Gawker's "Crackstarter" Campaign Hits a Snag

The Slatest
Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
May 24 2013 11:19 AM

Gawker Has a "Crackstarter" Problem

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is swarmed by reporters as he enters his offices at Toronto City Hall.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is swarmed by reporters as he enters his offices at Toronto City Hall on May 17, 2013. Ford denies allegations that he smoked crack cocaine, his lawyer told the Toronto Sun on Friday.

Photo by Brett Gundlock / Reuters

As you no doubt remember, an editor from Gawker and two reporters from the Toronto Star went public last week with the news that they'd seen cellphone footage of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking what appears by all accounts to be crack cocaine. Publications around the Internet have been following the story in our own particular ways. The Star has stayed on the case, trying to get comment from Ford and keeping tabs on the comings and goings in his office. Slate has argued that Ford, while a buffoon and possibly a crack user, is actually a pretty good mayor (#slatepitch!). Gawker, meanwhile, is trying to raise the $200,000 it says it will take to buy the tape from the drug dealers who have it.

Josh Voorhees Josh Voorhees

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

At last count, Gawker appears mighty close to hitting its goal. As of 11 this morning—and with more than three days remaining until the deadline—readers had pledged more than $160,000 to the "Crackstarter" campaign on Indiegogo. The way the fundraising site works, those people who promise cash only have to pony it up if the target is reached. If not, everyone's free to go about their business as though nothing happened. But what's interesting about the Gawker fundraiser (you know, in addition to the whole paying-drug-dealers thing) is that the site has become increasingly pessimistic about whether its reporter will be able to make the handoff in the event it does raise the cash. Here's John Cook explaining the problem in a post last night:

As we mentioned when we launched the campaign, folks who are involved in the crack trade tend not to be the most reliable people in the world. This has proven to be the case when it comes to the owner of the video of Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine. We were initially made aware of the video by a tipster, who connected us with the owner of the video after we traveled to Toronto. We've been in relatively constant communication with the tipster since then. But he has told us that hasn't been able to make contact with the owner of the video in recent days. ... At this point, we have no idea why he is out of touch, or if he even knows about the Crackstarter campaign. He may have decided against selling the video. He may be waiting until the campaign hits its $200,000 mark before coming out of hiding. We simply don't know.
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In Gawker's defense, they made it clear this was a possibility when they began crowdsourcing this particular checkbook-journalism project. Their buyer-beware fall-back plan—in the event they reach the $200,000 target but aren't able to make the purchase—is to donate the cash to a TBD Canadian nonprofit that addresses substance abuse issues. I'd be tempted to say it'll be difficult to get too worked up about some extra cash going to a worthy charity, but I've spent more time than I should reading Gawker comment threads, so I know better.

Update Friday, 4:08 p.m.: With the fate of the video now in question, Ford has finally come forward to deny the allegations he smokes crack. "As for a video, I cannot comment on a video that I have not seen, or does not exist," he said at a short, afternoon press conference.

***Follow @JoshVoorhees and the rest of the @slatest team on Twitter.***

This post has been updated for clarity.