Robyn Doolittle on Rob Ford and being compared to Zoe Barnes

A conversation with the author of ‘Crazy Town’

Author Robyn Doolittle. (Photo by Steve Russell)

Author Robyn Doolittle. (Photo by Steve Russell)

Toronto Star reporter and author Robyn Doolittle is joining the Globe and Mail as an investigative reporter, editor in chief David Walmsley announced Wednesday. In the following interview, published in February, Doolittle talked about reporting on Toronto’s scandal-plagued mayor and her book, Crazy Town:

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 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?

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. 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.

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Robyn Doolittle on Rob Ford and being compared to Zoe Barnes

  1. Very weak accusations of sexism, also very boring interview.

  2. “Will you continue to chase Ford?” This question sums up what I have found the Star to do over these last years. And though there clearly is lots to chase after in Rob Ford’s life there clearly is also lots of junk in the lives of other politicians! With photographers hiding in the bushes outside the homes of politicians or sports stars, don’t you think there would be lots of material that would sell well??

    • The bottom line is no KW that is simply nonsense. Hanging with hookers, posing with soon-to-be dead guys, getting drunk then going to a crack house, being personal friends with owners of crack house, going to friend’s mother funeral, getting drunk and ticketed, chasing after reporters, making threats of lawsuits (daily), driving while drunk, making staff by you drinks while you are drunk, grabbing your opponents ass, dragging your spouse through reporters, the list goes on and on.

      Neither Tom Mulcair, nor Stephen Harper or even Justin Trudeau have anywhere near the energy required to be “Rob Ford”. There lives are boring, hollow shells compared to his and they will never justify the space in print.

      Rob Ford is exceptional, one of a kind, never to be repeated.

      • One of a kind? Swing a dead cat in a sports bar in Etobicoke, even during the day–maybe especially during the day–and chances are that you’ll hit 2 or 3 guys just like him. The only difference is that none of them will turn out to be the mayor of Toronto.

        • He’s definitely common except that he’s a rich guy.

          • But not corrupt like two counselors getting low rent for favors being ignored.

            This Ford issue says a lot for the (lack of) credibility of Canadian media. Back room corrupt boys clubs want the loose cannon Ford out of office so the dirty deals don’t get exposed.

            They don’t want drinking honest people in government top positions. Best way to achieve power is to be quiet corrupt and a well polished liar for false hope.

            Been voting long enough to become very cynical and media and politics.

          • You are using a very poor example of “unfairness”, That is if you are talking about Pam McConnel moving into the new subsidized apartments. I personally think this has merit. Much like asking Rob to buy one of the condo’s at 320 Dixon in order to keep an eye of everything. I realize everyone is suspect of “politicians”. They think of it like having a bowl full of jelly beans and asking children to come into the room and promise not to take any…and of course the kids will take “just one” if they think nobody will find out. Well after the MFP scandal city hall instituted many more checks and balances. But the public do not always appreciate the cost oif this additional “red tape” and still think of politicians as only looking out for themselves. Given that description why on earth do you think Rob’s hands are clean? Read CRAZY TOWN and be shocked to learn that Doug Jr. (the drug kingpin) is behind it all and has been since the mid 1990’s. First getting Doug Holyday in as mayor, then his father in as MPP, then an attempt to back John Tory’s run for mayor…BUT on the condition that he role over after 1 term for Robbie. The Ford’s have backed Harris, Hudak, Flaherty, Harper and on and on and on. They have paid their dues over the years and are now trying to cash in. Now do you think Rob is just the average guy?

        • I’d say the fact that he’s mayor to Toronto is a pretty important distinction.

      • He’s a Supernova.

    • Actually, just hanging out at city hall, generates quite a bit of activity. This morning it was the pride flag debacle and now he’s had the police come in so he can report a threat.

    • “This question sums up what I have found the Star to do over these last years” Couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that he refuses to publish his schedule and refuses to answer questions, could it?

    • I never cared what she looked like. All the criticism seems to be about that now. Kind of an Ad Hominem. So with that in mind, after seeing a photo, I’m like, ‘Oh, she’s cute. That must make her job difficult.’

      • Actually, she looks like a figure skater, which she
        was .. and maybe still is. Before she got stuck in the
        gravity field of Planet Ford she did a nice blog on the
        old Star site.

      • She was on Jon Stewart last night – she presents as a serious journalist. Jon was the only one making jokes about the good Mayor, as only he can.

        • Ya, because a “serious journalist” reports on what the Mayor had for lunch, right?

          • C’mon “Ricky”, Hizzoner only seems too happy
            to tell us all what he likes to eat and where he
            likes to eat it. Yer gonna have to do better.

          • Because if anyone values his privacy, it’s Rob Ford.

  3. There still is and always will be the support from die hard Ford supporters who don’t care that he lies to their face, he’s bought illegal drugs while mayor making him an admitted criminal, he’s a drug user, a drunk. addicted to food making him a ripe candidate for a heart attack, the list goes on and on. To them I say this.

