The editor of the online news site Gawker claims to have viewed a video in which Toronto Mayor Rob Ford appears to smoke crack cocaine.
The video in question was up for sale, Gawker editor John Cook told The Globe.
While other media outlets are reporting on the video, its authenticity has not been tested.
Calls and messages to the mayor’s spokesman and his brother were not returned. Just after 1 a.m., all was quiet at Mr. Ford's Etobicoke home. The house's exterior lights were on, while the inside was dark.
Deputy Mayor Doug Holyday, in an interview Friday morning, said he has not seen anything in his dealings with the mayor that would indicate Mr. Ford is a drug user.
"Who knows whether the video is accurate or not accurate? That's the thing, I guess," he said, adding the video could be staged.
Councillor Josh Colle, a moderate on council, called the allegations "wild" and "shocking" and urged the mayor to address them quickly.
"It needs to be addressed just immediately. We can't have this hanging over us," he told CBC radio Friday morning.
Mr Colle said stories about the mayor's behaviour are draining and take away from important issues.
"There's just been so many distractions and it has been ongoing," he said. "It's not healthy or good for the city, that's for sure."
In a post at 8:28 p.m. Thursday night, Mr. Cook details a trip to Toronto for a meeting with an anonymous tipster who claimed to have a video, recorded within the past six months, of Mr. Ford inhaling from a glass pipe. Mr. Cook said the tipster got in touch with Gawker by sending an e-mail to its tips line.
According to his post, Mr. Cook met with two men, the tipster and the owner of the video, and watched the video on a phone with a touchscreen.
“The only person in the frame is Rob Ford. It’s very well lit and very clear. It’s Rob Ford sitting in a room that appears to be a house or an apartment, it’s a residence, and there’s a voice off-camera,” Mr. Cook said.
“Ford has a glass pipe in one hand; it’s the kind that has a globe with two glass cylinders sticking out, one for inhaling, the other one that holds the drugs, and he’s got a lighter in the other hand. Throughout the course of the video, which lasted from my recollection roughly 35 seconds, he’s laughing at what this voice off camera is saying. And then he leans in and lights the pipe and inhales.”
Mr. Cook has never seen Mr. Ford in person but said he was “100-per-cent sure” that it was the mayor in the video, based on his own “visual assessment” and what he heard from the tipster and the person who owned the video. In his post, Mr. Cook wrote that he “spent a lot of time looking at photographs of Rob Ford” before his trip to see the video.
Mr. Cook said the tipster had also approached a Canadian news outlet attempting to sell the video, though he would not divulge which one. According to Mr. Cook, the Canadian news outlet offered the owner of the video $40,000, which he turned down.
The Toronto Star began reporting on its website this evening that “The Toronto Star has seen the video in question.” Contacted by The Globe, Toronto Star Editor Michael Cooke said the Star had not paid to obtain the video.
The tipster told Mr. Cook how he got the video, however Mr. Cook would not divulge the details.
Gawker Media’s New York-based blog network of eight websites forged a reputation for shocking headlines and titillating stories, many gleaned from other media sources.
But it has also made forays into substantive original journalism. Its sports-oriented Deadspin broke the story in January that Notre Dame’s star linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, whose death last fall was reportedly the inspiration that prompted him to lead his team to repeated victories, did not actually exist.
According to information posted by web-traffic tracking site Quantcast, the Gawker group ranks 33 among U.S. websites, with over 51 million unique visitors per month. The gawker.com sub-site ranks 142 for traffic among U.S.-based websites with 11 million unique visitors per month.
Mr. Cook previously achieved notoriety for posting a 446-page list of “every licenced gun owner in New York City” from the New York Police Department. He was also credited with landing an exposé of the Fox News Channel by having an employee who was known as “The Fox Mole” contribute anonymously to Gawker.
With a report from Simon Houpt, Sunny Dhillon and Elizabeth Church