Every once in a while, a media outlet publishes or broadcasts a story that creates chatter across the country.
It happened earlier this month when Toronto Star reporters claimed that they had seen a video showing Toronto mayor Rob Ford smoking what could have been crack cocaine.
Ford disappeared from the media for a few days as the tale ricocheted around the world and became fodder for late-night TV comedians.
The mayor emerged yesterday to issue a denial before refusing to take questions from reporters.
His strongest defender throughout has been his older brother Doug, a burly Toronto councillor.
But today, Doug Ford is in the spotlight after the Globe and Mail published a lengthy article—relying entirely on unnamed sources—alleging that he was a hashish dealer until he was 22 years old.
"I think it's disgusting," Doug Ford told KiSS 92.5 Radio. "It's an outright attack. This is what happens when you're out there for the common folk. They can't go after our record on being fiscally responsible for the small guy—the little guy that has a voice finally."
Doug Ford's lawyer has told the Globe and Mail that the allegations are false and that the paper's "references to unnamed alleged sources of information represent the height of irresponsible and unprofessional journalism given the gravely serious and specious allegations of substantial criminal conduct".
(The Georgia Straight has seen none of the evidence that Doug Ford was engaged in any of the activities alleged in today's article.)
The Toronto-based Thomson family owns 85 percent of the Globe and Mail through its holding company, Woodbridge Co. Ltd.
According to Forbes, the Thomsons' net worth is $20.3 billion, which puts them 24th on the list of the world's richest billionaires.
It's inconceivable that a story like the one in today's Globe and Mail wouldn't have been run by its publisher and CEO, Phillip Crawley.
The public is not privy to conversations between Crawley and David Thomson, but it's reasonable to speculate the owner didn't learn of the story by picking up today's newspaper. Thomson must have known of its existence well before then.
Random thought number one: Did the richest man in Canada give the thumbs up to his publisher for this story to run?
The article states near the end that "Doug Ford made several phone calls to Globe managers and reporters to complain about the questions being asked".
It reminds me of a quote from deceased cartoonist Doug Marlette, which appeared in yesterday's New York Times: “Democrats complain to the cartoonist. Republicans, I have noticed, go straight to the publisher.”
Random thought number two: How high up did the calls go? Did Doug Ford, a right winger, call the publisher, Crawley, or the owner, Thomson? The Globe and Mail could enhance transparency by shedding more light in this area.
One of those calls occurred in November 2011.
The Globe and Mail was working on this story for a very long time—far longer than the norm for a standard newspaper investigation. Yet the article didn't appear until 18 months after this call from Ford. Why did the Globe and Mail wait until now to publish it?
The editor-in-chief, John Stackhouse, revealed in the paper that the reporters were sent back to find more witnesses after "previous interviews". The article was going to be published this week because of "intense public interest around the Ford family and alleged substance abuse".
In light of Rob Ford's statement that he is not a crack user, "a group of senior editors met again, reviewed the story, and concluded again that it is in the public interest to publish", according to Stackhouse.
Random thought number three: Would the Globe and Mail not have published the story had there been no intense public interest around the Ford family and alleged substance abuse? Was the story, in fact, submitted quite some time ago before the recent crack controversy, and put on the back burner? Was it only resurrected after the Toronto Star alleged that it had observed a video of the Toronto mayor smoking a substance that could have been crack?
Curiously, two unnamed sources in the article—both alleged to be drug dealers—are code-named Justin and Tom. Victoria resident Mark Fornataro pointed out to me that these are the first names of the leaders of the federal Liberals and federal New Democrats.
Random thought number four: The Globe and Mail strongly endorsed Stephen Harper and the Conservatives in the last federal election with a somewhat laughable editorial. Is this some editor's effort at humour by naming alleged drug dealers after the leaders of Canada's two main opposition political parties?
Modern neuroscience has demonstrated that the prefrontal cortex of young men does not fully mature until around the age of 25. This means that teenage males and men in their early 20s may lack judgement because the so-called CEO of the brain—which overrides impulses and assesses consequences of behaviour—is not fully developed.
Many of the allegations involving Doug Ford occurred when he was very young, before his prefrontal cortex had come close to maturity.
Random thought number five: Isn't it time that the media paid more attention to neuroscience in reporting questionable actions of young people, including Stanley Cup rioters, or when writing about the Conservative government's zeal for mandatory minimum sentences?
It's fair game to call either of the Fords out on any hypocrisy they may have engaged in as politicians. It's reasonable for the Globe and Mail to raise questions about people hired by Rob Ford to work in the mayor's office. And I suspect that it took courage for the journalists, Greg McArthur and Shannon Kari, to launch an investigation of this nature.
As a reader, I would have preferred to know the identities of Doug Ford's accusers so that I, as a consumer of this news, could better assess their credibility. Ideally, allegations as explosive as those published in the Globe and Mail would have been accompanied with sworn statements, which aren't always easy to obtain.
In 2002, a B.C. Supreme Court judge, Brenda Brown, ordered the Vancouver Sun to reveal unnamed sources' identities so that retired surgeon Dr. Ali Bouaziz's lawyer could cross-examine them in a defamation suit.
“For the purposes of this litigation, Dr. Bouaziz’s legitimate litigation interest in knowing the identity of the informants will be satisfied if their identity is revealed to Dr. Bouaziz and his counsel on this case and to none other,” Brown wrote.
The Vancouver Sun settled the case rather than reveal the sources' identities.
In 2010, the Supreme Court of Canada came to a different conclusion when Globe and Mail reporter Daniel Leblanc refused to reveal sources for his stories on the federal sponsorship scandal.
The court cited four factors that must be considered:
• The relationship must originate in a confidence that the source’s identity will not be disclosed;
• Anonymity must be essential to the relationship in which the communication arises;
• The relationship must be one that should be sedulously fostered in the public interest;
• The public interest served by protecting the identity of the informant must outweigh the public interest in getting at the truth.
Stackhouse addressed the question of whether the article was in the public interest by writing that the Fords "hold sway over much of the city's business, and have influence on a range of public affairs, including policing".
The editor-in-chief tartly added: "Character matters."
If this matter ever goes to court, I'll be interested to see if Doug Ford's lawyer tries bringing forth intriguing research suggesting that character is not necessarily a fixed thing. For more on this topic, check out my recent article on the book Out of Character: Surprising Truths About the Liar, Cheat, Sinner (and Saint) Lurking in All of Us.
In 2009, the Supreme Court of Canada enunciated the legal concept of responsible communication. This cleared the way for media outlets to engage in investigative journalism provided it met the test of responsibility, even if the subject of the story refused requests for his or her side of the story.
Stackhouse's note claimed that the editors "felt it would be irresponsible not to share this information with the public, at this time".
Random thought number six: The Globe and Mail is already making the case that it was in the public interest to print the article and that it was done responsibly. I'm fascinated by Stackhouse's final phrase "at this time" because it makes me wonder if any of the editors or the publisher felt that it was not responsible and was not in the public interest until this week.
Meanwhile, Doug Ford has told KiSS 92.5 that it's "very very difficult to sue media".
"It's a David and Goliath scenario," the Toronto councillor said. "Our family, I always say, before taxes has spent $1 million defending Rob and our family's reputation, and we've won every single time. Every time."
He added that perhaps he should spend money not on a lawyer, but on a private investigator to look into Stackhouse's past for any evidence of drug use.
Not once in the interview did Doug Ford mention the name of the paper's owner, Thomson, or the publisher, Crawley.