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Summary:

Gawker has just taken checkbook journalism to a whole new level — asking the public to help buy a video tape that is likely to bring down the mayor of a major city.

crack pipe
photo: Chris Howey

Who says Canada is boring? The mayor of the country’s biggest city is at the center of a crack cocaine scandal, and now U.S. blog Gawker is asking readers to chip in and buy the video evidence for $200,000.

In case you missed it, the controversy turns on Toronto’s buffoonish mayor, Rob Ford, who has embarrassed the city numerous times in the past but has now outdone himself: Reporters from Gawker and the Toronto Star claim to have witnessed a clear video tape that shows Hizzoner sucking on a glass crack pipe and calling the leader of Canada’s Liberal party, Justin Trudeau, “a faggot.”

The video in question is now in possession of shadowy figures who want cash for it. The Star, a respected newspaper, turned down an offer to sell it for $40,000 and Gawker, which says the price is now $200,000, hasRob Ford crack screenshot taken to Indiegogo – a site normally used to raise money for artsy people — to ask the public to buy the video. The “Rob Ford Crackstarter” (see pic at right) has 10 days to reach its goal and has already pulled in $26,000 as of Friday afternoon.

Gawker’s gambit raises some very juicy ethical questions. First, while bringing down crack-smoking mayors is clearly in the public interest (see Barry, Marion), it’s less clear whether it’s acceptable to pay people who are likely serious criminals in order to advance the story.

And while check-book journalism has been around for centuries, turning it over to the public could have unforeseen consequences. Until now, publicly funded journalism has been largely been contained to organizations like Pro Publica that launch investigations into things like patient safety and vote buying. Is the world ready for a publicly funded version of TMZ where everyone can pool money to see celebrity’s private lives?

For now, the political dimensions of the scandal are moving too fast to assess the media fallout. We’ll report back next week on what happens to the tape — and the money collected by Gawker.

(Image by Chris Howey via Shutterstock)

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  1. “…whether it’s acceptable to pay people who are likely serious criminals in order to advance the story.”
    So who are these possible criminals Gawker would be buying from? I am intrigued…

    1. Perhaps they are the same people who were involved in a meeting with Toronto Star reporters, as described in the article at:

      http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/05/17/rob_ford_crack_scandal_star_reporters_tell_their_side_of_story.html

      I don’t know about you, but the people the reporters met with don’t especially sound like upstanding citizens to me.

  2. The price was not $40,000. That’s what the Star was apparently willing to pay; the sources wanted more than that, initially they wanted a million dollars.

  3. Harvey Lipshitz Sunday, May 19, 2013

    I heard that the owner of the video is dead already.

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