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Man Kills Dog

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

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.

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