Thursday, November 10, 2011

WCCO-TV's idiotic "Chinatown market sells dog meat" story: Reporter and news director need to come clean


So you've probably already heard about the rickperryian antics of reporter James Schugel, of CBS Minneapolis affiliate WCCO. If not, here's a quick recap: He conducted an exclusive investigation on how Minnesota dogs were being sent to New York Chinatown for consumption as meat. The heart of his report — an interview with a worker at Dak Cheong Market, where the dogs were allegedly being shipped, in which the worker apparently admitted over the phone to selling "dog meat." "Dogs...for people to eat?" Schugel asked. "Um, yeah. We sell many kinds of meat," responded the worker, in halting English.

(It should be noted that this conversation occurred after Schugel had sent his undercover "I-Team" crew to New York, where they investigated the premises with a hidden camera and (naturally) found no trace of dogs being consumed, butchered or sold.)

Now, those of you who are familiar with Chinese accents already know what's going on here. Yep, the worker was saying that they sold "duck" meat — ducks, "not for pets, but for eating." Because what kind of an idiot would go to a butcher shop to buy a pet

But that didn't stop Schugel and WCCO from highlighting the piece as a major story both on broadcast and on the web — until the real story came out and the station hastily pulled the online stream. The Asian American Journalists Association's Minnesota chapter has asked the station and reporter for an apology and explanation; none has so far been forthcoming. 

As usual, there's a much bigger concern here than just a single erroneous report. This is a case of a journalist going into a story with a clear agenda in mind: He wanted to uncover proof of dogs being eaten by Chinese people. Probably not because of any desire to slander Chinese; to give him the benefit of the doubt, he was likely motivated by the desire to "break" a big and shocking story. But the rationale for Schugel's lack of appropriate journalistic skepticism is moot. The fact is, when an initial — and expensive — foray didn't obtain the evidence he wanted, he pushed until he got support for the conclusion that would generate the most reaction.

Did he consult with experts in Chinese culture, cuisine or immigrant communities? Doesn't seem like it. And given the obvious likelihood that a language barrier would exist between the Kansas City, MO-raised Schugel and his prospective source, did he seek out the services of a translator to communicate in his over-the-phone interview? Nope. 

It's a no-brainer to point out that a station with reasonable diversity at all levels of the newsroom would probably have an Asian American individual capable of raising questions about both Schugel's reporting and conclusions before he and the station embarrassed themselves so badly.

But really, all it would have taken here is for a news director to engage a garden-variety B.S. detector: Even assuming a Chinese market were illegally importing dogs from another state to sell as meat, would they be idiotic enough to admit it, matter of factly, over the phone to a non-Chinese stranger

(It should be noted that, despite numerous rumors and unfounded allegations, no one's ever found a legit case of dogs being butchered and sold or served in the U.S. as meat. Really. Never. Here's a column I wrote about it, years ago: Putting On the Dog)

Schugel needs to be suspended from the investigative beat, and WCCO news director Mike Caputa — who was promoted to that position just this June — needs to go on the record explaining why the decision was made to air this story, given its massive holes. And let me be clear — this isn't a race thing, it's a journalism thing. Bad reporting needs to be censured, regardless of what its subject is.

That said, when bad reporting contributes to racial slanders that have (ahem) dogged a community since the dawn of immigration, and when it threatens the livelihood of innocent immigrant businessmen and workers (not just in New York, but in every Chinatown in the nation), the repercussions need to be real, and they need to be redressed quickly and publicly.

WCCO's failure to do so is the biggest embarrassment of all. 

Sidenote: While WCCO's fast fingers have pulled the original report off the web, the Taiwanese animators over at NMA-TV have been equally quick to fill the hole. Here's their take on the debacle:

Posted via email from OriginalSpin


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