The Washington Post, Pit Bulls, And How We Know It Is Foolish To Trust The News Media

 

If you think about it, you know you shouldn’t trust the news media.

Decades ago, I realized that almost any time I read or watched a news report involving something I knew about, it was almost always wrong, confused, left out important data, or lied.  Initially this realization manifested itself in sports reporting about baseball in general and the Boston Red Sox in particular, but later, as my knowledge expanded, so did my experience with authoritative news reports that were, metaphorically of course, full of crap. When I ran a research foundation for the US Chamber of Commerce, this phenomenon really came into focus. Reporters misunderstood what researchers said in answer to their questions. They misrepresented the press releases. They obviously didn’t read the full studies, and pretended they had. They misquoted me.

I didn’t think this was sinister. Mostly, the cause was laziness and inadequate intellectual training and cognitive skills. Most reporters I dealt with just weren’t very bright or well-educated. And I it suddenly hit me, one fine day in the Spring of 1981, like bolt from the blue:

Tf news reports are so often significantly wrong when I know a lot about the topic, why do I believe and rely on news stories about topics I don’t know much about? It makes no sense to trust these people.

The depressing thing is that the news media was far less biased and far more professional then than now. At least you know, however, that my distrust of U.S. journalism isn’t of recent vintage.

I thought about my 1981 epiphany when I read this story in the Washington Post this morning. It is crafted as a heart-tugging report about the tragic death of a 7-year-old boy, with the headline,  “‘It’s my baby. It’s my baby’: Two pit bulls fatally maul 7-year-old boy in Mass., authorities say.”

As readers here know, Ethics Alarms has thoroughly researched and covered the topic of ignorant anti-pit bull breed bias. The argument that the three to five breeds commonly regarded as “pit bulls” are inherently dangerous and more so than any other large breed rests on the same illogic as racial bias against humans; it has no factual basis in science or experience. I also, quite separately from my research, have a lot of personal experience with dogs of all kinds, including the so called “bully breeds.”

The reporter obviously does not, nor did he do the research necessary to write this story competently. The first sign is that the dogs are identified as “pit bulls” according to “authorities.” The authorities are obviously not authorities on dog breeds, and multiple studies have shown that few people are capable of accurately identifying a “pit bull.”   First, there is no such breed. The breeds commonly called “pit bulls” are American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers  and the American Pit Bull Terrier, as well as the American Bull Dog, because it kind of looks like a pit bull, and the Bull Terrier, which has “bull” in its name. Pit breed mixes are also often identified as pit bulls, though a lab/pit bull breed mix, for example, is as much a Labrador retriever as a “pit bull.” Never mind. If a large dog has short ears, a muscular body, a square muzzle and bites someone, that’s plenty, along with confirmation bias, to lead an “authority” to identify a dog as a “pit bull,” and for the news media to report it that way. Continue reading

Unethical Website Of The Month: Reality Dive

The Pitbull is amused. He's a good sport.

The Pitbull is amused. He’s a good sport.

One should know that this is a really incompetent website. The title can be read multiple ways, one of which is self-indicting (and as it happens, accurate). The motto is just stupid: “The Truth As It Was Meant To be Heard.” Funny, I didn’t hear anything. And what I read wasn’t true.

I kept seeing a featured link to the Reality Dive’s slideshow, “The Most Incredibly Dangerous Dogs” on legitimate sites that should know better. Ethics Tip to these “sponsoring” sites: posting links to low-life outposts like Reality Dive undermines trust in your own site. You’re vouching for this crap.

I will remember.

Finally, I had to click. Sure enough, the title advertised was clickbait, aka a lie. The feature wasn’t even titled “The Most Incredibly Dangerous Dogs.” It was titled “Most Dangerous Dog Breeds” ( Most Dangerous Dog Breeds what?) The text of this mess indicated, if one thought about it, that the most dangerous dog breeds aren’t dangerous at all. Even that doesn’t plumb the sheer incompetence and misrepresentation on display in the slide show.

But first, a comment.  Many people, an amazing number, are stone ignorant about dogs. Never mind that dogs are all around us, work for us, play with amuse us, love us, help us, make us laugh and protect us, there are millions and millions of people who, out of phobias, traumas, negligent upbringing or just inattention, go through life regarding dogs as mysterious, sinister, untrustworthy, hairy noisy drooling things with sharp teeth to be feared and avoided. I feel sorry for them, but as with all ignorant people, I don’t feel too sorry. This condition is fixable, curable, but most of these dog-dummies choose instead to infect others with their malady, which is communicable. Worst of all are The Smugly Ignorant Who Think They Are Not, who actively work to create more people like them. I flagged one of the vile offspring of such Typhoid Marys of dog-hate in an earlier Unethical Website, Dogsbite.org.

