On October 31, 2011, WCCO, a Minneapolis CBS affiliate, broadcast a story in which its I-TEAM reported on an alleged Minnesota puppy mill. While the original point of the story was to expose a puppy mill in Minnesota, the story eventually alleged that an Asian meat store (Dak Cheong Meat Market) sold dog meat for food. It was revealed later by the New York Post that that latter allegation was unsubstantiated. In an internal staff memo, WCCO news director Mike Caputa disclosed that when the journalist, James Schugel, interviewed the staff at the meat market over the phone, the shop employee reported that he did not speak English well. Despite this, the journalist proceeded with the interview. The language barrier resulted in the word “dog” being misunderstood as “duck” by the Chinese market employee who then assented that they did indeed sell this kind of meat. With blatant disregard for the employee’s stated language barrier, WCCO presented an expose that implied Asians - in this case, Chinese - were dog meat sellers and eaters.
Were it not for a pre-existing stereotype of Asians as “dog eaters” the backbone of the sensationalized story would have been non-existent. Because mainstream cultural ideology (dominant American perceptions) codes dogs as household pets, it becomes damaging when WCCO participates in labeling and stereotyping Asians in a highly racialized climate by linking them to consumption of dogs as meat. WCCO jumped to conclusions, ignoring a language barrier, in order to construct a story that played to mainstream emotional notions of attachment to pets and effectively excluded Asians, as a group, from that mainstream.
This stereotype resulted in direct harm to the owner of the butcher shop. Days later, New York Agriculture Department officials stormed the meat shop. While state health officials found no evidence of dog meat at the market, the result was community negative perception of the butcher shop as bloggers and the public took to sharing WCCO’s story.
On November 23, 2011, WCCO responded with an Editor’s Note titled Dog Breeder Story. WCCO failed to take responsibility for perpetuating harmful stereotypes of Asians, stating that although the interviewee stated he did not speak English, the employee gave an interview in English. This appears to place blame on the interviewee for the confusion between “duck” and “dog”. Rather than acknowledging their role in perpetuating stereotypes and harming a community, WCCO instead sidestepped the issue and blamed the victim.
We think it is important that WCCO acknowledge their role in conducting responsible journalism and their failure to do so in this story. WCCO must not only respond in the form of an on-air apology on its 5, 6 and 10 p.m. shows, but should discuss their role in perpetuating stereotypes and thereby contributing to racial discord in airing this story. We ask that WCCO, in collaboration with the community affected and through a specifically designated airing, communicate to the public how racism and stereotypes are perpetuated in the media. Additionally, we request that in the future, the staff composition at WCCO reflect their viewers in terms of racial makeup in order that upcoming stories accurately represent the diverse community in Minnesota and nationwide. This should include intentional EEO efforts to recruit employees of color to work at the forefront of news dissemination.