WCCO Duck Dog Story: Newsroom source predicts "heads will roll" and reveals how mistakes were made [UPDATE]

Categories: Media beefs
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James Schugel isn't the only one at WCCO who screwed the pooch on the 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.

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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."

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MNSPJ is just one group demanding answers from WCCO.
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."

Here's a transcript that has since been scrubbed from the WCCO website:
The I-TEAM went undercover in New York City to see the Canine Culture Center, but found a meat market at the same address.

And as the I-TEAM found, a worker there says he only sells dogs to eat.
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."

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WCCO General Manager Brien Kennedy is allegedly a big fan of I-Team Reporter James Schugel.
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. But we have a transcript of the crucial exchange where the duck/dog misunderstanding happens:
Schugel:  "Do you sell dogs?"

Man:  "Yeah, we sell [ducks]."

Schugel: "Dogs for people to eat?"

Man: "Uh, yeah. We sell many kinds of meat."

Schugel repeats: "Dogs for people to eat?"

Man: "Yes."
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."

UPDATE:
An eagle-eyed tipster dug up the web version of the duck/dog story, which was buried on the WCCO website:

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The owner of Minnesota's largest dog breeding operation still sold hundreds of puppies illegally, despite being convicted of animal cruelty. That's what the I-TEAM just found and when WCCO's James Schugel kept digging, things got more disturbing.

"The Canine Culture Center. Do you know anything about it," asked I-TEAM's undercover team.

"No," said the woman at a New York City meat market.

The I-TEAM went undercover in New York City to see the Canine Culture Center, but found a meat market at the same address.

And as the I-TEAM found, a worker there says he only sells dogs to eat.

Dogs walking in their own feces and a smell of urine throughout the building -- that's what an investigator with the Companion Animal Protection Society (CAPS) found during an undercover visit to a Long Island, N.Y. pet store.

"I've been in the business like 40 years. I look at the dogs online. They come with veterinary checks," the pet store's owner told CAPS President Deb Howard.

He said his pups are "privately and family bred."

"Where do you get your dogs from?" asked Howard.

"Four different breeders and they're randomly inspected by the state. No puppy mills," said the owner.

But that's exactly where the I-TEAM discovered he's gotten nearly 600 dogs.

Federal and state documents say the supplier is Kathy Bauck, who was accused of running the largest puppy mill in Minnesota.

Two years ago, Bauck was convicted of animal cruelty and torture.

In 2008, an undercover CAPS agent recorded Bauck dunking some dogs in insecticide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said it caused the animals' trauma, behavioral stress or discomfort.

Bauck pleaded guilty to "...practicing veterinary medicine without a license," according to the USDA.

The USDA determined she was "...unfit...(to provide) humane care and treatment..." of her animals and terminated her license temporarily for two years.

But the USDA did not take away Bauck's dogs. She also kept selling wholesale despite that court order telling her not to.

"We were only going in for one. We ended up with two, because they were the most pathetic," said JulieAnn Firle and Keith Maschi, who bought two pups from that Long Island pet store last spring.

One's face is crooked, both have parasites and show aggression.

"How much have you spent on vet bills?" asked the I-TEAM's James Schugel.

"Probably around $2,000," said Firle.

The couple researched the dogs they bought and found they came from Bauck. One was at the pet store for two months, while the other was there for five months. However, it's not clear when the problems with their pets started.

"The dogs that were there when we bought these two," said Firle. "They looked worse and I had to get out of there. I couldn't stand looking at them. It was pathetic. It was terrible."

The I-TEAM found Bauck's dogs ended up in pet stores across New York City and Long Island.

The I-TEAM obtained Minnesota Certificates of Veterinary Inspection, the forms veterinarians sign once they've inspected animals that will be shipped to another state. Animal Folks MN provided these reports and others to the I-TEAM.

Between Aug. 2010 and Aug. 2011, Bauck shipped and sold nearly 1400 dogs to pet stores in a half-dozen New York cities. She also did this without that USDA Breeders license she needed to legally sell and ship wholesale.

