Yesterday, I was still stewing about the TIME article as I sat in a rental car parking lot waiting for John. (RIP, Saturn Ion. You gave us 10 good years.)
Anyway, I got a ding, glanced at my phone, and balked. The headline: KENTUCKY FRIED HOAX. Story of girl getting tossed from KFC bogus; ‘It never happened.’
You can read the full article here or in any of the other outlets like Yahoo! that are covering the fraud, but gist is that the little girl who was mauled by three of her grandfather’s 10 pit bulls… never got kicked out of KFC… never disturbed other patrons with her scars… never ordered mashed potatoes and sweet tea… in fact, she never even went into KFC. The hoax netted the fund started by the girl’s aunt over $135,000 (up from the $595 they had raised prior to the “incident”) plus offers of free surgery and an additional $30,000 pledged by KFC.
What does this mean?
This means that Alter’s reporting in TIME was even shoddier than we thought yesterday. This means that the impetus for writing her fake story was… fake. This means that we can safely assume that, since the biggest “fact” of her entire story wasn’t fact-checked, pretty much none of them were. And what does that mean for TIME?
Circling back around to my point from yesterday, what does it all really mean for the big picture?
Will all the people who were enticed to click on the splashy article yesterday click on the fraud article, which appeared in a small local paper, to get the rest of the story?
Will TIME run a retraction? Will they correct their errors? They haven’t yet, and in the age of the internet when you can make changes in real time, that’s deplorable and unconscionable.
We have effectively “buried the lede,” to use a journalism quote. The conversation has been steered by Alter, Lynn, PETA, Clifton, and this girl’s desperate family. We’re talking about KFC and we’re talking about fraudulent parents and we’re talking about journalistic integrity. Even the “other side” has latched onto this story and the hoax by saying (I’m condensing several comments here), “Of course they lied. They’re pit bull people.”
We’ve lost sight of the big picture. The critical elements – dog bite safety, animal welfare, the details of the mauling, punishments for negligent pet owners (and parents), how to address the root causes that result in little girls’ faces getting bitten – have been glossed over.
On yesterday’s post, my friend Pamela said it best: “The truly sad thing is that some people who are bit by dogs suffer tremendously. We need to prevent bites as a public health problem. And demonizing one group of dogs based on their appearance has not saved one person.”
Preventing dog bites. That needs to be our bottom line.
I’m lucky to know many wonderful people who work tirelessly to improve the reputation of pit bulls, to improve the conditions of companion animals, and to improve education and outreach efforts to teach dog bite safety.
I get indignant when stories like this distract and detract from the efforts of those big-hearted, dedicated advocates.
I’m furious that stories like this fuel the hatred and anger of the anti-pit-bull contingent.
But, beyond feeling angry, the whole thing is just sad.
It’s sad that the little girl was attacked, and it’s sad that her family was so desperate that they pulled this scam. It’s sad there were 10 dogs in a house without proper containment, training, restraint, supervision, and more. It’s sad that the garbage Alter wrote was published and widely circulated. And it’s sad that nothing will likely happen because of this mess, except more prejudice against pit bulls and their advocates.
Many days can feel like an uphill battle. I guess some days the hill is steeper than others.
Write those letters. Hug your dogs.