Toronto Star Editor-in-Chief Michael Cooke and reporter Kevin Donovan answered questions during an Ontario Press Council review of the Star's story, which ran under the headline "Rob Ford in 'crack cocaine' scandal" on May 16.
The paper alleged it had viewed a cellphone video that appears to show the controversial and outspoken mayor smoking crack and supported the video by interviewing confidential sources who confirmed its validity. The Star said the video was given to them by a source on condition of anonymity and the paper is ethically bound to protect the source, who feared reprisals if identified publicly.
"I'm telling you with great emphasis that story is true," Cooke told the press council. "Every word of it ... a connection between drug dealers, gun dealers, a crack house and the mayor of Canada's largest city are the definitions of something that can and should be explored in the public interest."
The Ontario Press Council oversees 1,400 newspapers in the province and serves as an arbiter of disputes between press agencies, readers and sources. A panel of journalism experts examines a paper's reporting and determines whether it was fair, whether the sources in a story were given the opportunity to respond and whether their responses are fairly characterized. If the Star's reporting isn't deemed up to ethical standards it will be forced to print the council's findings, unedited, The Globe and Mail said Monday.
Ford was not quoted in the story though the Star said it tried contacting the mayor 14 times the day prior to publication.
"The question simply needs no preparation," Cooke said. "'Is that you in the video and are you smoking crack cocaine.' A person needs no time or research to respond... there was no way we could sit days, weeks, months for waiting for Rob Ford to give an intelligent response."
Ford was invited to attend the hearing but didn't show. The appeal was filed on his behalf by a Star reader who also chose not to speak at the hearing.