    It’s fine to be a die hard liberal or conservative, but if you have unwavering support for a political party or person regardless of what they do, it’s hard to accept that you actually believe in anything. It’s okay for a mom to support her child’s decision to become a professional clown as long as it makes them happy. But that doesn’t mean she’s a good parent, it just mean she’s the mother of a clown.

    • So you wouldn’t be a Justin Trudeau supporter then, because of his admitted drug use?

      • Only you would think the two are comparable.

        • Nope. The vast majority of Canadians and Americans don’t see casual pot usage as comparible to crack cocaine.

          But the real issue is his numerous homicidal threats and the actual homicides of those who accused him. There is mounting evidence that Ford is guity of murder. That’s the real story here.

      • No I’m not a Trudeau supporter but that’s not the point.
        Ford is addicted to drugs, alcohol and food. Ford hangs out with known gang members, lies about his drug use then openly admits to buying and smoking crack which is a criminal offense. Add in all the other incidents of homophobia, sexism, gross public insults to his wife, the list goes on and on. He’s done all this while acting as mayor of Canada’s largest city meanwhile he’s a walking heart attack waiting to happen. He’s an international embarrassment.
        Are you trying to somehow justify Ford’s behavior by comparing all that to Trudeau smoking weed a couple times? Because that would really be grasping at straws.

    • what’s Rob”s cut on the book?

  4. Possibly this interview was a little trite, perhaps trivial.
    IMHO: Robyn Doolittle has forged quite a niche in the Toronto media.
    And, Rob Ford has become a major embarrassment to the city of my birth, and home.
    Robyn has not fueled the fire, she is only an observer,

    • Well said.

    • zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  5. As an American experiencing this story from the eye of the US media, it seems to me that the biggest problem Rob Ford faces is a lack of emphasis on his addiction. I hear wonderful things about him as a mayor – helping people who contact him, listening to his constituents, etc. However, the man is dealing with addiction and is not getting the help he needs.
    I wrote an article on addiction on my blog (granted, I am a new blogger and a poor writer). If anyone is interested on my take on the subject, feel free to check it out:

    • The degree to which Rob Ford attends to citizens is a large part of why he’s so popular with them. Ms. Doolittle said recently that those citizens like that he listens to them, and even phones them back, unlike most politicians would do. That makes him a good city Councillor, but not necessarily a good Mayor. Nevertheless, his fans don’t make a distinction between the two.

      His fans also don’t really care about him. If they did they’d perform an intervention. If you had a family remember who repeatedly lied to you and made your family look bad in public you’d either get that person fixed or disown him. Neither his civic nor his genetic families do either of those things.

      Nor does he really care about the citizens of Toronto. If he did he wouldn’t slam ethnics or LGBTQ people who constitute a significant part of the population, he wouldn’t abuse drugs and alcohol, and he wouldn’t urinate on public property.

      Rob Ford might be a fairly decent chap if he wasn’t so self-indulgent.

    • Ford made homicidal threats against all cyclists city-wide before getting elected.
      He’s diverted funds from community centres and libraries to increase subsidies for already heavily subsidized drivers in one of the most traffic congested cities in North America.

      And now, as the people who accused him and videotaped his drug-use mysteriously wind up dead, Ford has very likely already acted on his homicidal impulses.

      Were it not for the gross incompetence of our law enforcement agencies, Ford would have jailed some time ago.

  6. Isn’t that cute. A journalist writing about a journalist talking to a journalist about journalism. How bloody interesting!!!! Maybe Robyn Dolitttle could interview Emma Teitel about this article now. That’ll make it super-duper interesting!

    • Childish.

      • I don’t know if it’s childish, but it’s certainly boring and the laziest type of journalism possible.

        • We’ll this is certainly boring and the laziest type of trolling possible.

    • “A journalist writing about a journalist talking to a journalist about journalism.”

      I know you get confused, stupie, but it’s not that complicated.
      It’s just one journalist interviewing another about her work.

    • That was cute, Rick Omen – Quite rich coming from a pathetic hyper partisan troll whose mission in life is to make profoundly stupid statements and then insult those who take exception.

      Here’s a tip Rick – If you don’t like the writers, articles or comments written in Maclean’s or the Toronto Star about your heros like Rob Ford, then don’t bother reading them. We would all be delighted by your absence.

      But then you’d be out of a job, right?

    • That a boy Rick, shoot the messenger.

    • I thought it was interesting.

      • Rick is a moron. Don’t worry

  7. God, don’t take her off the Ford file, she’s doing such a kick-ass job. He’s only got a year in the limelight, let her ride the nuke all the way down.

  8. Supernovae can be triggered in one of two ways: by the sudden re-ignition of nuclear fusion in a degenerate star; or by the collapse of the core of a massive star. A degenerate white dwarf may accumulate sufficient material from a companion, either through accretion or via a merger, to raise its core temperature, ignite carbon fusion, and trigger runaway nuclear fusion, completely disrupting the star. The core of a massive star may undergo sudden gravitational collapse, releasing gravitational potential energy that can create a supernova explosion.

  9. I will take drunk and honest over polished and corrupt any time.

    There is a reason the back room wants Ford out. Media are bought and paid for in this regard as Ford gets more news being in a bar than someone who is robbing us with inflated contracts, expense fraud, tax evasion, buddy deals and back room control of our money.

