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 self-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.