Columns Section - No Margins. No Limits. No Kidding.
MEDIA BIAS, BREED BIAS
by Ms. Jade, TheDogPress Legislative Reporter July 2006
When is a scratch considered a front page dog mauling story? When the dog has short hair, nobody got a good look at it, and it might have been a “pit bull”.
And dog bite reports are often biased for political or commercial reasons. So, when is a serious dog bite unworthy of anything more than a photo caption on the back page of the newspaper? When the dog is an AKC registered Akita show dog winning at the Oklahoma City Summer Classic all breed show. The Daily Oklahoman dismissed this embarrassing dog bite-fight incident by stating that the attack occurred because another dog crossed the path of the Akita and bit her.
Never mind the poor judge captured memorably on film trying to keep the blood off his suit. If this had happened at an ADBA or AADR sanctioned American Pit Bull Terrier show the dog would have been banned for life, its points for that show rescinded without a refund and the owner/handler immediately escorted off the show grounds by security. Further, the dog most likely would be euthanized regardless of titles or pedigree as we have a zero tolerance for “man biters” within the pit bull fraternity. But according to the Oklahoman, the Akita “did not lose her award, show officials said.”
But wait! What if the news report was wrong? Actually, at least when it comes to dog stories, it happens all too often. You see, both dogs involved in the one round fight were disqualified. Hey, but at least the dog’s handlers weren’t sentenced to seven years in prison for felony dog fighting and all the canines in attendance confiscated and killed for their own good…That's what HSUS and PETA would like. Now THAT would have been a story worthy of the Oklahoman!
Today marks the one year anniversary of my “mad as hell and not going to take it any more” epiphany. I have spent the last twelve months reading news reports from around the world on dog related issues and one thing has become crystal clear: how (or even if) a dog bite story is reported is directly related to the alleged breed involved. If you own a Rottweiler, Doberman or American Pit Bull Terrier, then feel free to sing along. (Even if you don’t really know the words, I’m sure you can hum the tune.) If you own any dog over 30 or 40 pounds, get ready to audition for the choir.
Never mind the fact that we have about fifty murders every day in this country, plus kidnapping, car jacking, rape, child molestation, armed robbery and a variety of other atrocities perpetration on humans – by humans. Those news stories are so commonplace that society has become desensitized. We have come to expect this type of behavior from our own species. But when humans allow “mans best friend” to be in a position to cause harm, STOP THE PRESSES! The traitorous act leaves us outraged. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The media scans police radio listening for specific dog breeds (among other things). A “pit bull” puppy at large call warrants a four alarm response, with firearms at the ready and makes for great videography, but an actual bite by another breed might be lucky to get a prompt response from animal control services, let alone a news crew unless there’s an awful lot of blood.
When a French woman required an experimental face transplant last year because she was mutilated by her own Labrador Retriever, the media frenzy focused on the science involved in the procedure and how her supposed history of depression may have led her to attempt suicide, but the dog itself was glossed over. If she had owned a “pit bull” would the dog be alive today and would the media in our country have covered every painful moment in this woman’s life from the horrific moment it happened? I think we all know the answers. It’s no wonder the naïve public has a grossly distorted perception of the relative danger that any individual dog may possess.
This should outrage you no matter what type of dog you own. We have a Constitutional right to equal protection under the law. Say an extra prayer for anyone who is injured by an OTPB (other than pit bull) as they might not elicit the same sense of urgency.
For example, let’s compare two actual dog bites that happened recently, during the same week:
Attack #1 about a Cocker Spaniel mix named “Killer” (internet search revealed only one story, KFOXTV.com - News – “Family Dog Mauls Boy") that latched onto a toddler’s face in the family home. The parents justified Killer’s behavior by saying "He was eating. My son, I guess, got close to him". To quote the report "Family members ran into the room to find 'Killer' mauling the boy" and "D.J. received 9 stitches to his face." Contrasted with this Associated Press syndicated story:
Attack #2 is about an 8-year-old “border collie-pit bull” mix breed named Peppe who was promptly euthanized after an unsuccessful attempt at an introduction to the family’s infant. (This one had countless internet links with headlines that included “Baby Girl Will Need Surgery After Pit Bull Attack”, “Baby Girl Mauled By Family Pit Bull”, and “Santa Barbara Child Mauled by Family Pit Bull”.). While most of the reports did mention pit bull mix somewhere later in the story, only the local television station that personally interviewed the family seemed to mention the dog’s Border Collie ancestry. The 11 month old child was treated and released at a local hospital and will likely need some cosmetic surgery. “Police said the dog had no history of biting humans, and that the mother is unlikely to face charges in connection with the attack.”
