WCCO Duck Dog Story
New details have emerged regarding the WCCO-TV story broadcast October 31 that falsely claimed local dogs were being sold as meat for human consumption in New York City's Chinatown, and it doesn't look good for I-Team reporter James Schugel and his bosses.
The entire chain of command was involved in the decision to run what has become known as the "duck/dog" story, all the way up to CBS corporate in New York, according to a WCCO newsroom source who spoke to City Pages on the condition of anonymity for fear of being fired.
"It was approved by multiple middle-manager producers, and the CBS lawyer," says the source. "Our news director hasn't said a word, hasn't approached anyone in the newsroom about it. He may make heads roll before his head rolls."
The source decided to speak in detail about the duck/dog story because the station has failed to address the mounting controversy over the erroneous report, which seemed inspired by a stereotype about Asians eating dogs. Both the Asian American Journalists Association and the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists have blasted WCCO for refusing to publicly address the matter.
The problems with the truthfulness of the broadcast started with a misleading promo, which implied a member of WCCO's I-Team had traveled to Manhattan in pursuit of the story. "Before the story even aired, you're starting it off with a lie."
In fact, a reporter from the CBS affiliate in New York was deployed to Chinatown to ask if the meat market in question also sold dogs as pets, according to our source. The question met with a confused "No."
Next, Schugel called the Chinatown meat market on the telephone from the WCCO newsroom, and it was in this interview that the confusion arose over whether the market sold "duck" or "dog."
"In that phone call, he asked if they spoke English, and they said, 'No, not very good.' That's how the conversation started out," says our source. "That for me would have been a red flag as a journalist, to ask them to spell it out. I think he was so eager to get the dog part of it."
Schugel wasn't the most popular personality in the newsroom even before the duck/dog mistake, says the WCCO source.
"He's an enigma," the source says of Schugel. "He sits with his back to the newsroom and puts his headphones on. That's how it's been since Day One. It's weird."
Schugel was originally a part-time reporter, but he got a big boost under WCCO VP and General Manager Brien Kennedy. But it wasn't just Schugel's reporting that impressed Kennedy, according to our source. "They're fraternity brothers and go to the same church."
With so many higher-ups having skin in the game, it's no wonder WCCO has clammed up and refused to comment on the controversy. We called WCCO Director of Communications Kiki Rosatti yesterday and read her a detailed account of this story's allegations, including the social connection between Kennedy and Schugel, and she still refused to offer anything more than boilerplate as a response.
"This station has no comment on the story," Rosatti repeated in response to each allegation.
WCCO has also removed all traces of the duck/dog story from its website, including the only known video of the original broadcast. The secrecy surrounding the story extends internally, according to our source, and all remnants have been deleted from WCCO's newsroom servers, which typically archive pieces long after the original air date.
"Everything related to that story is gone," says the source, who suspects the files have been preserved in a private location in the event of litigation. "Maybe they just moved it to a different place for the lawyers to take a look at."
The source says it is the worst controversy to hit WCCO since the Northwest Airlines case in 1996, and the station's refusal to address the situation casts a cloud over the newsroom.
"The fact that it's all missing and nobody's talking makes it seem even worse," says the source. "It's only been a week out. It hasn't really taken legs yet, but when it does, it's going to get really ugly for our newsroom."
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