“Toronto Star” cashes in for exclusive video of mayor

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. (Photo credit: o.canada.com)

On Thursday, Toronto’s daily newspaper, The Toronto Star, published a new, never-before-seen video of the city’s mayor in an inebriated state.

According to PoynterThe Star paid a source $5,000 for the video.  The source claimed to have filmed it from another person’s computer. The videos shows Mayor Rob Ford, in a visibly intoxicated state, pacing around a room and yelling, threatening to commit “first degree murder.”  The story adds a new facet to Ford’s history of substance use nearly six months after Gawker started a $200,000 “Crackstarter” (don’t bother holding your laughter, I didn’t) to buy and publish a different video of the mayor supposedly smoking crack cocaine.

The Toronto newspaper originally refused to disclose the video’s price  when it initially posted the story to its website just after noon.  Poynter spoke to one of  the reporters who wrote the story, Kevin Donovan, who said “we are not disclosing the amount but it is not a lot.”

But nearly 11 hours later, the story was updated to include the amount paid to the source. Editor Michael Cooke said that it was in the city’s best interest to include the video in reporting on what seems to be the mayor’s downward spiral.

“Publisher John Cruickshank and I talked about the price,” Cooke said.  “[We] quickly decided that the crisis at city hall made it essential to get all information relevant to Ford’s true character and views in front of Torontonians.”

Cooke also noted that buying the video was neither out of the ordinary nor unethical. “We weren’t paying a source for information; we were purchasing a video, something newspapers and TV stations do every day,” he said. “I’ve paid more for a book excerpt.”

The Toronto Staroriginal reluctance to name the price it paid brought up several questions, one of which was of transparency. If this was a completely normal, why wouldn’t they say how much they paid? Who exactly did they pay this money to? Why isn’t the source of the video, who was paid such a large amount of money, named in the story? Why is there no indication of why the source wasn’t named?

What’s more is that The Star offered to let the mayor view the video before publication. No one from the mayor’s office accepted this offer. The following email exchange is also included in the story:

This email was sent to Mayor Ford, Doug Ford, Sunny Petrujkic, Amin Massoudi, lawyer Dennis Morris and Ford chief of staff Earl Provost

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Dear Mayor Ford ,
This email is a request from the Toronto Star for you to view, tonight, a video we have obtained.
The Video
We have in our possession a 1 minute 17 second video that shows Mayor Ford impaired, at a constituents house, threatening to kill someone. It is somehow related to the byelection and we believe the video was made in August. Mayor Ford is extremely aggressive.
Here is a partial transcript. We would like to show you this video tonight and seek comment. If there is an explanation for this we would like you to provide it. We may publish this story shortly, but again would like to know what your explanation is for this behaviour.
The “Voice” refers to people off camera.
Among Mayor Ford’s comments :
RF:’Cause I’m going to kill that f–king guy. I’m telling you it’s first-degree murder.
RF: No holds barred, brother. He dies or I die, brother.
RF: Think so, brother? When he’s down, I’ll rip his f–king throat out. I’ll poke his eyes out. I will, f–k, when he’s dead, I’ll make sure that motherf–ker’s dead.
RF: I need f–king 10 minutes to make sure he’s dead. It’ll be over in five minutes, brother…10 minutes
Voice: After you win?
RF: I am a sick motherf–ker, dude. (rolling up his shirt cuffs) But no one’s gonna f–k around with me. My brothers are, don’t tell me we’re liars, thieves, birds? It hurts.
RF: (unintelligible) This is f–ked, daddy. (unintelligible) Randy walks
RF: Brother, I just need to go f–king by myself in my f–king underwear. I want to go outside I need 15 minutes. That’s all I — No f–king interference, brother. If I win, I will f–king donate … (arms spread wide as if searching for a word or idea) Voice (accented): These kids are pros, buddy
Mayor Ford,
The scene for this video is a living room, likely in Etobicoke. At least four people are present, aged 20-60. These people are witnesses to your behaviour. You arrived impaired, we are told. We are curious as to how you arrived. By car, driving, or with a driver.
Please respond shortly and I will show you or your staff the video.
Kevin Donovan
Investigative Editor
Toronto Star
416-312-3503
While verification, especially in such a sensitive story, is crucial, there had to have been another way to do so. I know Canadians are generally nicer than us Americans are, but knowing that the mayor had the chance to see the video before publication makes me question what The Star may or may not have left out of its report.
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