Pitbulls Used to Be Considered the Perfect "Nanny Dogs" for Children -- Until the Media Turned Them Into Monsters
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That problem is compounded by media sensationalism. Karen Delise studied every fatal dog bite reported in the years between 2002-2005, and found that “eleven dogs involved in fatal attacks with no Pitbull characteristics were counted as Pitbulls, while their 'true' breeds were not reported, and three dogs that were clearly not Rottweilers were identified as Rottweilers." That was among a total of 47 fatal attacks (by all breeds) reported during that period.
This dog was involved in a fatal attack and the media called it a pitbull...
According to Delise, this dog was reported as a pitbull despite the fact that animal control officers told reporters that she was in fact a Labrador mix...
This kind of misidentification creates a feedback loop, as most studies of fatal attacks rely on media reports for breed identification.
The media's role in amplifying the public's fear of pitbull-type dogs was evident in a study conducted by the National Canine Research Council in 2008. When an Arizona woman was killed by one or more dogs identified as Labrador retrievers, one local newspaper reported the story. But that same year, when a California man was killed by one or more pitbulls, the incident was reported “by at least 285 media outlets, both nationally (in 47 U.S. states) and internationally (in eight other countries). MSNBC, Forbes, USA Today, Fox News, CBS News, and ABC News all picked up the story.”
And when an infant in New Jersey was reportedly killed by a Siberian husky, around a dozen local news outlets reported the tragic incident, according to the study. But when another infant was killed by what authorities described as a pitbull in Nevada the same month, it was reported by over 200 media outlets around the world, often with the word “pitbull” in the headlines. Like shark attacks, our perception of the risk associated with these dogs has a lot to do with this kind of sensationalism.
Some people are understandably offended when the demonization of pitbulls is compared with bigotry against ethnic minorities, but there's one aspect of the analogy that is just too apt to ignore.
Pitbulls are disproportionately involved in serious attacks on humans, just as African Americans are found guilty of a disproportionate number of crimes in the United States. That's simply what the raw data say.
Most people consider the claim that blacks are inherently more criminal than whites, based on that raw data, to be pretty darn racist as it ignores the social, economic and legal context of crime and instead ascribes it to some imagined genetic or cultural flaw among African Americans.
And yet, when you strip away the overt falsehoods about pitbulls – those locking jaws and shark-like bites – the raw statistics, stripped of social context, is the entirety of the case against these animals (made even worse by the unreliable nature of data based on media-reported breeds in attacks).
So when Matt Drudge hypes stories of “packs” of black youths rampaging in America's streets, he's rightly called out for race-baiting. But when sex advice columnist Dan Savage, who writes numerous posts about pitbulls behaving badly with titles like, “ Pit Bulls Should be Boiled Alive like Lobsters and Fed to Their Idiot Owners,” and compares these domesticated canines with wild tigers, he's doing the exact same thing as Drudge. (Worse, Savage doesn't appear to make any effort to confirm that the dogs implicated in the stories he promotes are actually pitbulls.)
Only a Monster Could Support Breed-Specific Bans