Tuesday, August 24, 2010

KTVU: Interesting Choice of Words

Last week, a dog walker was taking a client's dog for a walk when she encountered a park regular at an off-leash San Francisco park (Fort Funston). The two dogs reacted to each other. The dog walker asked the man if his dog was neutered. That's when the man took out a knife and began stabbing the other dog. The dog was severely wounded, his spleen was removed but he survived.

Read the article

Guess which dog's breed is mentioned? The Pit Bull belonging to the man who stabbed Lenny, the other dog.

This is the stabbed dog. His breed is not mentioned.

Lenny is obviously a Pit Bull type dog. Even though he was stabbed, he let people handle and hold his wounds down. Even though is owner aggressively attacked Lenny, the other dog didn't do anything aggressive.

Yet, we are left with an impression about the other man AND the dog, based solely on two words - Pit Bull. It won't matter that Lenny is a Pit Bull. It won't matter that the other dog didn't hurt anyone. Pit Bull is used to make connections and inferences. KTVU made a cognizant choice in how they would portray this story. It wouldn't be good enough to say "A man walking a dog stabbed another dog" or that "this is how the dog looked" or "Both dogs were Pit Bulls"...no, what they chose was to report that a man walking a Pit Bull stabbed another dog.

While I think it is unfortunate "Pit Bull" conjures up some nasty associations, the current reality is that it does. That is what the media plays on, and it reinforces stereotypes and prejudices both about the dogs and their owners. Lost, of course, is the dog walker who was apparently normal, Lenny who was apparently normal, and heck even the other dog, who was apparently normal. The only abnormal one is the man with the knife.

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