So yesterday's readers properly lept to the second installment on the media, and any "data" gathered solely from news sources isn't viable research for use when making laws. TV News stations' number one goal is to achieve ratings. Newspapers' goal is to gain readership. In return they gain advertisers that generate revenue. Sadly, getting the facts straight has become secondary.
Also, because news sources cannot possibly report on every event in an area, they selectively choose which stories to proceed with, and which ones they won't cover. Thus, by their nature, news stories are far from all-inclusive as a source for compiling data for use as research. They selectively pick and choose what to cover. They have to.
But is there a chance that the media over-reports biting incidents of certain types of dogs more than others? Or does the small percentage of dog bites (less than 1% of the total based on 1,008 major dog bites every day requiring an ER visit and my finding roughly 10 unique news stories a day about these events) that they cover equal a fair representation of the overall bites? If you've read this blog before, you probably know the answer.
Yesterday, Carianne appropriately pointed us toward a report by the National Canine Research Council that analized four major attacks, over four consecutive days involving four different breeds of dogs. The one involving the "pit bull" received 230 news reports while the other 3 combined (one of which was a fatality) received 4 total news items covered. This isn't the first time the NCRC has done such a study, each one with a similar result.
Even locally, we spoke with a reporter at one news station who informed us that his publisher would not run a news story about a dog bite unless it involved a pit bull.
It's also not uncommon for the media to mess up the breed of dog entirely or to take completely unexpert opinion on what breed of dog attacked them. It's no coincidence that in the category cloud on my blog has "Media Irresponsiblity" as its largest category where I've made the most posts. Here are a few examples:
There is this story from KCTV5 in Kansas City that reports that a woman was attacked by "2 or 3" "pit bulls" (you have to watch the story to get the "pit bulls" part as they've taken it off the online portion. This woman identified the breed of the dogs that attacked her, but is unsure of the actual number of dogs involved in the attack. The local Kansas City Star reported this story and noted it was a pit bull by saying another news source said it was a pit bull.
There is this report from Kansas City Based KMBC that reports about a French Mastiff attack but if you watch the video, you'll see "pit bull attack" on the banner highlighting the story.
There was this story from the San Jose Mercury News about a 2 year old that was reportedly "chased home" by two pit bulls. No injuries, or bites, but this made the news.
And this story (again from KCTV5) about "what could have been a vicious dog attack" on a woman who wasn't bitten by a pit bull.
And then there are stories like Marjorie's gem from yesterday about police arresting 9 people who were allegedly involved in a gang fight that has the headline "pit bull shot, policeman attacked at party". Note that the officer was attacked by a beer bottle over the head and not by the actual dog.
It appears that the media is very prone to selective inclusion when it comes to their reporting on incidents...eager to report events involving pit bulls, not so much when it comes to other breeds of dogs. Fear of pit bulls sell newspapers and ratings -- and the media is earning its keep on this. Misreporting stories, over-reporting stories, and relying heavily on eye-witness breed identifications (I'll talk a bit tomorrow why that's a bad idea). Even the CDC noted this when they did their report on attacks by dog breed back in 1997 -- but idiots like Merritt Clifton refuse to acknowledge that the media influence has created a major skew in his data.