Media and pit bulls: The good, the bad and the ugly

This was an interesting (and eye-opening) week for pit bulls in the media. Pit bull stories in the news aren’t anything new.  In most cases, however, the media tends to run with a story before confirming any of the facts, including whether or not the dog involved was a “pit bull.”  The truth seems to get lost in the need for sensational headlines, and pit bulls are the prime target of choice for the moment.  Baseless and misleading, there stories make their rounds via the internet, and the reputation of the already maligned breed is tarnished a little more with every report.

This week, however, Fox News2 in St. Louis, Missouri covered the issue of pit bulls and breed identification...or misidentification as is so often the case.  The story’s main focus was the problems associated with breed specific legislation.  In support of their position that most people cannot identify a pit bull, they published a poll picturing 10 different dogs, asking people to identify which dog was the “pit bull.”  If you’ve ever taken the “Find the Pit Bull” test, you know the task isn’t easy as there are multiple breeds that share the physical characteristics of pit bulls.  These “tests” are excellent educational tools on the problems associated with judging a dog dangerous based on his or her appearance, and the high probability of dogs of several breeds being ensnared by a so-called “pit bull ban.” I’ve taken “Find the Pit Bull” to every city council meeting I’ve attended, and when the city officials would actually participate, their views on pit bull identification changed very quickly. Not surprisingly, the News2 poll revealed that most people cannot identify a pit bull, underscoring (1) the exorbitant number of “pit bull” related attacks is grossly skewed; and (2) why dangerous dog laws should focus on behavior and not breed – or perceived breed.

In addition, the News2 report discussed the fact that the general public aren’t the only ones guessing at what a dog’s breed is.  The report stated (correctly, I might add), that animal control officers who are charged with enforcing breed specific laws are guessing whether a dog is or is not a pit bull, underscoring just how arbitrary breed specific laws are – the pit bull is in the eye of the beholder.

I want to sincerely thank Chris Hayes and News2 for an extremely well researched and well presented story that made its point very loud and clear.

If you follow our blog, you know we’ve covered many times the changing face of the media, and how bloggers are making an impact on the information available to the public.  In that respect, the bad, as well as the ugly side of the media spectrum came to light this week.

On February 3, 2012, Examiner “journalist” Joshua-Paul Angell published an article titled, “Man on life support after being attacked by unleashed pit bull.”  The article caught my attention for several reasons.  The writer claimed to be concerned with animal welfare issues, yet his story was excessively biased against pit bull-type dogs, and he referred to a woman in Illinois who was pushing for a statewide ban.  More importantly, though,  his story didn’t seem to have any supporting facts other than a reference to the Illinois State Police homepage.  I did a search on this incident looking for stories from the local media, and that search turned up absolutely nothing.  Well, nothing with respect to a bona fide news outlet, but surprise, surprise…several anti-pit bull blogs all had the same “news” story with the very same headline.  Coincidence? You decide.

Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one who found this coincidence highly questionable. Another Examiner writer, Cindy Marabito, wrote a piece calling out Mr. Angell for his continual attacks on pit bulls in his reporting, and the strange similarity his writing has with the blogs of the anti-pit bull community. In addition, others across the country who read  Mr. Angell’s story contacted the Illinois State Police who confirmed they never responded to any such call and had no knowledge of any such incident.  And maybe its just another “coincidence,” but oddly enough, none of those blogs are still posted.

Those of us who have long been involved in the fight against breed discrimination have noticed over the last few years, the BSL tide is turning.  Fewer cities are proposing breed discriminatory ordinances, and even fewer are passing them.  In addition to the state of Ohio removing pit bulls from the state’s dangerous dog law, last year we saw a record number of cities repeal their breed specific laws.  The anti-pit bull crowd sees the tide turning, too, and their getting desperate.  Desperate enough to make up news that fits their agenda? Again, you decide.

While the facts and the experts are on our side, there are those in new and traditional media positions making great efforts to undermine our progress.  I am confident, however, that the future holds more instances of truth from the media about pit bulls and the problems of breed specific legislation.  In the end, the truth will prevail…it always does.  It may not be next week or even next year, but eventually the idea that dogs are dangerous because of their appearance will be viewed is the incredibly flawed theory that it is. Until that time, we must stay focused and determined.  Our efforts are not in vain.  The BSL tide is turning, and with your help, we will see a day when the pit bull will once again be America’s dog.



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