Two newspaper stories detailing drug allegations against Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his councillor brother, Doug Ford, are being scrutinized at Ontario Press Council hearings today, with the Toronto Star vigorously defending its reporting.
The council is looking into complaints about a Star story published May 17 that alleged Rob Ford was videotaped smoking crack cocaine, and another against a Globe and Mail story published a week later about allegations that Doug Ford was a drug dealer in his youth.
At issue, the council says, is whether the newspapers "engaged in irresponsible, unethical investigative reporting." The council will also address issues such as whether the stories are in the public interest and whether or not the Fords were given ample time to respond to allegations in the stories.
"I tell you now, with great emphasis, that the story is true. Every word of it," said Michael Cooke, editor-in-chief of the Star, of the story headlined "Rob Ford in 'crack cocaine' video scandal" that appeared online on May 16 and the following day in the print edition of the Star.
"Mayor Ford still owes Toronto a full answer," Cooke said.
He said the Star gave Rob Ford 14 chances to respond to the story the night before it ran.
He said Ford has yet to substantively address the allegations and has instead spent recent months "ducking and dodging" questions on the issue.
The mayor has said he does not smoke crack cocaine and that the video does not exist. Doug Ford has also denied he was a drug dealer in his youth, as the Globe story alleged.
The Fords were invited to file complaints with the press council so they could participate in Monday’s hearings, but had not done so by Friday. The Fords did not attend Monday’s public hearings.
'We do not have a vendetta against Mayor Ford'
On several occasions throughout his term as mayor, Rob Ford suggested the Star's coverage in particular was targeting him unfairly. Cooke responded directly to that charge during Monday's proceedings.
"We do not have a vendetta against Mayor Ford," he said. "We simply don't."
The Ontario Press Council has raised the issue of anonymity in the story, as no sources were named in the Star's investigation into purported drug use by the mayor. Star writer Kevin Donovan, who reported the story, said it was in the public interest to publish it, and without anonymity there would have been no story.
Two complaints made to the press council will stand in for the dozens filed against the newspapers over coverage of the Fords.
The council has no legal authority and does not rule on whether or not the reports are true, only whether they were reported responsibly.
In a story published on Monday, Cooke said he welcomes the chance to defend the newspaper's reporting on Rob Ford.
"Any time we have an opportunity to talk about and debate journalism, we welcome it," he said. "Accuracy and fairness is our bread and butter."
The hearings are being held at Ryerson University. The complaint about the Star story was heard at 10 a.m. ET. The complaint regarding the Globe and Mail report began Monday afternoon.
Globe and Mail staff members were questioned about the paper’s reporting of the personal struggles of the Ford brothers’ siblings.
There was also discussion about the use of anonymous sources in the story that alleged Doug Ford had dealt hashish in his youth.
The councillor has denied the allegations made in the report and publicly said he has "never dealt hash" in his life.
The day after the Globe and Mail report was published, the mayor and his brother talked about their frustrations with the press on their weekly radio show.
Mayor Ford then called the media "a bunch of maggots," but subsequently apologized for characterizing them in that way.
The press council decisions will be made public and posted on its website later this month. The council's full ruling will also be published in both newspapers.
With files from The Canadian Press and the CBC's Jeff Semple