September 27, 2006

Phantom "pit bulls" in Sudbury

Here we go again with another article from the Sudbury Star. What is it with this newspaper? Have they forgotten that they're supposed to be reporting the news, not making it up as they go along just to fill in space?

This is the second dog attack incident in two weeks that the Sudbury Star has rushed to report as a "pit bull", only to discover that the dog was NO SUCH THING! You can read my comments about the first incident here and here.

Ignoring, for the purposes of this discussion, that no breed of dog can be identified as a "pit bull", we can certainly assume from this story that the reporter intends to insinuate that the dog is one of the breeds targeted by the Ontario government.

Where on earth did she get that idea? Who identified this dog's breed?

This is another example of a reporter who, in a frenzy to report a "pit bull" attack, madly repeats the first words that come out of people's mouths, without any attempt whatsoever to verify their reliability.

A ten-year-old girl, for Pete's sake, described the dog as "looking like Don Cherry's dog". Any self-respecting dog owner who's seen Don Cherry with his dog on TV would recognize it as a Bull Terrier, a unique purebred dog that was specifically excluded by Attorney General Michael Bryant from his definition of "pit bull".

In fact, in his press conference filled with falsehoods, discrepancies, and fantasy, the Attorney General of the largest province in the country made it clear that he was keeping the Bull Terrier off the list in order not to enrage Don Cherry himself. Little did he know that Don Cherry would still be enraged and would be fully supportive of the constitutional challenge to Bryant's legislation.

How, in God's name, is it possible that a ten-year-old, in the middle of the insanity of one dog attacking another, can accurately identify the breed of the attacking dog and an adult reporter, with every investigative and journalistic tool available to her, cannot?

The phrase "pit bull" blinds many people, especially journalists. It drives them to "get the story", no matter what. It goads them into asking leading questions, making assumptions, and misinterpreting responses that, in any other circumstance, in any other story, would not only be unacceptable journalism, but would be called tabloidism or even fiction.

Look at this story.

The dog is initially described, ONCE, as "an apparent pit bull". This is the only phrase you need in order to know that the reporter does not actually have a clue what the dog is. The purpose of including the word "apparent" is purely to PROTECT HER ASS, while allowing her to delve into utter speculation for the rest of the story.

Throughout the rest of the article, the reporter (her name is Laura Stradiotto, by the way) doesn't even pretend to be tentative about the breed. The dog is now a "pit bull" and she has no qualms about calling it that for the entire story.

The headline screams "Pit bull". Six times, the phrase is used in the story.

Guess what, Ms. Stradiotto? Guess what, Sudbury Star?


Turns out the dog WAS a Bull Terrier and the ten-year-old was right!

Now what?

When is the Sudbury Star going to apologize, in writing as big as the originals, for two articles with significantly incorrect and misleading information in them?

What will the editors, and the reporter, say to all the responsible "pit bull" owners who now have to endure even more verbal abuse for walking their dogs on Sudbury's streets because readers believe that story?

You want to be a REAL journalist? Here are some tips:

1. Get the FACTS.
2. Report EVERYTHING you know to be true.
3. Report ONLY what you know to be true.

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