Toronto editor defends story of mayor ‘smoking crack’

Toronto Star chief says claims about Rob Ford were true and reporting was in public interest

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 September, 2013, 2:53am

Canada's largest newspaper acted in the public interest when it published a report containing allegations that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine, the Toronto Star's top editor told regulators.

Editor-in-Chief Michael Cooke told the Ontario Press Council, a voluntary self-regulatory organisation, that his newspaper's reporting on Ford, who has said he does not smoke crack, was both ethical and legal.

I tell you now, with great emphasis, that the story is true - every word of it
Toronto Star Editor-in-Chief Michael Cooke

He was responding on Monday to complaints made by private citizens against Torstar Corp's flagship paper over its coverage of Ford in May.

Ford himself did not make a complaint and did not appear at the hearing.

"I tell you now, with great emphasis, that the story is true - every word of it," Cooke said at the hearing in Toronto, arguing that Ford had been given ample opportunity to respond to the report before it was published.

The Toronto Star story, released just hours after US gossip blog Gawker said it had seen a cellphone video that appeared to show Rob Ford smoking a substance from a small glass pipe, prompted a storm of media coverage in Canada and abroad.

The Star said two of its reporters had seen the video weeks before the Gawker report, and that individuals linked to the drug trade had offered to sell the video to the Star. The newspaper declined to buy it.

Ford was elected in 2010, promising to control spending and cut taxes. But he has struggled to maintain the support of the city council, which has the final say over most city business.

He has also been criticised on issues that include skipping meetings to coach school football and reading while driving.

Complainant Darylle Donley said Ford was being lied about in the Toronto Star report and that "the news should be concrete and proven truth".

No video has been released, although Gawker raised about US$200,000 to buy it. Ford said in May that he could not comment on "a video that I have never seen or does not exist".

The press council has limited powers to punish its members. If it upholds a complaint, the offending publication must simply report on that fact and publish the text of the decision.

At a separate hearing on Monday, the press council examined a report from the Globe and Mail newspaper on ties in the 1980s between the Ford family, especially the mayor's brother, Toronto city councillor Doug Ford, and the drug trade.

After the story was published, Doug Ford called it "an outright lie" in an interview with local news network CP24. He did not appear at the hearing.