The Rob Ford reality TV show took another unexpected twist Tuesday when Robyn Doolittle, one of two Toronto Star reporters responsible for the "crack smoking" story, went all Joan of Arc, throwing herself at the stake of modern-day misogyny. More on that in a moment.
Last week, of course, the Toronto Star and Gawker, a gossip website, reported that Ford, mayor of Toronto since 2010, was caught on tape smoking crack cocaine with Somali drug dealers in Rexdale, a neighbourhood in northwest Toronto.
Since then, Ford's gone mute, refusing to answer any questions. His response is unacceptable and, in my judgement, proof that he's unworthy of his current rank.
Meanwhile, many Canadians, including many members of Canada's journalistic community, have raised questions about the Star's conduct.
You know, negotiating with drug dealers. Granting them anonymity. Peddling innuendo. And helping instigate a bidding war for the alleged cellphone video of Ford smoking crack.
On his blog, John Miller, former Star editor and professor emeritus at the Ryerson School of Journalism, said the story is a "matter of public interest... but was it good journalism? Not in my opinion."
Ross Howard, Langara College journalism instructor and one of the most respected voices in Canadian journalism, said this: "There is just something very tawdry about 'Hey, we will buy anything and make it a story.'"
Which takes us back to Ms. Doolittle.
On Tuesday, in my last Huffington Post column, I also noted the tawdry nature of the whole affair and the minimal skill/effort required to a) respond to a tip, b) view a cellphone video and c) write about it.
During the course of that column, I also briefly described (in flattering terms, mind you) Doolittle's appearance.
That's standard fare for columnists. It paints a picture for the reader and hopefully makes the column more interesting.
However, in response, Doolittle took to Twitter and spun my legitimate criticism about journalistic ethics and procedure into an attack on female reporters everywhere.
"It's all good," she tweeted. "7 yrs into my career & I'm I'm [sic] used to the pathetic double standard afforded to female journos."
Tweets are brief. I get that. But Doolittle's response is telling. She failed to address the widespread concerns about her reportage, and opted instead for a straw man strategy starring yours truly. It's a familiar defense aimed at ending debate. Call someone a sexist, a racist, a homophobe. I've heard them all. But I've never used them.
Let's look again, however, at what Doolittle told the CBC last Saturday after the Star published a front page photo of Ford and three black men who have no known connection to the alleged video, drug-dealing or crack cocaine. "We were just trying to demonstrate that our source was connected to that world in some way," said Doolittle, "and that his claims that he had video of the mayor smoking crack cocaine did seem more plausible when presented with that photo."
Now, I'd never call Doolittle a racist. I don't know her, I've never met her. And it's not her job to make final decisions on front page photos. But her contention, that a photo of Mayor Ford with three black guys bolsters the claim that Ford is a crackhead, raises questions only she can answer.
Finally, I can't help wonder what three prominent female Canadian columnists, who'll remain nameless, think about Doolittle's behaviour. These three women often offer opinions outside the narrow orthodoxy of Canadian journalism, and subsequently, face regular criticism of the most venal kind. Yet I've never seen them play the damsel in distress.
Maybe Doolittle's got some growing up to do. Maybe the Rob Ford chase has skewed the Toronto Star's perspective.
Or maybe I'm just sexist.