Rob Ford, Toronto's conservative mayor, has been caught on camera smoking what appears by all accounts to be crack cocaine, according to a Gawker editor and two Toronto Star reporters who claim to have seen the cellphone footage. Neither outlet has published the video for one simple reason: The man who took it is hoping to secure himself a six-figure payday for its release, a total that neither the American website nor the Canadian newspaper say they are willing to pony up. Regardless, both outlets make it clear they have no doubt about what they saw on the tape. Gawker's John Cook went live with his story first, so we'll give him the honors:
Here is what the video shows: Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, is the only person visible in the frame. Prior to the trip, I spent a lot of time looking at photographs of Rob Ford. The man in the video is Rob Ford. It is well-lit, clear. Ford is seated, in a room in a house. In one hand is a a clear, glass pipe. The kind with a big globe and two glass cylinders sticking out of it. In the other hand is a lighter. A slurred voice off-camera is ranting about Canadian politics in what sounds like an attempt to goad Ford. ... Ford, pipe in one hand and lighter in the other, is laughing, and mildly protesting at the sacrilege. He seems to keep trying to light the pipe, but keeps stopping to laugh. He is red-faced and sweaty, heaving with each breath. Finally, he finds his moment and lights up. He inhales. ... In one move, the owner stops the video and draws the device back into his pocket.
The Star's Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan, meanwhile, say they got to watch the full video to the end multiple times, something that allowed them to offer a more complete picture (along with a little more Canadian color):
Two Toronto Star reporters have viewed the video three times. It appears to show Ford in a room, sitting in a chair, wearing a white shirt, top buttons open, inhaling from what appears to be a glass crack pipe. Ford is incoherent, trading jibes with an off-camera speaker who goads the clearly impaired mayor by raising topics including Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and the Don Bosco high school football team Ford coaches.
"I’m f---ing right-wing," Ford appears to mutter at one point. "Everyone expects me to be right-wing. I’m just supposed to be this great.…" and his voice trails off. At another point he is heard calling Trudeau a "fag." Later in the 90-second video he is asked about the football team and he appears to say (though he is mumbling), "they are just f---ing minorities."
The video, according to the Star, ends abruptly with the ringing of a cellphone, perhaps from the very one being used to record the scene. According to the paper, the ring tone startled the mayor, who opened his eyes slightly and said: "That phone better not be on."
Gawker refers to those who recorded the video and who are shopping it around as "a crew of Toronto drug dealers that service a veritable who's who of A-list" Torontonians. The Star, meanwhile, calls them "a group of Somali men involved in the drug trade."
In case allegations that the mayor of the fourth-largest city in North America smokes crack with drug dealers weren't enough to get everyone's attention, this story also has the secondary plot line of how the reporters went about gaining access to the smartphone video. Both Cook and the Star reporters say they worked with a middleman who is acting as a broker of sorts for the owner(s) of the video who want cash to leave town and head west. (Cook makes it sound like there is only one man; the Star suggests there are two.)
The asking price is currently in the six figures. Cook suggests that's a total that Gawker can't reach on its own, although he does make it clear that his organization would be willing to pay a lower price for the video, partly to prevent it from being sold back to Ford (and unsaid, but let's be honest, partly for the obvious page-view bounty it would bring with it). The Star, meanwhile, says only that it "did not pay money and did not obtain a copy of the video."
Ford denied the allegations Friday morning, according to the Globe and Mail. "It's just ridiculous," he said as he left his home, according to the newspaper. "It's another Toronto Star...", he added before trailing off, referring to Canada's largest daily newspaper and an outlet that has previously written about allegations that the mayor has a substance abuse problem.
Ford's lawyer, meanwhile, told Gawker that its report was "false and defamatory." He also later told Canadian radio: "I don't know whether or not such a video exists, but I think it would be fair for the public to see such a video and make their own conclusions."
Police, meanwhile, say they're "monitoring the situation closely."
From the way Cook tells it, the video would still be a secret if it weren't for a mixup with CNN, which he had approached through back channels to see if it wanted to help purchase the video. After a CNN reporter in Canada contacted Ford's office, Cook decided it would be best to pull the trigger last night. The Star, which was working on its own story, quickly followed suit.
This post has been updated with additional information as it became available.