    Pretty bad when union police spend more efforts on Ford than the mafia and drug cartel leaders.

    • Oh brother, dave (from Etobicoke?) give it up already. Even the Toronto Sun has called for the guy’s resignation. Apparently the “conspiracy” now involves everyone of all political stripes except Ford Nation – maybe it’s time to recognise that there is no “conspiracy”.

      And by the way, the way the police stumbled on Ford’s crack use is when they were “spending their efforts” on a drug (and gun) cartel.

      • Well there is merit in a side conspiracy theory involving the police. The police have certainly contained the “blowback” to other powerful politicians and themselves. Siad was beaten while in jail and told they didn’t want his copy of the crack video. Scott MacIntyre was brutally attacked while in West detention. The drug dealer shot in the leg outside apt 1702 at 320 Dixon isn’t talking. Anthony Smith’s murder was handled in a tidy tidy tidy fashion with no disclosure and the police have announced that there is no connection to Anthony Smith, the crack video and Rob Ford. The murder out in Edmonton has been declared not relevant by the police. Project Traveller suspects have behaved like perfect gentlemen in court. On and On and On

    • You say “drunk and honest”……why on earth do you think he is honest. He is playing out the Ford Power Grab…so that the criminal element can take over Toronto. the 4th largest municipality in North America!
      Grow up and take care. Doug Jr. was the drug kingpin many years ago with strong connections to the criminal element. Who knows how much they have already infiltrated the police over the past 30 years. They certainly have infiltrated the judiciary and provincial and federal politicians.
      Be scared!

    • I get the drunk part… but honest? You really haven’t been paying attention.

    • Obviously the honest thing needs a bit of work.
      The “honest small businessman” is just a carefully crafted media story. The guy was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and has no idea how honest people live.

    • Well, Rob DOES have connections to the drug cartel. Video? Pictures? People being shot and killed? What efforts on Ford? He has not been busted for his (recorded) crack use. Possibly he has tax evasion, expense fraud and buddy deals too. Anybody who is recorded using an illegal drug is pretty dumb.

  10. Is there a chapter in the book about harassing seniors?

    • Is someone bothering you at Burger King?

  11. a country girl is surprised at corruption in the city

  12. I never thought that life is such boring in Toronto, don’t they get tired of the same crap day in – day out, change channel or subject, or just anything, CUT IT OUT! Look at yourselves in the mirror, for a change

  13. Job well done Robyn. Just being an observer. Holding up the facts to be reviewed by everyone. I mean his staff were worried and asked him to resigning and get help. So he fired them. He was missing in action most days. Playing football, smoking rocks and drinking vodka in the park. Councillmen couldn’t talk to him. He made all decisions on his own. This went on for over a year. Stories of drugs, drinking, spousal abuse and women in his office. He made the news when he fired his staff and video came out. Went downhill from there as Ford tried to contain the emerging story.
    He was unfit and there was nothing anyone could do!
    When I read her book and learned that Doug Jr is behind the Canadian Kennedy image I almost croaked. Made sense on one level. He was very high up in criminal activity selling illicit drugs in his 20’s….much like Joe Kennedy made his mark with criminals selling bootleg booze……So maybre the criminals from Chicago and New Jersey want to get their fingers into Canadian politics and the Fords are their entry card. Hmmmmmmmm.

  14. I don’t really see the appeal of House of Cards. The quality of writing, characterization and storytelling is so heavy-handed and just isn’t in the same league as primo HBO offerings. Not sure how anyone managed to get beyond the second episode without looking for more intelligent offerings.

    • I think it’s 1/2 subject matter and 1/2 Kevin Spacey for most people.

  15. A profile of Rob Ford is really about his enablers: the people of Toronto. The real story is about how an entire city and its citizens can reach this depth of dysfunctional sociopathy. Rob Ford is representing the real Toronto on the world stage, but he is merely a figurehead for a city with a demented and ugly soul.

  16. Not a single comment on the city that builds public housing away from transit on prime lakefront land, has 25% more police per capita, 35% more firefighters per capita, builds multi-million dollar showers in city parking lots and plans slow no-go LRTs for Sheppard and Finch Avenues? The human rights abusers in city council meetings? The 24-hour+ budget meetings attended by hundreds of gov. workers to pitch their own particular sinecure? The city of the billion-dollar annually budgeted slum housing for 100,000? The city that spends $122K per homeless person to keep them homeless? The city of the $70M hostels budget and the 80,000-name housing “waiting list,”. The city with between 500 to 5,000 homeless persons. The city whose media shows off foolish citizens who protest replacing noisy polluting prop planes with environmentally friendly whisper jets?

    Oh c’mon.

  17. Interesting isn’t it?
    Star reporter harasses and chases the Mayor of Toronto to the bathroom…..writes a book, and will make a small fortune in book sales and movie rights.
    Right now…I’m thinking Ms. Doolittle is thanking the heavens for providing Toronto with Rob Ford.
    Rest of Toronto…not so much.

  18. Glad they found a way to work the sexism angle into this. Wouldn’t feel right without it.