Last spring, she was one of two Toronto reporters to view the infamous Rob Ford crack video firsthand. Since then, Robyn Doolittle has appeared on CNN, penned a book about the mayor (Crazytown, out in February), and written herself into the biggest story to hit Toronto since…never mind. We talked to the Star’s breakout newsie about shocking revelations, a career-making scandal, and why discounting Ford in 2014 would be a rookie mistake.
On Friday, the police will release the rest of the information from Operation Brazen 2. How do you prepare for these types of revelations?
I’m not really doing that story. Our police reporter has been handling the Brazen case, and Kevin Donovan has been stickhandling the whole thing. I won’t be involved except to get reactions from City Hall. I have an idea of what’s in the documents. It’s going to be in the same vein as what we we already know. There has been a climax in this story, and now we’re on the coming-down side.
So, we’ve maxed out on shocking revelations, then?
I can’t comment on what’s in it, but I would say as soon as he admitted to smoking crack, we’d crossed something.
Was there a single spectacle that stunned you the most?
You have to remember that I’ve been researching this guy for almost two years, so a lot of this stuff wasn’t news to me when it came out. For me, the moment that will stick out 20 years from now will be the day that the chief of police announced that they had the video. It was a turning point in the story and, for me, a complete surprise. I had no idea that was coming. I thought that the video was gone.
Was it validating when Chief Blair confirmed everything you had reported?
I’m not going to say it was validating. I didn’t need the chief of police to know I was right. I can say that I was really excited that people were getting the chance to see this video. I understand why people needed to see it with their own eyes.
Since the crack-video story emerged last spring, you’ve dealt with a lot of criticism. Is there a specific type of comment that irks you most?
Attacks about my age or gender or appearance were the most irksome. There are a lot of interesting ethical debates around this story, which both the journalism community and the public at large have been having for the past several months. But when you bring in my gender—what the hell does that have to do with anything?
Okay, let’s discuss your book. You have promised “shocking new revelations.”
I actually just finished the book this morning at 12:12 a.m. My hope is that readers come away with an understanding of why Rob Ford is the way he is. I pull out many of the events I think shaped him, the patterns that have developed. When you tell the story of Rob Ford, there is clear foreshadowing.
Doesn’t writing about previously unreported info now conflict with your job at the Star?
I certainly wouldn’t have written the book without the Star’s blessing. They have been supportive and understanding of how, when you are writing a book, you have to hold some things back. The Star has made a conscious decision to avoid some of the stuff with [Ford’s] family. You can’t give the same sensitive treatment in a 1,000-word article that you can in an 80,000-word book.
Is it fair to say the mayor has been trying to use his family to rehabilitate or improve his image?
It’s interesting to see the mayor saying, “Leave my family alone, leave them out of this,” and then he actively pulls them into the spotlight when he’s in trouble. When he was charged with domestic assault, he brought his three-year-old daughter out on his hip and encouraged her to say “no comment” to the cameramen. And, of course, bringing Renata [to City Hall] after he made those vulgar comments and dragging her through the crowd of reporters as opposed to [exiting through] the door on his right.
You have become something of a celebrity in your own right. What did it feel like to go from reporting on the story to becoming part of it?
I remember getting my hair cut a week or two after the story about the so-called crack video. I don’t have a regular hairdresser. I just popped into a place because my hair was so unruly, and the person cutting my hair was like, “Are you the crack girl?”
Having seen you on Piers Morgan and Anderson Cooper, you seem like a natural in front of the camera. Any aspirations along those lines?
I really love newspapers. I chose them for a reason. I’m really proud of the Toronto Star and the dozens of reporters and photographers and editors who worked together and made this story happen. If it hadn’t been for the Star, I do wonder whether this story would have come out. I hope that doesn’t sound too arrogant.
What about Ford’s future? A year from now, will he be locked up in the slammer or celebrating a second term?
I think that he absolutely could win. If it’s a crowded field and Ford has 20 per cent of people who will vote for him no matter what, and 20 per cent who are sympathetic to his agenda, he could win this mayoralty. Anyone who discounts him has not been paying attention.
Clark Kent or Superman?
Favourite international cuisine?
Thai food. All Thai food.
Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert?
You could never make me choose.
J.T.T. (a.k.a. Jonathan Taylor Thomas).
Desert island album?
Michael Jackson Number Ones.
Who should play Ford in the movie?
Philip Seymour Hoffman.
Who should play you?
Jennifer Lawrence—I’d just want to hang out with her.