Since neither first responders nor news reporters are breed experts, canine misidentification is commonplace. Almost every mongrel is reported as a “pit bull” mix, unless proven otherwise. Even then, if editors are forced to recant, it’s buried somewhere among the obituaries. No wonder Thomas Jefferson wrote "The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers". A television report has long since moved on. I still encounter people who believe that “pit bulls” killed Dianne Whipple in San Francisco in 2001 when it was actually two pure bred Presa Canario’s. Not surprising when you consider that “pit bull” is just a slang term encompassing several breeds and mixes thereof.
Now the scary part…the most often quoted breed related bite statistics used as the basis for making public policy are collected from news reports! There is no national standard scientific method for collecting and analyzing this data because total breed populations cannot be accurately determined. Without a denominator, the numerator has no relevance. However, the March 2006 issue of Pediatrics analyzed regional studies where breed population could be reasonably determined by administrative district records. The medical charts of minors seeking medical attention for dog bites were referenced to the breed as verified by the veterinarian providing proof of rabies vaccination. The margin for error not withstanding, the resulting risk index showed that German Shepherds were five times more likely to cause bite trauma to minors that required medical attention than “pit bulls” over a ten year period (Sorry, Rin Tin Tin.) They also said that “we did not identify any of these fighting dog breeds to be likely to attack more frequently than the average”. Pediatrics blamed the increased public awareness of those breeds on the media.
And it’s even more eye opening to compare dog bite coverage of the same event from different news sources. I have files full of relevant inconsistencies. Most witnesses couldn’t pick a real American Pit Bull Terrier out of a line up. Take the test yourself at: www.pitbullsontheweb.com/petbull/findpit.html but keep in mind that your 25 choices are all pure bred dogs. That makes it easier for a breeder, exhibitor or judge than “John Q. Public” (I easily identified all but three). So ask your friends and relatives to give it a try. Throw in an equal number of smooth coated mixed breeds and the difficulty would increase exponentially.
The November, 2004 mauling of a Cambridge newspaper boy that fueled the “pit bull ban” in Ontario, Canada (which includes every dog with “substantially similar” characteristics) was later grudgingly credited to a mixed breed named “Lyric” without any American Pit Bull Terrier in him. This sounds strikingly reminiscent of a 2002 Canadian television report “Vancouver girl badly injured in pit bull attack”. A widely covered and very severe attack, further reporting eventually revealed the dog to be a Rottweiler-Mastiff mixed breed.
Cause of death should only be determined by the coroner. Speculation undermines journalistic integrity. When 41-year-old Glenda Jackson’s body was found dead in the middle of a Bakersfield, CA street with apparent dog bites on her legs a few weeks ago, the Associated Press reported that “four stray dogs -- all pit bull mixed breeds -- found near the body around 4 a-m Friday were captured and will be euthanized. Three days later, dog bite was ruled out as the cause of death, but I could only find one news source that carried an update to the story.
This bears a remarkable similarity to the December, 2002 New York Post headline “Killer Pit Bulls Rip Granny to Shreds”, which the New York Times ran as “Pet Pit Bulls Kill Woman, 80, in Her Home”. The family hired a forensic pathologist who determined that although the victim had sustained some bites, all were non-lethal and post mortem.” Granny” it seems, was not ripped to shreds but died from cardiac arythmia and the dogs (a female “pit bull” and a Lab/”pit bull” mix) were eventually returned to their owners. Perhaps, as has been claimed about the French face removing Labrador Retriever, these dogs were only trying to wake someone up!
When the body of twenty five year old Brandon Coleman was discovered in his West Virginia home with dog bites to his neck, Morgantown police Chief Phil Scott would only state that "It would be premature for us to say anything publicly until we have the facts". The news report showed less restraint and made sure to mention that Coleman owned a “pit bull”. Although the medical examiner’s office determined that the dog did actually end up causing his death, something else was also revealed; the police chief said it appeared that Coleman also had a seizure, and that during the seizure the dog may have tried to help him, but in the process ended up causing the damage.