Whether features like “Neat Pictures Of Dogs Pulled From The Internet With Meandering And Mostly False Text That Supposedly Explains Why They Are Dangerous But Doesn’t Because The Slideshow Was Created And Authored By a 16-Year-Old Intern From Madam Louisa’s Home For The Bewildered”—okay, that’s what it should have been called—are more or less ethical than the canine-breedists whose propaganda kills thousands of innocent animals every year is a good question. Reality Dives doesn’t care about dogs, one way or the other, just clicks. It assigned this feature to someone whom I seriously question whether he or she could tell a dog from writing desk. Nevertheless, these posts spread ignorance and fear, and set up people to think like the creators of Dogsbite.org.

Now let’s examine the slideshow a bit.

Numero Uno of the “dangerous breeds” is, you guessed it, the American Pit Bull Terrier. The writer  picked the most sinister picture he could find of the breed once called “The Nanny Dog” for its wonderful way with kids (still true, you know):

pitbull-1

 

I found the site he took it from: interestingly, it is a website that celebrates what great dogs these are. This picture on that site also could have been used, but that wouldn’t support the “narrative’: Continue reading

The Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards: The Worst of Ethics 2015, Part 1

Donald and Hillary

Sigh.

Watching the (encouraging) Iowa Caucuses results drip in last night, I was reminded that I hadn’t finished the task of completing the Seventh Annual Ethics Alarms Awards for 2015’s Worst in Ethics. There are two reasons for my tardiness: a lot of other ethics issues have arisen of late, and this job makes me physically ill. It is depressing and discouraging: 2015 was much worse than 2014, which was considerably worse than 2013. What am I doing here? What is the point of spending all of this uncompensated time—it is more profitable bagging groceries—trying to nurture a more ethical culture and a more ethically competent public when all evidence points to utter futility as the result? Well, that way madness lies, I guess. I’m just going to grit my teeth and do my duty.

Last year I began by saying that 2014 was the year of the Ethics Train Wreck. There were far more of them in 2015, and they were more serious and damaging. That should give you sufficient warning of the horrors to come…

Ethics Train Wreck of the Year

trainwreck

The Illegal Immigration Ethics Train Wreck

One reason 2015 was a train wreck fest was that last year’s winners, the Ferguson Ethics Train Wreck, which begat the Freddie Gray Ethics Train Wreck, both begat by the 2012 winner, The Trayvon Martin- George Zimmerman Ethics Train Wreck, and The Obama Administration Ethics Train Wreck, were still running amuck this year as well. The latter managed to run head-on into the immigration mess, with the President over-stepping his Constitutional limits to decide unilaterally not to enforce the law, and the Middle East foreign policy fiasco, causing Democrats to bury their heads in the sand and deny that admitting unvetted Syrian refugees into the country was unacceptably dangerous, and Republicans to start talking like 1930s Germans. Then everyone was demonizing the issue, including the President and all of the Presidential candidates. Runners-up: The Donald Trump Presidential Campaign Ethics Train Wreck and the Hillary Clinton Presidential Campaign Ethics Train Wreck

Fraud of the Year

Rachel Dolezal, the militant, angry, anti-white NAACP official who, we discovered, was lily white and had magically become black by “identifying” so.  This ridiculous episode neatly encapsulated the entire year, which included sexual predator-enabler Hillary Clinton becoming a feminist champion by identifying as one, Bruce Jenner turning himself into herself by just saying so (and cashing in as a result), and President Obama making failed policies successful by repeating over and over that they were. RUNNER-UP: The Illinois Lottery, which first lures poor citizens into paying millions they can’t afford for a distnat chance at a jackpot, and then doesn’t pay up when one of them wins.

Incompetent Elected Officials of the Year

Every elected official involved in the Flint, Michigan water disaster. Plenty of unelected officials were accountable too, but I don’t have a category for them.

Sexual Predator Of The Year

 Bill Cosby. He won this category handily in 2014, and added about 20 more alleged victims to his total this year. Who know how long he will hold the title? Meanwhile, his own Ethics Train Wreck sucked in Walt Disney World, the Smithsonian, and Claire Huxtable, among others.

Runner-up: Bill Clinton. Karma’s a bitch. Continue reading