Late last week, Gawker published a post that achieved something Gawker posts rarely do -- it changed Canadian politics. Gawker’s John Cook alleged that he’d seen a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack. It's been the lead story in the Canadian press for the past week, but so far the mayor has dismissed the charge and avoided answering any questions from the press. Brooke talks to The Toronto Star's Robyn Doolittle, who's been reporting the story from Toronto, about Ford's ability to disregard the media.
Beastie Boys - Multilateral Nuclear Disarmament
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone Late last week, Gawker published a post that achieved something Gawker posts rarely do, upend Canadian politics. Gawker’s John Cook alleged that he'd seen a video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack. Cook didn't actually have the video. His tipster wanted more money than Gawker was willing to pay. So instead, Gawker posted a long write-up of the video and started a fundraising effort it’s calling Crackstarter, to raise the $200,000 needed to buy the video, allegedly being shopped around by some Somali men involved in the drug trade. It's been the lead story in the Canadian press for the past week, but so far the Mayor has dismissed the charge and slammed the Toronto Star for pursuing it. Here's a clip of that.
MAYOR ROB FORD: These allegations are ubiquitous. It’s another story with respect to the Toronto Star going after me…
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The Toronto Star’s Robyn Doolittle says she's seen the video.
ROBYN DOOLITTLE: It’s about 90 seconds long. My colleague Kevin Donovan I watched it on an iPhone. It's a man that we believe is Mayor Rob Ford. It's crystal clear, it’s well lit. He’s sitting in sunshine, probably about five or seven feet away from the camera, sitting on a chair, body turned toward the camera. He’s kind of rolling around on the chair. His arms are kind of waving a little bit. He seems extremely impaired, mumbling, rambling, incoherent. In one hand he’s holding a glass tube with what looks like black resin on the top. We believe it is a crack pipe. In the other hand, we, we learn he’s holding a lighter. At one point, he lights the lighter and cooks the pipe from underneath and inhales it and exhales a thin smoke. He also, in the video, can clearly be heard calling the, the Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau a fag, which has also enraged a lot of people. Then, you know, about 90 seconds in, the phone rings or a phone nearby rings, and he looks right at the camera and says, “That better not be on,” and then it shuts off.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Do we know when this might have been recorded?
ROBYN DOOLITTLE: Our sources say it was filmed sometime in the last six months or so. The fact that he called Justin Trudeau a fag dates it a bit because Justin Trudeau just ran for the Liberal leadership, and that was just in the last couple of months. So he reasonably wouldn't be having a conversation about Justin Trudeau in this kind of setting two years ago or something.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So Rob Ford has been a larger-than-life “Teflon Don” kind of character in Canadian politics? Could you sketch him out, for American listeners?
ROBYN DOOLITTLE: A lot of people compare him to Chris Christie, kind of that outspoken right wing, kind of populist, bigger guy, every man's dude. And he's had a lot of controversies in his tenure. He was a, a city counselor. As a counselor, he often, kind of stuck his foot in his mouth. He had a famous incident at a – a Maple Leafs game, where he kind of launched into a drunken tirade at a couple from outside of Toronto and then denied it, until confronted with proof, and then issued an apology.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How did his relationship with alcohol set off the mess that he seems to be in right now?
ROBYN DOOLITTLE: Two months ago, I, along with a colleague of mine, Kevin Donovan, wrote a story that his longstanding battle with alcohol. He was asked to leave a military gala because a number of people felt he was impaired. And that kind of spurred this larger thing about his, his history with alcohol, which the Mayor has denied, just for the record. But once the story ran, we started getting calls. And then this individual contacted me, claiming to have a video of, of the Mayor of Toronto smoking crack cocaine.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: He has survived a lot of other scandals, large and small. This scandal, however, seems to have legs, wouldn't you say?
ROBYN DOOLITTLE: Yeah, I mean, I've been covering this Mayor for three years. I've never seen the media go after him so hard. Typically, a Star investigation brings something to light, and he says, oh, this is just the Toronto Star out to get me, and everyone kind of runs with this, oh, it’s the Star and the Mayor at it again. This time, everyone is really holding him to account, and he so far hasn’t offered any sort of substantive statement about this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: It is interesting because the kind of aggressiveness that you're talking about - and I watched some of the footage on your site - is relatively mild by [LAUGHS] American standards.
REPORTER: Mayor Ford, do you smoke crack?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Even when he was heckled by some protesters at a public meeting sometime back and they were marched from the room, they were just sort of expressing skepticism from their seats, nothing like what we see here. And I just wonder, do your press and politicians have a different relationship of accountability because of that niceness?
ROBYN DOOLITTLE: Absolutely. Canada has absolutely atrocious accountability laws, and I think a lot of Americans don't realize how great they have it. I know that a lot of people complain about, you know, infringement on privacy, but in Canada, like for City Hall, a story that I've been beating a drum on, besides this, has been City Counselor records are not public documents. I can't get their emails, I can’t get their schedules. I don't know who they’re meeting with. All of that in the States is very public. So, for instance, the Mayor of Toronto was arrested for drunk driving and marijuana possession in Florida, I think in 1999, and I –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Not this mayor.
ROBYN DOOLITTLE: This mayor.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Uh-huh.
ROBYN DOOLITTLE: And that came out during his election but because it was the States, we just called up the, the court office and they sent us the arrest sheet. And he was saying, no, I wasn’t arrested for DUI, it was for not providing a breath sample. And then we were able to pull up the charge sheet, along with his mug shot and say, no, it says right here DUI. That sort of stuff can’t happen in Canada. Those records are all sealed, and that's something that journalists come up against all the time.
Mayor Rob Ford doesn’t release a schedule every day. No one has any idea where he is. It's extremely frustrating. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Robyn, you are an intrepid reporter who's been going after the Mayor for a while now. I'm just wondering what you think of Gawker's willingness to give $200,000 to some drug dealers?
ROBYN DOOLITTLE: Obviously, as, as a journalist, you kind of form opinions on things, and on some things you just kind of try to keep [LAUGHS] your opinions to yourself.