Pit bull advocates attack unaired 9 On Your Side investigation
Notes by: Forrest Carr, KGUN9 News Director
It hasn't even aired yet, but already Pit Bull fans have opened fire on an upcoming 9 On Your Side Investigation. They had no need to actually see the story before concluding that it's biased, unfair, sensationalistic, unprofessional, and so on. They started ripping the story to shreds on our Facebook page on Tuesday, and redoubled their efforts Wednesday night and Thursday.
This should surprise no one, given the reaction that earlier coverage provoked from the same crowd of people. Last year, after a pit bull mix killed its owner, pit bull fans wrote in to defend the dogs and blame their bad reputation on sensationalistic reporting. KGUN9 received such criticism, and I've heard from a reporter at another TV station who got the same treatment. The defenders insisted there is nothing dangerous about pit bulls provided the owners are responsible.
So, in November 9 On Your Side attempted to test that statement, setting out to answer the question, "Are pit bulls dangerous?" The answer: under certain conditions, yes. Pit bull advocates went all out to attack the story as untrue, unfair, biased, and so on and so forth. KGUN9 answered every allegation (you can find the conversations on our Viewers' Voice tab). The pit bull crowd was not able to successfully refute a single fact presented in the report.
One of the hallmarks of the November uproar was that attackers were responding as if KGUN9 had put forth a proposal to ban pit bulls. KGUN9 had done no such thing. The merits of such a ban, or "breed specific legislation" as it's called, were outside the scope of that story.
So we decided to do a follow investigation up asking this question: Are breed specific bans reasonable? Do they work? That is the focus of our follow-up report, which will air tonight (Thursday Feb 2) at 10.
Apparently we've gored someone's ox just by asking the question out loud, judging from the weeping and wailing. To be fair, the on-air promotions for the story do contain what might fairly be described as a "scary man voice." But the promo doesn't call for a ban on pit bulls -- it merely states (accurately) that 9 On Your Side will explore that question. More to the point, it contains audio clips from exactly two people, who are on opposite sides of the debate. Critics who claim this "adds up" to an obvious KGUN9 conclusion that pit bulls must be banned are employing math that is, at best, fuzzy. In any case, a 25-second marketing spot (which is, for the record, assembled by a different department other than news) is not the story. The story is the story and must speak for itself -- and, lest this point be lost, let me say it again: THE STORY HAS NOT YET AIRED.
Even so, the pit bull watchdogs are barking loudly. Several of them went so far as to write a letter to the mayor and council complaining about the upcoming piece (the full text of the letter is available at upper left). Others pasted pictures of cute, cuddly pets, demanding to know why KGUN9 hates animals. Still others plastered comments all over our Facebook page laced with the usual accusations. I responded to some of those, pointing out that all the pre-story accusations of bias just make the pit bull fans sound like what they really fear is a free and open inquiry. For the most part, that defense simply bounced off.
Here is a sample of the commentary thus far:
Adrian Bunny Dorsey: "KGUN 9's support of making pit bulls illegal is absolutely ridiculous, and I will not stand by your news channel, your news channel's sponsors, or the station that airs your news channel and will encourage all my social contacts to avoid supporting your station as well. Would it be alright for the government to say, 'There's a few killers in the human race, therefore we should exterminate all the people?' Absolutely not!"
Sarah Wilson: "Pitbulls are powerful animals, and yes they are animals! THEY are not the issue, its their owners that need to be investigated. Just like anything that has the potential to do harm, guns, medication, cars, they need to be treated with a healthy respect. If you are a gun owner are you going to let your toddler play with it? No! Dog owners need to abide by such discrimination with their pets. Most Pits in the hands of a responsible owner are not a danger to society. But just like any other animal they aren't perfect, and if they're having a bad day watch out."
Welovesocalbuzz Sanderson: "Why does KGUN 9 news hate me? Buzz."
J-Andrew Lightner: "Because they only hear the negative side of your breed, that is why!"
Crystal Collins: "Love ya buzz. My pit Daisy rules and is a big love bug."
