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Summary:

Gawker reached its goal of raising $200,000 to purchase a video of a big city mayor smoking crack. Editor John Cook explained on Tuesday the reasons for the controversial campaign in which the fate of the video is still unknown.

crack pipe
photo: Chris Howey

John Cook, the Gawker editor who led a public campaign to pay $200,000 for a video of the mayor of Toronto smoking crack, told Canada’s national broadcaster that he stands by his actions and suggested the country’s own media outlets failed in their reporting duties.

“The idea that the proper role of a news agency is to be aware of incredibly important information … and just sort of sit on it while you dot your i’s and cross your t’s is what creates that sort of culture you have in Toronto where you have a mayor with a substance abuse problem that everyone knew about it and no one says it.”

Cook was speaking to CBC Radio after the latest twists in a bizarre political scandal over a video — witnessed by Cook and two Toronto Star reporters — that allegedly shows Toronto Mayor Rob Ford sucking on a crack pipe and calling the leader of Canada’s Liberal Party a “faggot.” Gawker fanned the flames of the scandal by asking the public to donate to a “crack-starter” fund to purchase the video from drug dealers.

The crowdfunding campaign reached its goal of $200,000 this weekend even after Cook had posted an update warning that Gawker had lost touch with the tipster who had connected the reporters to the video owners. (Update: Cook says he will give them a month to collect the money.)

The situation is proving an international embarrassment to Toronto, which is struggling how to reconcile its Rob Fordself-perception as a diverse and cosmopolitan city with its buffoonish, crack-smoking mayor. The Star continues to report new details about associates pictured with Ford (at right) killed and wounded in a homicide.

The media attention to the story has not only spread news of the scandal, but touched off debates about journalistic probity and the contrasting reporting styles of Canada and the United States.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, a former NPR ombudsman who debated Cook on the CBC interview, asked if it’s right to give the crowd-funded money to people who might use it to buy guns (the money has yet to be distributed and will be given to a Canadian charity if it is not paid to the video owners.)

Cook countered that paying sources is a routine part of journalism, citing a major political expense scandal in the UK that only came to light after the Telegraph paid a whistle-blower.

Cook also called Canadian media “timid” and questioned why the national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, sat on information for 18 months that purportedly revealed Ford family ties to drug dealing white supremacism.

In response to Dvorkin’s accusations that Gawker was getting “click-throughs,” Cook noted that a “Canadian reader of Gawker is worthless to us” [for advertising reasons] and repeated that a story about the mayor of North America’s fourth-biggest city smoking crack is important in its own right.

  1. Hot Toronto Deals Tuesday, May 28, 2013

    Why does an AOL subsidiary (Gawker) need donations from Canadians to complete a news story???? For the charitable tax receipt when they end up donating the $200k??

    Let’s face it Gawker just took advantage of a situation, and doubled or tripled its traffic from North American’s 4th largest city. The longer Gawker can keep this story alive the longer it will benefit — if they don’t use the money to get the video, its reputation as any kind of pseudo-news site should suffer and its internet traffic should go back down until it does the next tabloid piece.

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  2. Gawker announced on day one that they would be donating the proceeds to a Canadian non-profit charity if they couldn’t procure the tape. The decision was rather arbitrary, with no discussion about perhaps refunding people’s money. What Gawker really should be doing is giving the money back to the backers if the video cannot be purchased, not donate it to charity. Who asked the donors? LSM nicely explains what’s going to happen with the tax deductions, if the money goes to charity.. Don’t be silly people, it’s a scam.

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  3. Typical Amarican clown. The media in Canada have in fact been talking about Rob Ford’s substance abuse for years. The challenge was getting the proof. As to the Globe and Mail “sitting” on their story for 16 months: what garbage! It was a 16-month long investigation. Typical incompetent American media. The only reason gawker broke the story was because the drug dealer approached them.

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    1. R b foster, nobody in the greater North American landscape knew who Rob Ford was before Gawker decided to come in and do real reporting for you. This quote: “The media in Canada have in fact been talking about Rob Ford’s substance abuse for years.” – that’s true. Canadian media have been talking, but not DOING anything. Also,”American” isn’t spelled “Amarican”, looks like we found the clown here indeed “eh”?

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  4. Christophe Macdonald Wednesday, May 29, 2013

    Some of you seem to not understand the basic principals of accounting. Not that I’m defending Gawker or anything (They’re a shitty online tabloid), but… If they receive $200K (or any amount) from Kickstarter, that money has to be accounted for as revenue. Once they get rid of it, the revenue can be offset either as an expense (if they buy the video) or a charitable donation (if they donate it). There’s no hidden profit in donating the money to charity.

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