Paying for news? We’re now on a slippery slope

Rick MacLean
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The feeble attempt at humour went something like this.

A man offers a woman $1 million to get to know him better. She’s shocked, but she doesn’t say no right away.

“OK, how about $10,” the man says.

“What kind of woman do you think I am?” she demands.

“I already know that,” he says, “I’m trying to figure out the going price.”

Disgraced Toronto mayor Rob Ford didn’t tell that joke, at least he didn’t tell it on any of the many videos featuring him that have made the rounds recently. But he could have. Easily.

Of course, since it doesn’t include any curse words or racial slurs, it’s probably not part of his act. We can be thankful for small mercies.

We know the kind of man Ford is - how he behaves when he’s representing the city, and when he’s not officially on the clock - because of the dogged reporters who have spent months digging up information about his behavior.

Well, almost.

Yes, we can be reasonably convinced the stories about his out-of-control lifestyle are true. That’s because we’ve been able to see, and hear, the mayor in action. Repeatedly. The videos, photos and audio recordings surface with startling regularity.

That is also why we know the mayor is a bald-faced liar when it comes to his claims of having found religion and kept his pledge to kick the booze and live a snow-white life. We’ve seen the evidence that shows he’s not telling the truth.

But we’ve seen it not so much because of intrepid reporters, but because of scumbags eager to sell out their addict buddy for a few bucks. With friends like those, Rob, you don’t need to worry about your enemies.

Just this week we were treated to one more nail in the mayor’s electoral coffin, just months before his city goes to the polls in October. No less a journalistic power than the venerable Globe and Mail ran breathless stories about Ford’s latest mess.

And it had photos, courtesy of $10,000 it paid admitted drug dealers with itchy cellphone fingers.

There he was, Toronto’s mayor, a suspicious piece of copper pipe in hand. It certainly didn’t look like he was fixing a leaking faucet. And the reporters who saw the video version said the fact he was puffing on one end of the device suggested crack cocaine might have been smoldering inside.

Canadian journalists don’t do this. Pay for news, I mean. Americans? Some do. Does anyone really think the website got the tape of the Los Angeles Clippers owner slagging every non-white he could think of for free?

There’s a good reason reporters don’t pay. If you pay for stuff, people might lie or fake evidence to get your money. There’s the cost thing, too, of course, but let’s take the high road here.

Still, it didn’t take other news organizations long to run the photos too, although they took the less pricey path, using similar photos run by the American website

The editor of the Globe defended paying for the photos saying this was a matter of such public concern that the unusual step was necessary to help the public understand the issue.

He has a point. Plus, if Toronto’s mayor likes to hang out with known drug dealers in rough parts of town at odd hours, covering that means rubbing elbows with some not-very-nice people. And they won’t hand over photos and video for free when they can get $10,000 for it.

But it’s a slippery slope. Now we know the going price. There’s no way to turn back.

- Rick MacLean is an instructor in the journalism program at Holland College in Charlottetown.

Organizations: Holland College, Globe and Mail, Los Angeles Clippers

Geographic location: Toronto, Charlottetown

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