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Edison did it first, but Westinghouse did it better—just as Gawker did it first, but the Toronto Star did it better.

After reading this email exchange between Gawker features editor, Tom Scocca, and Star publisher, John Cruickshank, about the Rob Ford crack video, you have to think that being compared to the most prolific inventor in American history is the best Gawker could hope for.

Thomas Edison’s direct current power system was once the standard for electric power distribution in the United States. But in the late 19th century, a new technology calledalternating current threatened direct current’s supremacy, and millionaire entrepreneur George Westinghouse bought in.

It quickly became clear that AC was the superior system, but that didn’t stop Edison from sulking through the contretemps. He spread disinformation about the supposed dangers of AC; he lobbied in state legislatures against its use; he called death by electrocution “being Westinghoused.”

Eventually, gracelessly, Edison lost the War of Currents.

In the War of Current Affairs, Scocca comes off no better. True, Gawker broke the story first, and the Star might have awarded Gawker more credit for doing so, but the Star did not “sit around impotently wondering how to eventually go about informing the public,” as Scocca claims.

The Star waited until it had the facts—facts like the identity of the person on the video heard to make a homophobic slur (Ford, not an off-camera anonymous), the target of the slur (Justin, not Pierre, Trudeau), and the nature of the slur (Ford called Trudeau a “fag,” not a “faggot”); facts as easily Googleable as the demonym of Toronto; facts a U.S.-based gossip website need not ascertain.

Perhaps, following police chief Bill Blair’s corroboration of the crack video’s existence and contents, Cruickshank was sanctimonious in trumpeting the indispensability of the mainstream media. Perhaps the Toronto Star really did spike the football, but the crack video story is no less the Star’s than it is Gawker’s, and Gawker’s account is no more accurate for having been first.

Long after Edison had lost the War of Currents, in 1903, he electrocuted Topsy the elephant with AC power. By that time, AC had largely replaced DC, and Edison was still bitter about the defeat. After all, Edison, like Gawker, got there first.

Well, perhaps Gawker will be the first subject of a new journalistic idiom. TV shows jump the shark. Tom Cruise jumps the couch.

Gawker electrocutes the elephant.

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About the author

Graeme Bayliss was the Chief Copy Editor - Print for the Spring 2014 issue of Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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