There is a very short question that has deeply serious long-term implications for Canada's democratic life.
It is this: where is the video?
The slightly longer version of the question, perhaps necessary for those who have been away building the moon colony for the past month, is this: where is the video that the Toronto Star reported allegedly shows Mayor Rob Ford smoking crack.
In either its short or long form, the only answer to date—i.e. we don't have a clue—is unacceptable.
For Canada's largest newspaper in its culturally dominant centre to print such a devastating allegation of criminality and irresponsibility about the city's mayor was, given the sorry state of contemporary journalism, borderline understandable.
Perhaps the Star genuinely believed it was able to stand its story up by producing the goods and proving its case. That hasn't happened. There have been all kinds of sidebar stories generated as a result of the initial accusation, of course, and lots of frenzy as the one-eyed hounds of pack journalism bayed after their prey. But, to date, there is no video. No validation. Nothing.
Instead, the claim that Hogtown has a crack-smoking mayor who consorts with drug-dealing criminals has drifted from erupting scandal into an unsubstantiated assault on a public official's reputation, his character, and, ultimately, his personal and family life.
And it is something much worse still. It is arsenic to democratic life.
It is not toxic just because it might be defamatory of Rob Ford as an individual. It is poisonous precisely because we need to know, unequivocally, whether it is true.
We must have no doubt about whether or not the most powerful civic politician in the country is willing to addle his brains with a powerfully addictive illegal drug. More crucially for the long term, we must know with something approaching certainty that Canada's corporate old growth media outlets remain reliably above and beyond the mere re-purposing of bloodthirsty insinuation and gossip. We have the boundless muck of the web for that. We don't need more vectors for that kind of deadly anti-democratic venom.
After all the noise and nothingness of the past weeks, the Star has a responsibility to acknowledge on its front page that it cannot answer the short question above. It must admit it does not know where the video is. It must further own the ignominy by admitting that its most senior editors should have held the story until the mystery video was in their possession.
Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen. The combination of industrial-strength journalistic arrogance and fear of a massive defamation suit from Mayor Ford makes it virtually impossible.
So more of the trust, more of the charity, more of the justice that is the sine qua non of democracy will be allowed to go up in smoke. Of that, there can be no question.