TORONTO – The popular news website Gawker went public with a story Thursday evening alleging its editor had seen a video showing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack cocaine.
The mayor calls the allegations of drug use, “ridiculous.”
The New York-based news organization published the story entitled, “For Sale: A Video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Smoking Crack Cocaine,” around 8:30 p.m. Thursday. The article details Gawker editor John Cook’s trip to Toronto to meet with an unnamed source that showed him the video, in which Cook alleges Ford can be clearly seen smoking drugs.
Shortly after, the Toronto Star published its own version of the story with the headline, “Toronto Mayor Rob Ford smoked crack cocaine in a video, U.S. website alleges.”
The Star’s editor-in-chief Michael Cooke sent a tweet stating that reporters Robyn Doolittle and Kevin Donovan had seen the video in question writing, “Huge story. Exclusive. In the Star tomorrow.”
Cooke’s tweets, along with rebuttal from reporter Robyn Doolittle, sparked an interesting debate on social media between the outlets – arguing over what story was really “exclusive.”
Gawker managing editor Tom Scocca sent tweets referring to his site’s story as exclusive.
In response to one Twitter user, Doolittle tweeted, “Gawker is great. Big fan. They broke it. Ours is still exclusive. We have other reporting.”
In an interview with Global News, Doolittle said, “The Star absolutely stands by this story, we have been working on this story for months.”
Gawker Media’s network of eight websites, including Gawker and Deadspin, has gained an international following thanks to its shocking headlines and blog-like posts. The sites have been credited with breaking a number of high-profile stories.
In January, the sports-oriented news site Deadspin was the first to report on Notre Dame’s star linebacker Manti Teo’s fake online girlfriend scandal. The story’s headline, “Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax” sparked an international frenzy among news outlets worldwide.
But the organization has also created buzz among other media organizations for some controversial decisions.
In 2008, an Internet promotional video for the Church of Scientology was posted on Gawker.com. It refused to take the video down despite legal threats from the church.
This is also not the first time Gawker has picked on Ford.
In January the website posted an article titled, “The Best of Toronto’s Insane, Terrible Mayor Rob Ford: an Introduction for Americans,” which documents controversial quotes from the mayor.
Gawker’s group of websites ranks 33rd among U.S. sites, averaging over 51 million unique visitors per month, according to web-traffic tracker Quantcast.
Gawker.com ranks 142nd for traffic among U.S.-based websites, with 11 million unique visitors per month.
John Cook, the Gawker reporter who broke the drug allegations story, said in an interview with Global News that the website’s familiarity with risk allows it to move fast on news.
“We tend to be much more friendly to risk,” Cook told Global News.
“We’re faster and we don’t over deliberate stories – if we see news we move on it.”
Cook said that the decision to move on the Rob Ford story was made in the instant, because they knew that the story was going to get out.
After seeing the alleged video, Cook went to U.S. new outlets, including CNN, to see if he could partner with someone to buy the video. According to Cook, CNN’s Canada reporter then called a source that used to work in Ford’s office and word got out about the video.
“Once Rob Ford knows about it, it may as well be far and wide,” said Cook.
“We don’t sit and pulll at our chins about what we are going to do – it’s a hot story.”
Cook explained that Gawker does have a lawyer and has an aggressive strategy when it comes to lawyering stories.
“We tend to push the boundaries. But this is not one of those cases. It’s a video – it’s very hard, direct proof. I saw it with my own eyes,” said Cook.
At time of publishing, Gawker’s story had over 600,000 views.