(Update, Thursday 11:25pm: Two recent developments suggest that the video is still unclaimed – both Gawker (whose “crackstarter” campaign has reached $160,000 with four days left) and The Star claim they’ve been out of contact with the owners since Sunday afternoon, and Rob Ford fired his Chief of Staff Mark Towhey on Thursday for allegedly telling Rob to “go away and get help”. In my opinion, this suggests that the video is still out there, because if Rob Ford had already bought it, there wouldn’t have been any need to fire Towhey, and he’d finally be able to go on the offensive. However, if we see Rob Ford make an impassioned defense of himself in the coming days, that will be a good indication that he’s tracked down the video. And if he follows it up with a lawsuit against The Star to give his conspiracy-theory supporters something to grasp, then we can pretty much assume it’s over and that the video will never see the light of day. For now, the circus continues, but it’s drawn on for sooooooo long that it feels like the fatal blow has already been struck, and all that’s left is to wait for him to bleed out…)
Even though Gawker has made a valiant effort to raise the $200,000 they claim will give them ownership of the Rob Ford crack video, the more likely resolution is that Rob Ford ends up buying it himself. I think this outcome is definitely the most likely of all possible scenarios, because Ford actually has quite a few advantages in this strange situation.
1) Rob Ford has undoubtedly figured out who took the video, and he knows who set him up. He’s probably the best-positioned to reach out to his dealers with an offer; he already has an established business relationship with them, and he’s guaranteed never to rat them out. This is his main advantage; even people with more interest in the video or access to more funds wouldn’t be able to actually place a bid with the current owners. They’re not advertising it on Craigslist, and they’re definitely not making themselves known to the public; the owners are clearly being cautious here, going through multiple go-betweens and engaging in all sorts of cloak and dagger tactics to protect themselves. They’re careful, they’re paranoid, and they’re not likely to want to deal with anyone they don’t already know – which, not coincidently, are the same rules that apply to higher-level drug dealing. As far as we know, the only people with a direct line (or even an indirect line) to the owners of the video are The Star, John Cook from Gawker, and Rob Ford himself.
(On a side note, I’m surprised that nobody seems to care that The Star, by reporting so many details about their interaction, has severely compromised the safety of these young men. Their identity is probably known to at least a few other people within their community, and it’s possible that someone may try to track them down in order to steal the video, now that its commercial value is known. Also, the owners have had their leverage reduced considerably now that the video’s existence has been made public, and they can no longer negotiate with other potential buyers without bringing more attention on themselves. Perhaps this was The Star’s plan from the get-go, because they’re effectively frozen out a number of potential competitors and boosted their chances of getting the video for free, or on the cheap… But hey, who cares, they’re just drug dealers, right? /sarcasm)
2) Rob Ford has access to a large amount of discretionary funds that likely would exceed that of any newspaper. Even though Torstar is a large corporation, they’ve fallen on hard times in recent years, and it’s hard to see them forking over six figures for a video like this after laying off so many of their own staff. Additionally, their expenditures are limited and constrained by a lot more red tape than Rob Ford or Deco Labels might be, and they would have to account for the funds somehow – they can’t simply come up with $200,000 in cash for an undocumented source. Because Torstar is a publicly-traded corporation on the TSX, their shareholders, their auditors, and the CRA would all look very poorly on such a transaction, which might even be considered money laundering. Even though they claim that they don’t pay for stories, that’s mostly irrelevant, because as an investment, the video probably isn’t worth all that much to them. I honestly don’t know if any media outlet could justify the expense, because whatever revenue they might think they can generate from this (by putting ads before the video, for example) it’s hard to imagine it generating more than $200,000. So Rob Ford could simply let it be known that he’ll top the highest offer, and wait for the bidding war to end.
3) Rob Ford values the video more than anyone else, and given how much money he spent on his campaign to win the Mayor’s job (and how much he’s planning to spend on his re-election bid) $200,000 isn’t a huge price to pay to save his job. I could see another potential mayoral candidate trying to buy the video, and possibly keeping it quiet until the next election, but I’m not sure which of the candidates might be so wealthy as to do so. Again, all the money in the world doesn’t do them any good if they don’t know how to get in touch with the video’s current owners. When viewed as just another campaign expense, the $200,000 price tag for the video doesn’t seem quite so outrageous.
4) Gawker’s crowd-funding attempt is interesting, but probably unviable (which is why I haven’t donated to them). For starters, how exactly will they take the funds out of the indiegogo account and deliver it to the drug dealers? Will they withdraw $200,000 in cash and try to bring it across the border (even though the maximum amount of money you can bring across the border is $10,000)? Will they write these hoping-to-stay-anonymous drug dealers a traveller’s cheque? How will they reconcile this purchase with the CRA, IRS, and both the United States and Canadian governments? In Canada, all transactions over $10,000 done through a bank must be recorded; how will they manage that? Even if they deposited the funds in a Canadian bank and tried to withdraw them here, banks don’t tend to release that much money in cash on a single day, especially to a customer they haven’t known for a long time. The legal and logistical problems of such a large transaction are a nightmare at the best of times, and when you’re trying to relay that amount of money to drug dealers who probably want to keep things quiet and anonymous, you reach a whole new level of difficulty that might be impossible to overcome. I suppose it’s possible that lawyers could facilitate the transaction, but I remember how complicated the legal documents were when I purchased my condo – this is likely to be far more difficult, and far more expensive.
Based on all of the above factors, the most likely outcome seems to be Rob Ford buying the video himself, and the only reason he hasn’t done so already is that the current owners of the video are letting the Gawker crowdfunding page drive up the price. If they want to cash out and guarantee their safety, then Rob Ford is uniquely positioned to provide that for them, both in funds and with a personal guarantee that he’ll never divulge their identities or bring them any harm (as long as the video never becomes public, anyways). The man with the most to lose is also the man with the most to offer – a perfect storm of circumstances that gives Ford the upper hand in this bizarre situation.
I really have no idea how this is going to play out, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned during Rob Ford’s tenure as mayor, it’s that he’s shown an almost savant-like ability to get away with things that would cost any other politician their job. When I sit back and consider all the advantages Rob Ford has in making this situation work out in his favour, I find it increasingly hard to bet against him.