How Toronto's Papers Covered the Release of the Rob Ford Crack Video
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How Toronto’s Papers Covered the Release of the Rob Ford Crack Video

In Front Page Challenge, Torontoist analyzes the best and worst of Toronto’s major dailies.

“As for a video, I cannot comment on a video that I have never seen or does not exist.” – Rob Ford, May 24, 2013

“I want the police chief, Bill Blair, to release this video, for every single person in the city to see.” – Rob Ford, November 3, 2013

Yesterday morning, the Crown dropped extortion charges against Ford friend and occasional driver Sandro Lisi, and all evidence in the case could now be released from the publication ban. This included the notorious cellphone video of the late former mayor Rob Ford smoking crack in the basement of 15 Windsor Road, filmed on Family Day weekend in 2013. Within an hour of the judge’s decision, major news outlets made it available online. The Front Page Challenge jury was quickly convened for a special edition to cover how Toronto’s daily newspapers would cover the public premiere of a video that was once the biggest story in town.

globe aug 12
The Globe and Mail

The Globe and Mail does not include the Rob Ford Crack Video or the dismissal of charges against Lisi on the front page. The closest they come to mentioning drugs on page one is a story on Health Canada lifting prohibitions on the testing of medical marijuana. Their main stories today concern Toronto’s Penny Oleksiak setting a new Olympic record in the 100 metre freestyle event alongside American Simone Manuel, China’s plans to halt annual exports of Canadian canola seed (trade worth $2-billion annually), and more information on the RCMP’s successful intervention in a terror plot about to be carried out by a young Canadian man described as an ISIS sympathizer. The Globe‘s Crack Video articles are within the paper, in an article by Marcus Gee “Rob Ford Crack Video Is More Sad Than Shocking” and an editorial that praises the tenacity of the investigative journalists who doggedly pursued this story while Ford and his acolytes described them as “maggots” and liars for months, adding “Proof that the Ford tapes exist hopefully represents the final bookend on what was an embarrassing and shameful mayoralty.”

post aug 12
National Post

The National Post makes a teensy reference to the Crack Video premiere on the front page, pointing to a Chris Selley column on Page A6 that is somewhat defensive of the former mayor. He points out that the original transcription of the video’s contents by the Star and Gawker reporters erroneously credited Ford with homophobic and racist remarks he didn’t quite utter, and like Gee’s Globe piece, says that in the wake of Ford’s passing it evokes more sympathy than scorn. For the Post this morning, their major front page coverage is of the “Terror Takedown” in Strathroy, Ontario, including an exclusive from an expert on extremism who had been in communication with Aaron Driver months before the attack, and the inevitable Christie Blatchford column urging Canadians not to take the threat of homegrown terror lightly. Penny Oleksiak’s Rio Gold also makes the front page.

star aug 12
Toronto Star

The Toronto Star is the Canadian news outlet most associated with busting the Rob Ford Crack Video news wide open, and they are the only one of today’s papers that provide a still from the video on the front page, along with an elegiac piece from Kevin Donovan entitled “Me, the Rob Ford Crack Video and My One Regret” (spoiler: his regret is that he didn’t run out of Mohammed Siad’s bsckseat with the iPhone to post the video online and spare the city the years of violence, threats and chaos that followed the publication of their bombshell story). The Star‘s front page is otherwise consumed with the Aaron Driver story and Penny Oleksiak’s gold medal victory in Rio.

metro aug 12
Metro Toronto

Metro also omits all mention of the Ford Crack Video premiere from their cover today, devoting most of the front page to “Terror At Home”, with a spooky still from Aaron Driver’s video message taking credit for the attack that was fortunately thwarted in time. Metro does cover the public premiere of the Crack Video within the paper, sort of, with columnist Matt Elliott dismissing the big reveal as “a distraction” from the issues facing Toronto now that need to be addressed, such as Mayor Tory’s budget cuts, Toronto’s Deadly Streets, and reform within Toronto Police: “…together these kinds of issues represent Toronto’s future. Rob Ford, again in the spotlight as we gawk at a sad cellphone video, represents our past. I do not want to look back.”

Toronto Sun

sun aug 12
The Toronto Sun, in a somewhat surprising move, devotes their entire front page to Penny Oleksiak’s Olympic victory in the 100 metre freestyle. Generally the RCMP thwarting a homegrown terror plot would be worth at least a box on the front page, though perhaps out of respect to the Canadian Armed Forces (as Aaron Driver came from a military family in Alberta) the Sun doesn’t want to harp on the issue on page one for too many days in a row. But it is somewhat surprising that the premiere of the Rob Ford Crack Video does not merit a mention on the cover considering how much the Sun talked of the Crack Video for the last couple of years. Maybe they feel protective this morning of some of their columnists and editorialists who over the years repeatedly insisted the stories of the existence of the video were part of an organized smear campaign by Ford’s enemies. There is also a clear sensitivity as to the feelings of the Ford family and indeed Ford Nation itself, who might consider the Crack Video on the front page “yesterday’s news” at best or disrespectful to Rob’s memory and still-mourning family at worst. But there are “Ford Pages inside” today’s edition; an exclusive interview with Sandro Lisi, who reveals “I was disgusted when I saw the video, the way those animals took advantage of him” (and was sorry his old friend Rob wasn’t here to see the vindication of the end of the trial). There’s also a bitter column from Night Scrawler and noted Billy Ray Cyrus biographer Joe Warmington, “Failed Effort To Take Down Ford Cost Taxpayers A Bundle“, which laments the amount of money spent in pursuing Ford (including “chequebook journalism” and police expenditures the taxpayer is on the hook for), and how poor Sandro Lisi was the butterfly broken on the wheel, a pawn in a political game meant to destroy the only man left who cared for the little guy. (“It’s not going as well for Lisi. He’s unemployed and tarnished forever. And for what? Trying to get a video showing his troubled friend impaired and smoking something from a pipe to prevent him embarrassment?”).

This week’s winner: In terms of coverage of the premiere of the Rob Ford Crack Video, the Toronto Star wins by default as the only paper that provides true page one coverage. And with this, it appears that the tumultuous Rob Ford era has come to an ignominious and yet somewhat anticlimactic end, providing satisfactory closure to pretty much no one. With their victory, the Star is back in the mix for first place in this column’s weekly standings.

Newspaper Number of Wins
Toronto Sun 11
Metro 10
Toronto Star 10
National Post 6
Globe and Mail 5

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