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UPDATED 12/3/07

If StinkyJournalism staffers are the self-knighted superheroes of fact-checking, then Google Alerts are our trusty sidekicks.  When founder Rhonda Roland Shearer received a suspicious news alert about an article from Toledo’s WTVG (“Pit bull chews off boys leg, mother sentenced”), she immediately smelled that something wasn’t right.  A thought bubble appeared over her head, reading, “A pit bull chewed off a leg?”

She also noticed a strange line in the last paragraph of the story which read “Investigators believe they may never know what really happened.” It seems WTVG had capitalized on the furor – and web traffic – pit bull stories generate, while ignoring a gaping hole in their own reporting.

Instantly, she dispatched pitbull- coverage guru Adam Klasfeld to investigate.  Interestingly, the article below the headline had the correct information: The dog chewed off the boy’s foot, and not the whole leg.  A Laurel-and-Hardy-worthy transcript of Klasfeld’s conversation with the editors of WTVG documents how a correction came to be made.

(Shearer is still looking into the assertion that investigators are unsure about the circumstances of the attack.)

STINKYJOURNALISM:  I’m calling from Art Science Research Lab.  My name is Adam Klasfeld.  How are you doing?


STINKYJOURNALISM:   I saw a headline on your website, “Pit bull chews off boy’s leg, mother sentenced.”

WTVG:  Correct.  Well, bit his foot off.

STINKYJOURNALISM:  Oh, it’s been corrected?

WTVG:  No.  The pit bull chewed the boy’s—


WTVG:  Foot.


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WTVG:  Just the foot.

STINKYJOURNALISM:  That’s what I was calling about.  Has that been corrected?

WTVG:   Has it been corrected?  You mean…

STINKYJOURNALISM:  The title of the article is, “Pit bull chews off boy’s leg, mother sentenced,” and in the article itself it says that it was the 4-year-old’s foot.  I can give you the web address if you’d like.

WTVG:  Hold on a second.  I’m pulling it up right now.  “Pit bull chews off…”  Oh, you’re right!  “…boy’s leg, mother sentenced.”  It should be just his foot.


WTVG:  I’ll have them correct that.

STINKYJOURNALISM:   Do you know who wrote the headline and the article?

WTVG:  No I don’t.

STINKYJOURNALISM:   There’s no way of finding that out?

WTVG:  Hold on one second.

(WTVG transfers STINKYJOURNALISM to two offices, and eventually a voice mail.   STINKYJOURNALISM’s message is not returned.  WTVG corrects the title without notice or explanation.)


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Anatomy of a Correction / Correction of Anatomy: Pitbull Didn’t Chew Off Leg

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2 Responses

  1. Rhonda R. Shearer says:

    Please send us tips on stinky reports that you find.

    Send to

  2. Rhonda R. Shearer says:

    Importantly, readers should note that this headline correction was made without any transparency or accountability on the part of 13ABC.

    Obviously, this error of citing a pit bull chewing off a “leg” is far more sensational than this poor victim’s foot…However, the money quote in this 13ABC report offers a troubling clue about the larger “stinkyness” in the case: “Investigators believe they may never know what really happened.” What? In other words, there is still doubt, despite the conviction and sentencing, about how the boy sustained this horrible injury? Yet, without any qualification or question, 13ABC allows, in their sensational report, to let the pit bull takes the fall…

    Pit bulls headlines drive web traffic. Shouldn’t media outlets, such as 13ABC, have more to say, than one line, regarding investigators doubts? I believe 13ABC clearly had a duty to do more than passively report, without attribution or detail, the investigators’ misgivings.

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