Transcript: Leah Beckmann, Associate Editor at Gawker on the Rob Ford ‘Crackstarter’ campaign
TORONTO – U.S.-based website Gawker reported last week that there is video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford allegedly smoking crack cocaine. Reporters at the Toronto Star also reported to have seen the video in question and backup the allegations. Both outlets say the person who took the video wants at least $100,000 before they release it. Gawker has since started a fundraising campaign to raise $200,000 to buy the video.
Ford calls the allegations “ridiculous,” and his lawyer, Dennis Morris, has called the media reports “false and defamatory.” Global News has not verified the authenticity of the video.
Leah Beckmann, Gawker’s Associate Editor, spoke with Global News on Sunday about the fundraising campaign and how they plan to purchase the video if the funds are raised. Read our transcript below.
David Weisz: Hi, Leah.
Leah Beckmann: Hello!
DW: So the Rob Ford ‘Crackstarter’ is at $66,191 as I type this, with 9 days left. Do you think you’ll reach your funding goal?
LB: That’s the hope. It’s an ambitious goal, certainly, but at the rate we’re going we’re pretty optimistic.
DW: How were you first contacted by these sources alleging to have the tape?
LB: We received a tip in our tips email. John [Cook], our Editor-in-Chief, reached out to the tipster after it came in.
DW: What have you been able to discern about the people in possession of the tapes? Most of the rumours floating around are that they are of Somali origin and deal drugs in Toronto.
LB: Well actually, as far as we know, the footage in question is just one video captured on a cell phone. And yeah, that’s pretty accurate about what we know about the people with the video. A group of drug dealers who service some high powered figures in Toronto.
DW: Your publisher, Nick Denton, has stated on record that he isn’t opposed to ‘checkbook journalism’ – why turn to the community to crowdsource the funding?
LB: Gawker offered $15K for the video and won’t go beyond that. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to buy it. We do. Our hope is that we’ll raise enough through crowdsourcing to purchase it at their asking price. There’s a huge difference between 15K and 200K.
DW: Has Gawker’s initial 15K pledge been donated to the current Crackstarter campaign?
LB: The funding sources are public on the campaign page
DW: I understand, but there are many sources that are Anonymous or have donated ‘undisclosed’ amounts. It is also not possible to verify whether any of the names of the donations are pseudonyms. So, has Gawker contributed any funds to the campaign, either personally (staffers) or through a more ‘corporate’ donation?
LB: If staffers contribute, it’s their own prerogative. But there absolutely hasn’t been any order (or even suggestion) to donate money to the campaign from Gawker Media. Additionally, Gawker has been upfront about its willingness to pay for the video—just not the full amount.
DW: I understand, and I have seen some comments suggesting that Gawker donated the initial 15K. I just wanted to get confirmation from you that Gawker has donated the first 15K, as the IndieGogo donation page only goes back 17 hours.
LB: That’s all I’m going to say on the issue.
DW: Okay, I’ll move on. It is mentioned that your sources decided on the six-figure number as a means of resettling themselves after the video is exposed. How would you go about transferring the funds to them?
LB: Going back to your question. We did donate 15K to the campaign. Moving on… John, who is still in touch with his original sources, will continue to go through his channels and will transfer those funds immediately. And, as it says in our post, if something were to go wrong we will donate the funds to a Canadian non-profit that helps people suffering from addiction and its consequences.
DW: Okay. But specifically, what method of payment would you use to transfer the funds?
LB: We’ll cross that bridge once we raise the money.
DW: How do you feel about the effect these allegations have had on Rob Ford’s political and personal image? And the ‘you’ in this case being Gawker.
LB: The issue here is not that he’s been caught doing something illegal, the issue is that he’s been caught doing something illegal he’s allegedly been doing for years. Also, I’d like to point out that we have just updated our ‘Crackstarter’ page with some new “perks”.
DW: I see that. What type of phone is it?
LB: An iPhone
DW: I was hoping it was a BlackBerry, if only for headline purposes.
DW: You alluded to the fact that Rob Ford was caught doing something he’s allegedly been doing for years…can you elaborate? Are you referring to crack cocaine or illegal substances in general?
LB: I’m not going to go into anymore detail here. Thanks for reaching out and I hope you got what you needed.
David: Thanks. I know you would like to end the interview now, but I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind hearing one more question.
DW: You mentioned that as far as you and Gawker know, the people in possession of the tape are involved in the illegal sale of drugs to some degree. How concerned are you that that the money raised through your campaign could be used to fund a current or future criminal enterprise?
LB: The real issue here is that these are just citizens trying to get the truth out about their mayor. It’s important that this video be seen and that the residents of Toronto know their mayor smokes crack. These people we have been dealing with have thus far honoured every commitment they’ve made, and we have no reason to believe they will use this money in a way other than to keep themselves safe, as mentioned in the post.
-With files from the Canadian Press
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