Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Man Kills Dog

A dead dog is not front-page news unless you're trapped inside a PD Eastman children's book.

You’d think this would be an obvious no-brainer kind of statement. Except apparently the Chattanooga Times Free Press didn’t get the memo, as an accidentally-euthanized dog swallowed siginificant column inches right below on Saturday, November 3.

Way back when journalism school mattered, when being real journalists mattered, when newspapers mattered and weren’t bleeding profits and quality like gutted pigs on meathooks, the words “Man Bites Dog” were shorthand for what determines newsworthiness. That is, what makes news is not the usual, but rather the highly unusual.

But we’re in a different culture now, and newspapers are in a different financial situation. Now, titillation and emotion-tugging are of vastly higher value than intelligence or citizenship.

We have human beings among us who honestly, sincerely believe that (some arbitrary portion of) other living creatures have every bit of right to life and the pursuit of happiness as homo sapiens. I’m friends with these people (or was until they read this). I’m related to at least half a dozen of these people.

If insanity is a dart board, then placing doggie death anywhere on the radar in comparison to human death -- in degree of tragedy OR newsworthiness -- is closer to the numbers on the perimeter than the Double Bullseye, but it still scores points. The people who believe a dead dog is front page material are, in most instances, on the same scale of crazy as far-end Tea Party members, the same people who believe carrying a firearm into church is somehow a part of God’s plan.

Many of my animal rights wacko friends and relatives have repeatedly claimed that Michael Vick should have been put to death for what he did with and to pit bulls. This belief placed them on the same Spot Of Insanity as Tucker Carlson. It also suggests that Michael Vick is a more evil human being than the mother of Jesse Mathews and every bit as evil as Mathews himself. If you can read this feature on Kathleen Mathews and justify this to me, please do so.

My neice once told me, “I’m not for the death penalty, but I’d make an exception for Vick.” She even offered to “pull the lever” herself. That people have ascribed such a level of evil to Vick would be laughable if it weren’t so frightening to me.

But I digress. This isn’t about Michael Vick. This is about a dog, accidentally euthanized, showing up on the front page of a newspaper. The dog snapped at, possibly bit, a pizza delivery guy. The dog had no collar, no tag. Mistakes happen. I’m certain that the animal center that screwed up was immediately looking into what might be done to make admittedly-symbolic reparations for the error, and I’m sure they would have done this without a front-page story. Were they not willing to negotiate reparation, THAT would be news. Maybe.

The Tragic Tale of Zion The Dog is indeed a sad one. But -- and you can disagree with me, but you’re wrong -- it’s not news. Not now, not yesterday, not tomorrow. That we are in a place, culturally, where this could be discussed or debated by rational adults suggests to me just how far off the beaten path of valid priorities we have drifted.

Today is Election Day. It’s time to get our heads right, America. Let’s -- all of us -- return closer to The Middle, a vital, crucial, underpopulated place in our culture where human life is valued, where human problems are a neverending Niagra Falls of water crashing down upon us, where Obama isn’t a Muslim Manchurian Candidate, where Democrats aren’t Stalinists and Republicans aren’t Nazis, and where dogs are just one of the many species whose existence is vastly improved thanks to human beings.


Bob said...

Oh, I don't know. I'll take the newspaper's side on this one. The McKamey Center is in the news because the TV show "Designing Spaces" is giving it a makeover, and at the exact same time they're getting this coverage (front page in Section B or C of the same edition), they kill the wrong dog?

The McKamey Center, one of whose stated goals is: "Promote the humane care of animals by educating our volunteers and the community on spay/neuter, long term-pet care and owner responsibility while inspiring community action and compassion on behalf of animals?"

There seems like there's enough of a connection there for a story and that it is in no way a sign of either our times or the current state of journalism. It's simply the kind of local story newspapers have always run.

I confess, also, that I am one of those people who sometimes prefers the company of my dog.

Billy said...

It's OK to prefer the company of birds or snakes, too, but that doesn't make it logical for bird hunting to have equal moral or newsworthy implications as Kent State or Columbine.

And Bob, I'd love you to dig me up a story like this from 1974. The Chattanooga Free Press was infamous for its (human-based) fluff and "grip & grins" back in the day, but our elevation of animal species to the current level of newsworthiness is a definite and recent cultural shift.

G. B. Miller said...

I've long ago stopped paying attention to the extreme wing of animal rights activists, as more often than not, they don't make sense (example, in California, one member of PETA wanted the state to erect a memorial to the approx 1000 dead fish that were killed in a truck accident).

It is indeed sad when a dog (or any kind of animal) mistakenly gets euthanized, and even sadder when somehow it becomes front page news.

Granted, you want to pull on people's heartstrings, but does it really warrant a front page?