's crack habit is the only thing I know about Canadian politics. I wonder if I'm alone in that. (Probably not.)," read a tweet from a New York account.

"Is being too drunk to remember smoking crack an explanation you would accept from your mayor?" read a tweet from CNN's Anderson Cooper.

Many admitted they couldn't turn away from the drama playing out at city hall.

"Glued to #RobFord coverage this afternoon. So much for the reading I was going to do. Someone needs to convince him to get help," read one tweet.

Some of Ford's supporters defended him online, saying he's been picked on by police and media alike.

"I think @TorontoPolice should leave @TOMayorFord alone. Months of air surveillance is excessive and ridiculous," one wrote.

"I love Rob Ford man you do your thing, we've all used illicit drugs at some point. Don't let the haters bring you down," said another.