The biggest surprise for the I-TEAM came while looking for the Canine Culture Center.

It's listed on the Certificates of Veterinary Inspection as 36 East Broadway in New York City. The I-TEAM just happened to stumble upon the Dak Cheong Meat Market at the same address.

"I'm looking for the Canine Culture Center at this address, a pet shop. Do you know anything about it?" asked the I-TEAM's undercover team.

State Inspection Certificates show Bauck sold and shipped nearly 170 dogs, mostly huskies, to this address, where the I-TEAM found the Chinatown Meat Market.

"The Canine Culture Center. Do you know anything about it?" asked the I-TEAM's undercover team again.

"No," said the woman.

The I-TEAM searched both levels of the building.

"The Canine Culture Center?" asked the I-TEAM undercover team again.

"No," said a woman on the second floor. "This is a law office."

The I-TEAM found no sign of dogs, until they called the market directly.

"Do you sell dogs?" asked the I-TEAM'S Schugel.

"Yea. We sell dog," said the man who answered the phone.

"Dogs for people to eat?" asked Schugel.

"Uh, yea," he said. "We sell many kinds of meat."

"Dogs for people to eat?" asked Schugel.

"Yes," said the man.

The I-TEAM questioned the man again, just to be clear. He said he does not sell dogs for pets. He only sells them for food.

The I-TEAM then confronted Kathy Bauck about this but she firmly denied she shipped dogs to the meat market.

"I never sold a dog for anyone to eat them. Trust me. Never," Bauck said.

She said the person she shipped to must have given her "the wrong address."

Even though the I-TEAM verified there were a dozen shipments to that address.

Bauck's veterinarian, Dr. Kathleen Marcussen, also told the I-TEAM she knew nothing about shipments to a meat market.

In a conversation the I-TEAM had with Marcussen, she said that she has never been to Bauck's farm. In fact, she told Schugel that Bauck always brought her dogs to the veterinary clinic in Staples to be examined before they were shipped. In this case, they were shipped to pet stores in New York City that Bauck claims she co-owns.

Bauck told the I-TEAM, "I was a ghost owner. It's like a secret owner. All I did was supply (pet stores) with puppies. They paid for the puppies on a contract, and that's it."

The I-TEAM pulled the Certificates of Veterinary Inspection from the state of New York for all those pet stores, but found none is listed in Bauck's name. The state also has no listing for the Canine Culture Center.

So that begs the question if she didn't own the stores, and wasn't allowed to sell wholesale to pet stores because her license was temporarily terminated, how was she able to get away with it for a full year?

The I-TEAM posed that question to the USDA.

The USDA said, "Those things don't happen lickity split. These are legal things set in motion that are not going to be instantly remedied."

Coupled with her cruelty convictions and other violations at her facility, the USDA revoked Bauck's license last month. It's now permanently taken away.

The USDA said Bauck "...obscured..." who "...truly owned..." her business. She ran it under "...various fictitious names..." and shipped to those pet stores without her license. The USDA fined her and demanded she "...sell and/or donate her animals."

Bauck recently told the I-TEAM that workers tore down her barns. She said she's done breeding and selling dogs.

"I gave them what they wanted. I gave them my life." she said emotionally by phone. "You just have no idea, none whatsoever, how much I love these dogs."

Bauck told the I-TEAM she couldn't even hurt a fly. For her dogs to be gone, she said, "It's just not right."

The I-TEAM had several conversations with the USDA about those dogs shipped to the meat market.

The government first told an animal welfare group it looked into it and found no animals in distress. But the USDA said it actually doesn't know what happened to those dogs.

The last time Schugel talked with Bauck was a few days ago and she changed her story. She said she was partnered with a Long Island pet store owner who wanted her to send puppies to the address where the I-TEAM found the Meat Market just to pick up.

However, Schugel talked with that owner on Monday and he told Schugel he hasn't done business with Bauck in more than a year.

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