Smoking Gun or Sweeps Ploy?

A Twin Cities TV station reported Thursday about fishing garbage out of a dumpster that the station claims is "explosive new evidence" in the now-infamous Vikings boat scandal. But some are already asking whether they've found a smoking gun or a sweeps gimmick.

If the Vikings weren't familiar with television's sweeps periods before now, they certainly are now. The first hint that something was amiss Thursday at Winter Park came when a group of players coming out of meetings prior to practice proclaimed they wouldn't talk if "Channel 5 cameras" were there.

Channel 5 is the Twin Cities ABC affiliate KSTP, which spent much of Thursday touting a discovery from "a tip" that was called into the station claiming that Bryant McKinnie and Mewelde Moore dumped trash bags at a construction dumpsite. The eight bags that the station reports were discovered during a dumpster dive produced what was touted as "explosive new evidence" that was voluntarily turned over the Hennepin County investigators after being sifted through by Channel 5 personnel – and claim to provide a link between Vikings players and the infamous boat trip on Lake Minnetonka.

Among the discoveries were fireworks, disposal cameras, pizza boxes (if, from the boat, were clearly delivered ahead of time), empty beer cans, a single champagne bottle, as well as more salacious items like an empty box of KY Jelly, empty boxes of the feminine hygiene products and a discarded pair of Victoria's Secret underwear.

The story focused on different items found – namely a piece of paper with female names and flight arrival times and a twig that, for all appearances, looked like a large stem of a marijuana plant. The station identified the stick as a "marijuana bud," but it also displayed a hollowed-out Swisher Sweet cigar – often used as a "blunt" to conceal marijuana inside a cigar wrapper. From what was seen on TV, the "marijuana bud" in question wasn't visible, but discarded cigar tobacco and cigar leaves were shown.

The key piece of "evidence" that may have merit is a hand-written piece of paper on a notebook with "Minnesota Vikings" printed on the bottom listing flight times and women's names that were to arrive on the same day at different times on different flights. One name in particular – Ayana – was of interest. According to the report, Atlanta vice investigators identified the name as one belonging to a woman who goes by the name Ayana Angel – a women who has appeared in XXX rated movies and is known as a highly-paid prostitute. That point was made evident to Minnesota TV viewers by literally referring to Webster's Dictionary – replete with a cut-away to dropping open of an in-house dictionary.

KSTP-TV sent a reporter to Atlanta to ask Ayana Angel if she had a role in the boat party scandal and she told the reporter that she didn't attend, but had intended to. The reporter added that the practice has been commonplace for Vikings parties, but Ms. Angel didn't confirm that on-camera – instead saying that there was a problem "down here" with football players – it's left up to interpretation whether "down here" meant problems with area women and the Vikings or a similar situation with the Atlanta Falcons. It should be noted that three televised interviews were done with McKinnie, Moore and Angel. In each instance, it was clear that the reporter was not accompanied by the camera – at a minimum, the cameraperson was situated several feet away. None of the interview candidates was microphoned – the reporter had a hand-held microphone in her hand. Whether the cameras were clearly visible to the interview subjects was not immediately known.

Also included in the story was a receipt that "had McKinnie's credit card number" on it. But, upon scrutiny, it is clear that the receipt in question is from a bar or restaurant. The receipt lists the number of guests as four – clearly not from a liquor store – and lists the drinks served as two Hennessey and rocks at $6 each, one shot of Crown Royal, one shot of Grey Goose and one can of Red Bull. The report also claimed to have "boarding passes" (plural) with McKinnie's name on them – although only one boarding pass was shown on the report and made no mention of what airport the pass originated from.

In an interview at McKinnie's doorstep, the reporter told McKinnie that one of the women on the list claimed that she was a prostitute, to which McKinnie replied, "That's a lie. Ain't no lady on that list tell you that."

The story on KSTP, which it had been touting in the local media, and the reporter in question had conducted at least one radio interview earlier in the day promoting the "explosive evidence" and was offered up as a lead item – but was withheld until 10:15 local time. When the sports segments of the other Twin Cities stations came on, none of the other four local affliates (representing NBC, CBS, FOX and UPN) ran anything related to the story. Most of their coverage was reserved for the Timberwolves, Gophers and the induction of former Vikings coach Jerry Burns to the team's Ring of Honor this Sunday. As a follow-up to the story, KSTP opened its sports telecast by covering the always-nail-biting girls high school soccer state tournament highlights.

It will be up to the general public to determine if this story is an indictment of the Vikings or simply an opportunity for a television station, which by its own admission found evidence "discovered days after the party" (almost a month ago), that was simply trying to win a ratings period. Some may wonder why such a story was shelved until Nov. 3 – the first day in which the November sweeps period begins and advertiser rates are determined.

McKinnie's attorney has rejected the notion that marijuana was found in the garbage – which McKinnie admits to dumping at the construction site.

How this matter will unfold locally is yet unknown, but may not take long to play itself out. The same station that aired the piece Thursday is also the station that pays coach Mike Tice for exclusive post-game commentary on Sunday nights following Vikings games. Perhaps then will we find out exactly how closely this TV news story cuts to the bone. If Thursday at Vikings practice at Winter Park was any indication, KSTP may find getting future exclusives harder to come by.

Viking Update Top Stories