The untimely demise of (yet another) San Francisco resident, 12 year old Nicholais Fabish in June of last year is now rumored to have been caused by head trauma, not dog bite as reported. The coroner’s findings have been requested and will be made very public at the conclusion of the trial. Animal rights activists exploited this horrific and preventable tragedy just because the mother of the year locked him in the basement while the families “pit bulls” were fornicating upstairs. This event was the sorry excuse for SB861 which now threatens the rights of every dog breeder in CA, and potentially the rest of the country.
Canine villains go in and out of fashion but the media machine marches onward. Even if the doggy genocide advocates were to eliminate “pit bulls”, Rottweilers and the like from the face of the earth, the media would certainly fill the void. Last fall, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass devoted an entire article to the recommendation that every dog over 15 lbs be subject to a $1,000 yearly ownership privilege fee, and that the state should license animal trainers to evaluate dogs temperament and obedience skills at least twice a year in order to qualify for a discount. Non compliance would result in immediate confiscation and destruction of the offending dog, without due process! That’s not all; Kass goes on to suggest a $3,000 annual breeder permit as well, all in the name of public safety. (His mommy should have named him Jack Kass…) So, does the reckless power of the press concern you yet?
Most frightening of all is the fact that it only seems to take one single sensationalized media report of a “pit bull” incident to initiate the hasty writing of additional (and usually unnecessary) restrictive laws, the attempted enforcement of which financially burdens every taxpayer. It doesn’t even matter if that jurisdiction has never, ever had a “pit bull” problem before. The media will rally the troops.
Kansas City Star commentator Greg Clark just led with the statement ”Keeping pit bulls, chows and Rottweilers in our cities is just like playing Russian roulette with fangs“ in a story with a headline of “ENOUGH TALKING, TIME TO BAN PIT BULLS “. He then goes on to state that he’s been banging this drum since the1990’s but complains that policy makers just aren’t doing enough to trample our civil liberties. He ended with “Now, please, no more talk. Just ban the animals. Otherwise our cities will continue to play Russian roulette with fangs.” Feel free to call him at (816) 234-7803, or better yet, contact the Editor and Vice President of the “Star” Mark Zieman at (816) 234-4878, before Clark has a chance to collect his pension.
In recent history, there have been human fatalities caused by over thirty breeds including a Pomeranian, ”Yorkie”, Alaskan Malamute, “Westie”, Airedale, “Lab”, Border Collie, Great Dane, St. Bernard, Siberian Husky, etc. This spring, a ten lb. “terrier mix” contributed to the death of a 91 year old alzheimers patient in a Tuscon, AZ assisted care facility when she tore away most of the flesh (from the wrist to past the elbow) off the woman’s arm, according to the medical examiner’s office. The Arizona Daily Star reported on July 15th (in the only story I’ve seen on this), that the facility owner “surrendered the dog to Pima Animal Care Center immediately following the May 20 (2006) incident. The dog had no rabies or other health problems, and staff at the center found her to be friendly and well-behaved. Animal behavior experts agreed, and the dog was adopted by a new owner on July 3”. (I’ll bet they renamed her “Lucky” - lucky she wasn’t a “pit bull” that is!) And don’t forget the countless human maulings by “OTPB’s”. These stories (however horribly graphic) for some reason lack the impetus to change public policy in the same way that the sensational reporting of the vicious “pit bull” attack does.
Don’t despair! There is a tiny speck of light at the end of the tunnel. After a year of reading tabloid style journalism, I finally did find an in depth and well researched article on the American Pit Bull Terrier. (Hey, the best reporting is on the internet anyway. I mean you’re reading TheDogPress, aren’t you?) Check it out at: http://www.alibi.com/index.php?story=15663&scn=feature and be sure to send a note of appreciation to the journalist with the integrity to write it. It’s only a start, but if we hold the media accountable as individuals, we can turn the tide. Ok, everybody sing along, all together now! A one and a two and a three and a four…
Click PAWS for in-depth serving of alphabet soup, i.e. HSUS, ASPCA, etc.
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