Thursday, February 18, 2010

Man bites dog

Posted on Thu, Feb 18, 2010 at 4:00 AM

Your “etc.” column in last week’s paper criticizing the coverage of the stomping death of the kitten named Mercy left me wondering about those who criticized.

It was surprising that either of the journalism professors doubted the newsworthiness of the story compared to what they cited—the Haiti earthquake and the Flathead man who allegedly killed family members. Haiti has been covered extensively in all the daily news outlets for weeks now. And the family shooting was certainly horrible—but when is there not a human-shot-human story in the paper?

Both of those stories were relatively “dog bites man” in comparison to the “man bites dog” shock of someone stomping a helpless kitten to death, much less their own kitten. Most people think of their pets like family—making the story emotionally comparable to the very human-shot-human story the professors wanted us to be more concerned with. And people who know that animals are conscious, sentient, vulnerable beings cried over Mercy’s fate—and that was if they could even bear to read or hear about the story, which many could not. Mercy, especially vulnerable as a kitten, had already been rescued from being abandoned at about two months old, two months earlier. Do any of you who doubted the story’s newsworthiness even think that animals have inherent worth and dignity and deserve protection from abuse? Or maybe none of you have pets? Or maybe you just don’t like cats? As for those who might agree with you, I’ll bet trappers were as surprised as any of you that animal-stomping was news, since they do that every day for fun if they can. And finally, the huge outpouring of responses to the story proved that it was newsworthy.

As for a claimed “intention to sensationalize,” I don’t suppose we can know that without knowing the motives of the publishers. Regarding the abuser’s name getting into the paper right away, unless the person is a juvenile, that regularly happens with most news stories. As for the risk of creating a “mob mentality,” then maybe his name should have been kept out for a while if the publishers realized that could happen. As to whether neighbors should have known about the abuser’s stress, he reportedly kept to himself. After he did stomp the cat, nobody knew the why of it all, nor whether there was a chance to treat his mental condition. But given that society does not provide counseling for those who need it but can’t afford it, and that counseling is largely not covered by insurance anyway, it’s predictable that nothing would have been done for him (and that’s assuming that he even could change at the late age of 63). In fact, the real news here would have been if adequate and sufficient counseling would have been attempted for him.

Bill Clarke


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