Does Toronto have its own Marion Barry?
Gawker's slogan is "Today's gossip is tomorrow's news" -- and that's exactly how it worked when the site reported that Toronto Mayor Rob Ford has smoked crack, spawning follow-up reports by Canadian and U.S. media outlets.
If true, the report would be a major coup for the site. A man who said he was Ford's lawyer called the report "false and defanatory."
The conservative 43-year-old mayor, elected in 2010, has previously denied reports of him appearing intoxicated in public.
In a post late Thursday, Gawker editor John Cook said he had traveled to Toronto to see a video in which the burly mayor smokes from what appears to be a crack pipe. He said he was shown the video by people trying to sell it for six figures.
Cook didn't buy the video -- he said it was too expensive -- but did describe what he saw. That spawned a follow-up by Toronto Star reporters who said that they, too, were shown the video.
What Cook said he saw is this: Ford, sitting in a well-lit room in a house, holding "a clear, glass pipe. The kind with a big globe and two glass cylinders sticking out of it."
"A slurred voice off-camera is ranting about Canadian politics in what sounds like an attempt to goad Ford. 'Pierre Trudeau was a faggot!' is the one phrase the lodges in my mind," wrote Cook. "Ford, pipe in one hand and lighter in the other, is laughing, and mildly protesting at the sacrilege. He seems to keep trying to light the pipe, but keeps stopping to laugh. He is red-faced and sweaty, heaving with each breath. Finally, he finds his moment and lights up. He inhales."
The Star, in its follow-up, remembered it slightly differently: The paper said that it is in fact Justin Trudeau, the son of former Prime Minister Piere Trudeau, who is called the homophobic slur. The paper also said Ford made the remark, not someone off-screen.
Dennis Morris, who said he was Ford's lawyer, called Gawker's post "false and defamatory" and told the Star it was impossible to tell what was really happening in the video. "How can you indicate what the person is actually doing or smoking?" Morris said.
Gawker said that to support the veracity of its crack claims, the people selling the video provided a photo of Ford with three men, one of whom, the site said, is a college student killed two months ago in a gangland-style shooting. Morris told Gawker: "Mayor Ford has his photo taken daily, sometimes with others."