Why did Toronto mayor Rob Ford announce tonight he was taking leave from his duties to get help? It probably had something to do with these images, which come from a video that a source was offering to sell us. The source said what's in the pipe was more crack cocaine.
It's new footage, different from the video of the mayor smoking crack that Gawker viewed and wrote about last year. This video, according to the Globe and Mail, which paid its owner $10,000 for screen grabs, was taken this past weekend in Ford's sister Kathy's basement. Ford can be seen holding a metal pipe usually used to smoke marijuana, but which was in this case—our source says—used to smoke crack.
Ford has since stepped away from his duties as mayor to seek help for a substance-abuse problem.
Here are the highest-resolution versions of our images. What follows is the story of how we got them.
It's rare in life that you and Rob Ford learn the same lesson at the same time. Generally speaking, it's fair to assume that you are smarter than Rob Ford, and will not make the same mistakes as he has.
Nevertheless, it happens. This week, Rob Ford and I both learned: Don't trust drug dealers.
Early Monday morning, Gawker received an email from an address that identified that sender as someone named Jermaine. "Is your organization still interested in Rob Ford?" it asked. "I have a video of the mayor smoking crack taken very recently."
Our organization was, and is, still interested in Rob Ford. We replied. Later that day I received a phone call from an Ontario phone number. I answered: "Jermaine?"
"Yes," came the reply. "I mean, no." The man on the phone explained that Jermaine was a friend, whose email he was using.
Jermaine—Jermaine's friend, rather—and I spoke for ten minutes. He explained that he had a video of Rob Ford smoking crack, and wanted to sell it. He said that he was taking a great risk in reaching out to me. In the event the video was published, he said, Rob Ford would recognize Jermaine as the only person on the scene who could have taken it—the only other people in the room having been a Ford relative and Alessandro Lisi, a longtime Ford associate. He believed his life could be put in jeopardy. I told him I'd need to see screen grabs, and he acquiesced. We agreed to stay in touch.
The next day, from the same Outlook account, I received three images, which you can see below.
To be sure, there's no evidence that Rob Ford is smoking crack in these photos. There's no evidence that he's smoking anything at all—just that he's holding a pipe of the kind that one might use to smoke a variety of different drugs. Still: Enough to make a reporter salivate.
The problem—as Jermaine's friend explained to me later on the phone—was that they wanted something fairly specific in exchange for the video: Another charity drive. That would reach six figures.
Last year, in an attempt to secure a video of Mayor Ford smoking crack that we didn't have the cash on hand to purchase, we'd launched a campaign on the crowd-funding site Indiegogo, with a goal of $200,000—the amount that the video's owners had demanded from then-editor-in-chief John Cook. As it turned out, that Indiegogo reached its target—but the video's owners had disappeared.
I explained to Jermaine's friend that not only was the Indiegogo a headache for us, it was also a failure: the video disappeared and we donated the money to various charities instead. He said that he would only give up the video for a "six-figure" sum. I told him that my site didn't even have a six-figure discretionary budget.
Over a series of emails and phone calls taking place across Tuesday, I offered him an amount in the mid four figures, or, alternately, a plan by which we'd pay him based on the page views the post received. Jermaine declined, scoffing that the figure we'd offered him was what he made in a week. Jermaine's friend, I mean. I told him to think it over and stay in touch.
Five minutes later, I was called back. "What about the photos?" Jermaine's friend asked. I said that he'd treated me well, and, given that he felt he'd be in danger if they were made public, I'd hold back on publishing them until we talked further. He emailed me the next day—that is, today, Wednesday: "Keep your proposal on standby, willing to meet you halfway. Will be in contact shortly."
About eight hours later, Twitter began rumbling about new breaking Rob Ford news. Robyn Doolittle, Canada's star reporter on the Rob Ford crack beat, had seen a tape. Soon the Globe and Mail published its story: "Rob Ford takes leave as new drug video emerges." At the top was one of Jermaine's screenshots. He claimed via text that the Globe and Mail had paid him $10,000 for the stills, a fact the Globe and Mail has since confirmed.
The full video has presumably lost much of its market value, but Jermaine's friend knows where to reach us if he still wants to make a deal.
The paper reports that the video "was secretly filmed in his sister's basement early Saturday morning." Below, courtesy of the Toronto Sun, is audio of Ford "ranting and swearing in an Etobicoke bar" on Monday night.
[There was a video here]