Man, we want to stop talking about the train wreck that was Friday’s The Fifth Estate episode on CBC. We really, really do. But the wreckage keeps burning and we can’t let it go. Sorry, guys. We continue to recommend that you do NOT watch it and we promise we will return to regularly scheduled #BSLbytes soon.
But here’s the latest. Following all the feedback CBC received about the show, host Mark Kelley made himself available for a Q&A yesterday to address questions. Did he address the many obvious criticisms of the “Pit Bulls Unleashed” episode?
1. Lack of balance in reporting (see Tuesday’s BSLbyte).
2. Odd conspiracy theories about the “pit bull lobby” that is “trying to move troubled dogs from shelters into your homes” (see yesterday’s BSLbyte).
3. Total absence of Canadian experts, Canadian data, or input from any Canadian actively working in the field of animal behaviour, animal law, or animal control.
4. Of the pro-BSL spokespeople, 3 out of 4 had known ties to Dogsbite dot org, an organization with a known mandate to exterminate pit bulls and Rottweilers, and whose “statistics” were debunked by their own network last year (link in the comments).
5. Zero acknowledgement of the valid arguments against BSL: for example, the trouble with defining a “pit bull” and enforcing this through visual identification; BSL has been shown to be ineffective and actually lead to an increase in dog bites; only strong enforcement of owner-focused legislation has been shown to make communities safer.
There’s more, and we know these points were brought to the attention of the producers, but none of this was addressed. Mark used his 11-minute Q&A session to defend his editorial choices and his rationale for relying on studies done by an Arkansas plastic surgeon rather than peer-reviewed research by the Centers for Disease Control, American Veterinary Medical Association, Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, and others.
There was one moment that stood out and really summed it all up. The question was “What happens in Canada if a pit bull attacks or kills a person?” He answered, “Luckily we don’t have a whole lot of incidents of pit bulls killing people to draw on..”.
If we don’t have many “pit bull” fatalities, what was the point of dedicating CBC airtime to demonizing pit bulls? Of the 57 deaths by dog since 1964, only one was identified as a “pit bull” breed (this does not include the recent death of Ms. Vadnais in Quebec, as breed has still not been confirmed).
So given that 96-98% of Canadian fatalities are by other breeds, how does it make any sense to be worked up about this particular collection of dogs?
The American statistics do seem to stack up differently, but they have flaws of their own. Breed identification is often pulled from media reports and bystander statements, and found to be inconsistent with other sources up to 40% of the time. Major studies by the American Veterinary Medical Association and The Centers for Disease Control have identified risk factors for dog attacks (e.g., victim vulnerability, health status and treatment of dog, intact reproductive status, dogs running at large). Breed has not been found to be a risk factor.
CBC, you made a bad call by airing what you did. Dog behaviour and legislation are complex topics and there so many different angles you could have chosen. Even if you’d made some nods to breed discrimination on the way, we were prepared to forgive you if you got it mostly right.
But it’s hard for anyone to watch this and believe it was done in the spirit of fair journalism. And yesterday, when you had a chance to reflect or acknowledge your “alternative facts”, you didn’t. You doubled down on them.
It’s bad enough when we see this on other networks, driven by ratings and advertising. We hate it but we at least understand where it comes from. CBC is our public broadcaster, supported by our tax dollars. We deserve better than this.