Dottie West: "It is the ADS THEMSELVES that do a disservice to our animals. Every time an ad like that 'The Truth about Pitbulls' runs, people out there start to believe there IS some truth -- besides the facts that these are just dogs. We just want them to be dogs. To separate them out makes people question why - and makes people who have never met a Pitbull fear them. KGUN is doing damage that will take another twenty years to alleviate. Couldn't you just leave them alone?"
Debbie Lee: "Oh please Forest, try not to insult me with that leading remark. What I fear is ignorance, and there seems to be plenty of it. BSL [breed-specific legislation] is biased ignorance. I fear that. I don't know if KGUN 9 hates pitbulls or not, but I am ready to defend them on any course. When this is aired and over then and only then will I make my decision on KGUN 9 and who's side they really are on."
Shaina Bohn: "Thanks to your last 'well researched' segment on pits I think it's pretty obvious why people are so upset about tonight's."
Nate Borgo: "It seems to me someone at KGUN 9 has such a bias towards 'pit bulls' and wants to push the city for a breed ban. I am not going to watch this news story based on your advertising for it. It is purely for ratings and it is very unprofessional."
Brittany Admire: "We did refute your facts. Yes, pit bulls bite/attack but not because they are pit bulls. Its because they are dogs. I encourage you to visit the American Temperament Test Society's web page and look at their breed statistics. They conduct a test to evaluate a dogs temperament. You will see that pit bulls have a passing rate of 86.4%. German Shepherd 84.4%, Golden Retriever 84.9%, Labrador 92.4%, Chow Chow 71.4%. I think that what these numbers show is that a dogs temperament is not determined by the breed but other things in its upbringing and environment. In the past couple of weeks there has been numerous homicides, stabbings, and other deadly incidents. My question is why are you bring this topic back up instead of focusing on the obvious high rate of crime happening in Tuscon?"
Brittany, with all due respect, to refute a fact, you must demonstrate it to be false. No one was able to that successfully with any fact presented in any of our earlier reports. What the pit bull fans mainly did was to attack opponents who were interviewed or quoted within our stories, and to attack KGUN9 for allegedly supporting a ban on pit bulls, which our stories did not do. This whole back-and-forth was fully addressed in multiple Viewers' Voice columns, which you can find on our Viewers' Voice tab. Further, in an effort to bend over backwards in the pursuit of fairness, we also gave pit bull fans a microphone and let them have their say in a follow-up story, which aired a few days after our investigation.
Update: By this morning, the pit bull crowd had worked themselves into paroxisms of rage on our Facebook page, posting more cute, cuddly pictures of pit bulls doing cute, cuddly things, attacking the upcoming story as biased, unprofessional, sensationalistic, unethical, etc, etc. etc. That prompted this response from Lynne Senyk Tafaro, who attempted to remind the posters that they're going batty over a story they haven't even seen yet: "When you attack a story that has not even aired, you lose credibility accusing past stories of being 'fear based and completely one sided.' What comes across, loud and clear, is a bias so deep that rational analysis and debate just isn't possible on this topic, with many of you. And that's a problem. Because if you can't discuss the issue rationally, how can you properly own the dog?"
For the most part, that observation had the same effect on the pit posters as my observations along the same lines had on Wednesday, which is to say, no effect at all.
By this morning, a full-scale brawl was well underway on our Facebook page, with pit bull combatants on all sides having at it in the most vicious viewer debate we've ever seen. Pit bull supporters are continuing to do what they do, posting pictures of their adorable pets and asking why KGUN9 is so mean and biased. But pit bull foes are beginning to fight back with pictures and stories of people who've been mauled and killed.
All in reaction to a story that absolutely no one has seen! One might be tempted to describe some in the pit bull crowd as knee jerk reactionaries, except that so far, they've been given no story to which to react. But they certainly don't give the impression that they're particularly open to the discussion, as Ms. Tafaro so eloquently observed.
The story airs tonight (Thursday February 2) at 10pm. We'll find out then what the evidence says about whether pit bull bans and other breed specific legislation are reasonable or effective.
After the story airs, it will be fair game for accusations of bias, inaccuracy, unfairness, unethical and unprofessional reporting, and so on. Not before. You can weigh in here, or on our Facebook page.