Robyn Doolittle on Rob Ford and being compared to Zoe Barnes

Robyn Doolittle, one of the Toronto Star reporters who brought us the Rob Ford crack scandal and viewed the infamous tape is as ubiquitous in Toronto right now as Justin Bieber is ever. She’s everywhere, from Flare to whatever news channel or access cable show you happen to be watching at the moment. Her new book, Crazy Town, The Rob Ford Story, is a fun and comprehensive breakdown of the city’s last four years under Rob Ford. New revelations about the mayor include a troubling account of his wife Renata seeking help for her husband’s apparent drug addiction early in his mayoral term, and the likely possibility—according to Doolittle’s sources—that Ford has been using hard drugs for a very long time. I spoke with Doolittle about all of this.

Q: One of the biggest revelations in your book is that shortly after Rob Ford was elected, his wife Renata sought advice about her husband’s apparent drug addiction from a friend and former drug addict. It’s always seemed as though there was an unwritten rule against reporting extensively on Ford’s wife—and family members who are not in the public eye—but you broke that rule.

A: That was the toughest part of the book for me, grappling with that issue—with Rob Ford’s wife—Renata. It was also hard [grappling with reporting on] his sister Kathy and his brother Randy and his mother Diane, because they’re not elected officials and they didn’t ask to be in the spotlight. In the end I decided that I would only include details that I thought were really pertinent to filling out his story and this whole saga. With the Renata tape, to me the public interest was just so clear. She was discussing his drug use right after he’d been elected. The foreshadowing is unbelievable. She’s saying ‘we’re public officials now’ and ‘everyone’s going to be watching us,’ and he says [according to Renata] ‘I’ll give up the pills, but I’m not gonna give up the blow.’ Secondly, the conversation was being tape recorded unbeknownst to her. That tape recording was about 20 minutes long. I only included a small section that I thought was pertinent to Rob Ford’s story. This isn’t a book, I don’t think, that’s 90,000 words of gossip about the Ford family. I really did try to say, is this really relevant to Rob Ford’s story? Do people really need to know this?


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Q: How did you come to the conclusion that Ford had been using drugs since 2006?

A: Everyone has spun that. I don’t think that’s what I was trying to say. What I was trying to say is that [2006] seems like the moment he went off the rails. I found evidence of hard drug use according to people in his life dating back to his twenties. He’s always had drugs and alcohol in his life. He was arrested for marijuana possession and drunk driving in 1999 in the States, but in 2006, when his father died, that seems to be the moment when his personal life started spiraling out of control. I had sources indicate to me that that was they started talking about crack use.

Q: You also mention that Rob and Doug may not actually be that close?

A: I think that they are close, but I think that they have a love hate relationship. I think they present this appearance of brotherly love and that is not the case. But there’s no doubt that their lives are closely entwined. One of my favourite details in the book was this employee of Deco Labels recounting this idea that Doug was into politics. But Doug got stuck doing the business and Rob was left to do whatever. I see levels of resentment because of that.

Q: So much of Rob Ford’s persona is that he’s a businessman, but is there any evidence that he ever controlled part of the business or had any real hand in it?

A: I didn’t find any evidence that he was in a leadership role at the business. He certainly worked at Deco, he was in sales. He worked for the company, but I didn’t find any evidence that he was involved the way that Doug was, or Randy is now.

Q: When you saw the video, your editors said you had to keep it a secret—obviously. What was it like keeping a secret for so long?

A: My friends knew that I was doing something Ford related but knew not to ask. What was more difficult was, you want to talk to people about that. It’s a pretty—I don’t want to say traumatizing—but you want to say to people ‘Oh my god, this is what I saw, what is going on?’ You want to decompress. You want to sit and confide in someone, and I just wasn’t able to. And that was really difficult. And completely lonely.

Q: At the end of your book, you write that the only thing preventing Ford from putting his name on the ballot in the next election would be death or jail time. Do you think there’s anything that could prevent his supporters from voting from him—beyond death or jail time?

A: I think some of his supporters would vote for him even if he were in jail, although I don’t know if he could physically run if he was in jail. I think he’s going to run no matter what. I think it is entirely possible he could get re-elected but he can’t keep it up with these incidents like he has the last couple weeks. If he keeps popping up on YouTube at a bar I don’t think that’s going to be easy for him, but if he does lose a lot of weight and show people that he’s serious about getting healthy…I think people love a comeback story.

Q: When the story broke out online, I noticed you experienced a lot of sexism, most recently, comparisons to House of Cards' Zoe Barnes. Does that piss you off? Surprise you at all?

A: It really pisses me off, exclamation point, underline. But it doesn’t surprise me. And the Zoe Barnes stuff, while I am a fan of House of Cards, the show has done a great disservice to young female journalists. The crazy thing for me is when people tell me ‘you’re just like Zoe Barnes’ as a compliment. People really do think it’s a compliment and I’m just like ‘No!’ She’s pretty, so that’s good, but she sleeps with people to get her stories. She seems willing to compromise her integrity to get ahead and that is absolutely not what I am about.

Q: Still, better than Carrie Bradshaw.

A: Carrie Bradshaw is also just an awful, awful character, although I love Sex and the City.

Q: So where do you go from here? You’re such a big part of this story now. Will you continue to chase Ford?

A: I have no idea. I’d like to cover the election. And after that I think I’d like to do something else. I’ve been on this beat for four or five years.

Q: Are you bored of Rob Ford?

A: I’m bored of chasing him to the bathroom and standing outside the elevator. I hate chasing scrums. With Rob though it’s kind of required. One thing with the book I try to illustrate is that while this is very funny for a lot of people outside Toronto—he’s a YouTube sensation—he’s also the mayor of this city. This is serious. At some point, we all have to take a step back and say wait a minute, this guy has a say in the police budget? This guy is hanging out with gang members? This guy is opening himself up to blackmail? I think we all need to take a moment to consider the severity of the situation.

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