In Toronto, citizens are wrestling with a difficult scenario: wily, unstable mayor Rob Ford is now implicated in a video that allegedly shows him smoking crack cocaine. But, the video is in possession of a group of Somali men who are involved in the very trade that supplied the crack to Ford, and they’re looking to sell it for six figures.
Determined to gain possession of the tape, Gawker editor John Cook (who flew to Toronto and saw the tape personally) has appealed to the wider audience of the website and asked that those interested in breaking the story with Gawker donate towards a $200,000 fundraising goal to purchase the tape and post it online for everyone. The Indiegogo fundraiser, the pun-laden “Rob Ford Crackstarter,” already has more than $86,000 a week before the goal deadline and includes a $10,000 tier that offers the phone that recorded the video in the first place.
Wait. Rewind. Gawker is asking its readers to front the cash for a video that those involved in the drug trade itself demand in exchange for it?
There are a lot of mind-boggling issues to unwrap in this single scenario, but first and foremost: as the body willing to engage in the transaction and openly capitulating to the price tag the video owners have set, why is Cook asking that readers pay for every single dollar that goes towards this video? Nowhere does it indicate that Gawker is throwing in any money towards procuring the Ford video, and Cook himself admitted in his original article that “It’s unlikely [the owner's] going to get six figures” for the video in question.
Yet, $200,000 is the flat goal for the Indiegogo fundraiser, and it’s 100% reader-backed.
Second, dealing in the procurement of scandalous footage, particularly a monetary transaction for it, already walks a fine line in journalistic ethics. Turning over $200,000 to people involved in the drug trade in order to procure a tape they recorded (ostensibly for this specific purpose) doesn’t necessarily engender a passionate confidence. Cook and Gawker are also, by committing to the owner’s price tag, agreeing to send five times more money than any other publication is willing to go (the last offer stood at $40,000). Committing to the transaction, and paying a high price for it, is seemingly couched in the fear that Ford and his office might pay the money to keep the tape from seeing the light of day. But it still doesn’t make the purchase right or justified.
In short: Gawker wants to help the citizens of Toronto take down Ford, but at what cost to the city? The publication, although encouraging users to pony up cash, is still keeping its hands as clean as possible. And that alone may be why so many people feel uncomfortable with their techniques.
There is, however a silver lining. Although Cook does mention on the fundraiser that if it succeeds, but the owners rescind their offer or disappear, the money will go towards a good place.
“In the even [sic] that, for some reason, the deal goes south and we raise the money but don’t get the video, Gawker pledges to donate 100% of the proceeds to a Canadian non-profit institution that helps people suffering from drug addiction and its various consequences.”
What do you think of Gawker’s crack video tangle? Let us know in the comments.