TORONTO - A public relations expert suggests Rob Ford's decision not to host his weekly radio show on Sunday may indicate the Toronto mayor has yet to fully figure out how to respond to allegations he was recorded on video appearing to smoke crack cocaine.
Queen's University Professor Monica LaBarge said Ford should come out and directly say whether the alleged drug use the video reportedly appears to show is true — something she says Ford could have used this week's edition of his Toronto talk radio show to do.
"If there's nothing there then you should be able to say, 'No I have never done this and this is all fictional,' whereas quite clearly that has not come out as an answer," LaBarge said Sunday.
She said that in previous scandals either Ford, his spokesman or brother Coun. Doug Ford have flatly denied allegations of misbehaviour, such as a Toronto Star report in March alleging the mayor was removed from a military gala for being intoxicated.
But this time Ford and those who speak for him do not appear to have nailed down a strategy to handle the drug-use allegations swirling around the purported video, LaBarge said.
"For whatever reason it doesn't seem like they have a plan. So whether this video is true and the story is true or not, it seems like they're scrambling a bit," she said.
The Toronto Star and the U.S.-based website Gawker.com reported the story last week. Two reporters from the Star and the editor of Gawker said they viewed the cellphone video and said it appears to show Rob Ford smoking crack.
The media outlets reported the video was shown to them by an alleged drug dealer who has been reportedly trying to sell the video for at least $100,000.
Ford on Friday slammed the Toronto Star report on the video as a smear job and called it "ridiculous," while his lawyer Dennis Morris called the reports "false and defamatory."
Morris has also told the Toronto Star it was impossible to tell what a person was smoking by watching a video.
In an interview with The Canadian Press on Sunday Morris said he had not received any instructions from Ford about launching legal action against the Star and Gawker saying the matter was in "pause" until it's known whether a video will become public.
”We’ll await the revelation of the video if one exists,” Morris said. ”When it does maybe we’ll have some more ideas on what the contents might be.”
Morris wouldn't speculate on the possibility of legal action if a video fails to surface. Canadian defamation law puts the onus of proof on the media outlets, but a legal battle would distract Ford from his mayoral duties and be a costly venture, Morris suggested.
”You have to pay your lawyer, the lawyer doesn’t care where the onus is,” Morris said.
Doug Ford on Saturday told Vancouver radio station CKNW that he planned to respond to the story about his brother on Tuesday. He added he had "never seen my brother around crack cocaine — ever, in my entire life." He made a similar comment to Toronto radio station Newstalk 1010 — which hosts the Ford show.
But LaBarge said Rob Ford — and not his brother — should publicly state whether he has used the drug, and that not doing so only further fuels speculation about whether the video allegations are true.
Newstalk 1010 has said they expect the Ford brothers to be back hosting their show next week.
The Toronto Star has stood by its story and rejected any suggestions the paper was out to get the mayor. The Star said its reporters viewed the video May 3, but only published a story May 16 after a story appeared on Gawker.
Meanwhile, Gawker is trying to raise $200,000 from the public, which it says it needs in order to buy and post the alleged footage.
By Sunday afternoon it had raised more than $66,000 toward its goal.
On its website it was offering perks depending on the donation and whether the video deal goes through.
"Gawker said a contribution of more than $100 dollars would be worth a commemorative hand-drawn digital painting by a Gawker staffer that it said would depict Ford smoking crack cocaine." $1,000 dollars would earn a dinner with the Gawker staff in New York City. Gawker also said the first person who contributed $10,000 would get the actual iPhone that was used to record the video, if the owner turned over the iPhone as part of the deal.
Toronto Coun. Josh Matlow has told The Canadian Press that regardless of whether there is a video of Ford and whether it ever surfaces, in the meantime the city's public image is taking a beating due to the mayor not giving a full explanation.
”If he chooses not to then I think speculation will only increase and the harm to our city's reputation internationally will get worse.”
Another councillor, Frank Di Giorgio, said in his view the mayor's influence over council "will remain unaltered" until all the facts of the video become available.