Thursday, April 4, 2013

Media Mongols

Yesterday (Wednesday, April 3) a UK newspaper published an article about a dog bite incident, not something new but what I found interesting is that 1) it wasn't about a pit bull and 2) the language was a lot less inflammatory than usual. Hmmm, not something you see every day.

There are simply too many examples of media manipulation and fear-mongering for me to even take newspapers too serious these days, especially concerning dog-related tragedies. That is VERY SAD for me to say, since I once aspired to be a journalist and my favorite college memories almost all involve the Iowa State Daily. Not only is there biased reporting, but the media has been relentless in pursuing all things 'pit bull' because people will read it, comment on it, share it, and in other words give them the readership numbers they want.

There is no question the media vastly over-reports pit bull attacks as compared to other breed attacks, so while each event is a tragedy and I don't take these lightly, it's slightly encouraging to see these other incidents reported. Sure they won't reach the mass numbers of audiences that the pit bull attacks will, but it's a small start.

Dog attack leaves Blackburn boy, 9, afraid to go out

That is the title of the newspaper article (read it for yourself HERE). Oddly, there is no mention of the breed in the headlines. If this was a pit bull attack it would have that somewhere very prominent in the headline, so shouldn't this read: Yorkshire terrier attack leaves Blackburn, 9, afraid to go out. Or maybe the reporter realizes that if there is no breed label people might read it to find out if it was a pit bull? Sneaky, sneaky.

But nope, it was a Yorkshire Terrier. And the bite, which was on the face, was severe enough for the boy to be taken to the hospital, requiring stitches and a possible reconstruction operation. All from a little, tiny Yorkie that was only 15 months old. In fact the mom of the boy is quoted as saying "It is all swollen. It is a right mess. I can't believe how much damage it has been done considering it was just a little dog." News flash - all dogs have the propensity to bite and size doesn't determine the amount of damage.

Where is the WHY? Where is the solution?

So the article states the boy was bitten while at the park with friends. He was apparently speaking to a girl who had the dog on a retractable leash when he was bitten. So how did it come about that he was bitten in the face? Was he doing something to cause the bite? What was the dog doing before/during/after the bite? Where are the details? What do we actually learn from this story?

Dog bite reports or investigations rarely reveal the real reason behind the attack. So readers routinely draw inaccurate conclusions about canine behavior and those mistaken perceptions often lead to breed-specific legislation. Years ago (many years ago!!) the media used to provide tips on dog bite prevention in their dog bite articles. Not so much today. What we would glean from this article is to not approach girls with Yorkies on retractable leashes.

For reporters and those wishing to educate themselves and lower the potential risk associated with dogs, there is tons of information available and it's EVERYWHERE. It would make a better news story to cover the WHY and offer a solution or a reason. Even a statement like: Owners can reduce the risk of their dog biting someone through dozens of different methods, from education about canine behavior and taking dog training classes to properly containing and supervising their dogs, inserted at the end of the story is at least somewhat helpful.

But addressing these situations as a dog breed issue will never solve the problem of canine aggression. Not that people are running around trying to ban Yorkies everywhere now, but that would be the response had this been a pit bull. They've endured the brunt of much of the misinformation and negative handling by the media for the last tens of years. However, all breeds of dogs and their human companions ultimately suffer from these journalistic approaches. According to the Humane Society of the United States there are over 78 million dogs in the United States. Millions upon millions of children learn about compassion, responsibility, companionship, and respect for other by living with these animals. The random and small number of dog bite incidents shouldn't overshadow the benefit of having dogs of ALL breeds in our society.

Karen Delise has published a great book titled The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression (which I've used for my arguments here). It's available for free download at She goes in depth on the history of society's response to canine aggression and the role the media has played every step of the way.
"Few things in life come without some level of risk. Swimming pools, automobiles, household cleaning products, power tools, bicycles, stairs, and dogs all come with a certain level of potential harm. Our lives are comprised of evaluating risks on a daily basis. From how fast we drive our cars or when to cross a busy street, or cordoning off swimming pools and staircases from unsupervised children, we think about or act on the potential danger of things daily. Why then is it so difficult for so many people to understand that this applies to our dogs as well? While dogs are certainly less of a risk factor than automobiles or swimming pools, nevertheless, the same theory applies - dogs are safe when maintained in a responsible manner and when people show a reasonable level of risk assessment. Terrible, unforeseeable accidents will always occur in life, but the point is to strive to make these incidents as rare as possible. Just as there will always be murderers and reckless drivers, there will always be some dog owners who refuse to safeguard others from their dogs and there will always be some victims who not only failed to make an appropriate risk assessment in a situation involving dogs, but were reckless." 
~ Karen Delise

No comments:

Post a Comment