Gawker editor John Cook is willing to wait a month for the owners of the alleged Rob Ford crack video to turn up with the video in exchange for the $200,000 that Gawker’s crowd-sourcing campaign raised.
As iMediaEthics has written, Gawker editor John Cook reported May 16 that he had seen a video of what he said was Toronto mayor Ford smoking crack and the people selling the video wanted a lot of cash. Gawker started an Indiegogo fundraising campaign that, last weekend, hit its $200,000 goal, but Gawker said it hadn’t been able to track down the video owners. According to the Globe and Mail, Cook hasn’t heard from the video owners since May 19.
Cook told the Globe and Mail that if a month passes with “nothing but silence,” Gawker will assume that “the people who have it are no longer motivated to sell it even though we’ve got a huge amount of money that we’ve raised and that was what they asked for.”
However, in a June 4 post for Gawker, Cook said the video could be “gone.” He wrote, “the video’s owner reached out to the intermediary we have been dealing with. He told him the video is ‘gone.'” While admitting “we don’t really know” if the video being “gone” means it’s deleted, with the police or with Ford, among other possibilities, Cook said that the video owner was “angry at us, and at the intermediary” for publicizing the video’s existence.
Further, he put blame on the Toronto Star’s detailed reporting about the video, which Cook argued “may have been helpful in identifying and locating the owner,” and suggested the video owner may have gone underground because of “intense pressure” from the “Somali ethnic community” in response to the Toronto Star’s reporting that it learned of Somali involvement in the video.
Despite the news that Gawker might not get its hands on the video, Cook expressed some hope Gawker could get it. “We can still imagine any number of scenarios in which this video comes to light,” he wrote.
Gawker’s Cook ‘Surprised and Heartened’ by Indie Gogo success
Cook also discussed the issue of checkbook journalism in a May 28 interview on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Joining Cook in the discussion was Jeffrey Dvorkin, a professor at University of Toronto and the former Organization of News Ombudsmen executive director.
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“Is it ever OK for journalists to pay for information?” host Jian Ghomeshi asked. Cook, who said he was “surprised and heartened” by the success of Gawker’s Indiegogo campaign, defended Gawker’s willingness to pay for information or footage because it was the only way he saw to get a video “valuable to us” that is part of a “great story.”
Much of the interview and discussion between Cook and Dvorkin turned to the video’s authenticity and whether Cook and Gawker took journalistically valid steps.
Dvorkin, who found it “frankly dangerous” to ask the public to pony up cash, slammed Gawker for having “no verification” in its reporting on the alleged verification and suggested the video could have been Photoshopped. However, Cook denied the claim that Gawker didn’t verify the video, adding that he “saw it with my own eyes” as did the Toronto Star‘s reporters. Cook argued he was simply reporting, saying “I know what I saw and it was important to me that I report what I saw.”
But, Cook did acknowledge that “it’s a tough position for people like Jeffrey [Dvorkin] or anyone else who’s assessing this story to be in to not have seen the video but…what reporters do is they witness things and then they write about them. I witnessed something, and I wrote about it.” (iMediaEthics notes that Cook did more than write about it; he asked his readers to pony up $200,000 to purchase a potentially incriminating film made by people alleged to be in association with the drug trade.)
Cook repeated that he “went to Toronto, I viewed this video with my own eyes” and talked to the video owners. Further, he pointed to other Canadian news outlets that only published reports on Ford and his family after Gawker broke the story about the video. For example, the Globe and Mail recently published a story about accusations of drug involvement by Ford’s family members. “I’m really glad that I did” publish the story, Cook added, claiming that Canadian journalists “are timid and afraid to print true things about” Ford and “the dam is broken.” iMediaEthics adds here for our readers that Canadian libel laws aren’t as bullet-proof as those in the United States, likely making journalists there more cautious.
Host Ghomeshi also asked if it is any different paying a “freelance videographer” or the person who taped the alleged Ford video, to which Dvorkin brought up the seedier elements of the story – a $200,000 payoff to drug dealers. But, Cook pointed out that when trying to get a video of someone allegedly using crack cocaine, “I’m not going to get a video of Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine from his priest.”
“I’m going to get it from the kind of people who happen to hang out with people who smoke crack cocaine, including Rob Ford. I’m sort of limited in my options there,” Cook said.
Check out the full interview on the CBC’s website.