The media in Riverside County, California seems to be determined to get as much mileage out of the mauling death of a 60-year-old man last month by reporting about a man who “almost” got attacked by a pit bull five days later. Although the article labeled the incident an attack, it concluded by saying the dog’s owner will not face charges as the animal did not bite.
The Press-Enterprise in Riverside County, California, reported that a wheelchair-bound resident out collecting cans was approached by a lunging dog he believed to be after his food. The newspaper reported that the man spun his electric wheelchair in circles until a sheriff’s deputy driving by noticed the scene and fired two shots at the animal scaring it away. The man was interviewed by local television and newspapers for almost being bitten by a pit bull.
While the gentleman involved was unscathed, the same cannot be said for the reputation of the pit bull, once again. Why this matters is several-fold. Inaccuracy, sensationalism and inflaming public fears are dangerous media practices that should be of concern to all citizens. If the media will distort and make a non-news pit bull story news, what else, the citizen might ask, are they willing to do?
The dog was reported to be a “pit bull mix” in the article, however, the headline labels the dog as definitively as a pit bull in an error reminiscent of the erroneous reporting in the fatal mauling. In that case, the responsible dog was labeled to be a pit bull when he was, in fact, a Neapolitan Mastiff. Was the web traffic so good the week before that stories about almost being attacked will do? What’s next, pit bull barked?
iMediaEThics’ publisher, Rhonda Roland Shearer called the reporter, who honestly admitted “It was a slow news day” and “it was around the holidays [Dec 26th] and we were desperate.” Press-Enterprise circulation is now about 175,000–down from 250,000. “Like [journalists] everywhere else” she said. “I feel like I am on the Titanic.”