Globe public editor: The Fords, the facts and the use of anonymous sources

By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail

By Sylvia Stead, public editor of The Globe and Mail

When the Ontario Press Council dismissed complaints against The Globe and Mail and The Toronto Star this week for their stories on allegations of drug involvement by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford and his brother, Councillor Doug Ford, it said each paper had followed appropriate journalistic guidelines, especially with regards to the use of anonymous sources.

But the council also said the general public doesn’t know enough about those guidelines. Frances Lankin, the chair of the council, said greater transparency will “help the public understand the journalistic guidelines and court decisions that define the ethical and legal parameters.”

So, in the interest of greater transparency, here is the backstory on The Globe’s allegations that Doug Ford sold hashish as a young man.

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The story started when reporter Greg McArthur and freelance writer Shannon Kari paired up to do a profile of the newly elected mayor and his prominent family. As the reporters interviewed people who knew the Fords, all the conversations quickly turned to Doug Ford and allegations of his drug dealing.

This took the two reporters on an 18-month journey, interviewing dozens of sources and narrowing down the key interviews to those who said they had direct knowledge of the alleged drug dealing. They checked court records; they also used FaceBook and details from other sources to confirm that the sources were involved, corroborating facts at every turn. Then the reporters, senior editors and, in some cases, a lawyer revisited the key sources to confirm their details. Extensive efforts were made to convince the sources to go on the record, but in the end they were concerned that their background would taint them or make it difficult to cross the border.

The story was almost ready to go when news broke of the video alleged to show Rob Ford smoking a crack pipe. It ran soon after.

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