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By RICK BOSTON
Staff Writer 

Facts Don't Change Just Because You Don't Like Them

 


In last week’s Herald, I wrote an article about the incident in Claysburg where a pit bull attacked a family of three. In that article I pointed out that this was the second serious pit bull attack in our area in the last 14 months as a 6-year-old Lakemont boy was killed when attacked by his family’s pit bull.

This article also cited statistics on pit-bull related incidents across the country and examples of places where this breed is banned. I pointed out that this breed has been labeled a “dangerous breed” by many city officials and organizations. What I did not do was give my opinion about this breed.

The Herald hit the newsstands on Thursday morning and before the sun went down that evening, I was receiving a barrage of hateful messages on my phone from local pit bull lovers, some using their names, others hiding behind a mask of anonymity.

Besides the name calling, (one that rhymes with “grass mole” was particularly popular) I was accused of single-handedly destroying the reputation of this breed and distorting the facts. I invited everyone to show me my facts were incorrect. I am still waiting for those replies.

Understanding this was a small percentage of readers who were sending me these messages, it nonetheless was unnerving. I was confused by their venom toward me. After all, I am just a reporter relaying a news story while putting it into context with other incidents across the country and how this breed is perceived by some. For the life of me, I couldn’t see how they thought that I personally attacked this breed and called for their extinction.

But then a friend pointed out to me that people who feel strongly about a subject, those who live the debate every day, will see only what they want to when it comes to their cause, creating a “kill the messenger” mentality.

In this case, they saw “pit bull attacks,” my name on the byline, and made me their cause’s enemy. Their passion for promoting this breed wouldn’t allow them to see that they were doing to me is exactly what so many across the country accuse pit bulls of doing – that is, attacking without being provoked.

Their rush to defend the breed blurred the line between news story and opinion piece for them. It was a story that painted their cause in a negative light, and although I made no mention of my personal stance on pit bulls, I took the bullets of their reaction to the facts I stated.

Our ‘New Normal’

This brings up a few interesting things that seem to have become normal in our society.

One, if you don’t like something, don’t debate, just attack. Accuse the writer of making up facts, but don’t offer anything to support your argument. However, to simply say, “You are wrong and I am right” without offering anything to support your claim does a disservice to your cause and sets it back further than any news article ever could.

Also, if a news reporter writes it, it must be his opinion. This is simply not true. In the case of this article, I didn’t state my opinion for two very good reasons. One, it was not an opinion piece, and two, I have never owned a pit bull, I don’t personally know anyone who does, and that makes me unqualified to express an opinion on them.

I can, however, state facts about incidents involving these dogs, I can relay statistics about the breed to my readers, and that is what I did.

A note on sources

One message I received chastised me for citing statistics from the organization dogsbite.org, an organization that researches and records dog attacks.

A woman told me that I was irresponsible for using them as a source because they are “a hate group.” This is an unfair characterization. Simply hating what an organization’s purpose is does not make it a hate group.

Dog lovers may not like it when the statistics are reported, but it does not make those reporting them a hate group. It cheapens the name of “hate group” and gives strength to real hate groups, the ones that harass, beat and kill human beings because of their skin color, religion or sexual orientation.

And for the record, Forbes magazine, a publication with a lot more resources than the Herald, cited dogsbite.org in an article about dangerous dog breeds last September. The organization is a credible source, and not liking them or agreeing with them is going to change that.

Hiding behind keyboards

As for those individuals who sent me messages: the ones who used their real names and had a picture on their profiles seem like they are decent people in their everyday lives. These are people who would probably never walk up to a stranger on the street and start calling him names and accusing him of making things up.

But given the comfort of the keyboard and the safety of nothing between them and their target but vast amounts of space, they suddenly found it acceptable and well within their rights to infiltrate my private life to voice what they thought of me.

I am sure none of these people would dream of coming up to someone while they were with their kids and start calling names, but armed with the internet as their buffer against human contact, didn’t hesitate to do that to me.

My 7-year-old daughter likes to look through the many photos on my phone. Imagine her confusion when she was looking at photos of her latest basketball game when suddenly a message popped up that read, “you are an a—hole.”

I teach my little girl to be kind to everyone, even if they don’t give it back to you. I teach her to talk things out, not lash out. It hurt me that it hurt her to see that message directed into our household. I would like to believe that the person who sent that, and the ones who sent the others, are not this hateful in their everyday lives and that they have just become so immersed in the internet culture where there are no rules of civility and no thought to the fact there is a human being on the other end of that message.

Doing my job

Reporters report. It is our job to inform the public, whether the subject matter is to your liking or not.

Imagine if every reporter had to think about who he might offend before writing a news story.

Imagine if reporters started shying away from covering certain subjects because of the fear of being harassed and called names throughout an entire weekend.

If we did that, then we have come as far as we can as a society, because progress, which can only come through knowledge, would grind to a screeching halt.

Change comes with action, not reaction. If you don’t like the statistics reported, work to change them. If pit bulls being labeled a “dangerous breed” upsets you, try to change the perception.

Simply yelling “I don’t agree” and calling names will never bring the change you want. How could their reputation as a “bully breed” ever be changed if the people who are most passionate about them use bully tactics to get their points across?

Editor’s Note: The Herald welcomes responsible opinions on this topic. Submissions will be edited only for grammar and spelling. You must include your name, address and a daytime telephone number for verification. We publish only your name and the town where you reside. If you have any questions, please contact the publisher at (814) 793-2144 or [email protected]

 

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