On Friday, December 11, 2009, The News of Cumberland County, our local paper in Bridgeton, New Jersey, ran the front page story, “Dragged behind truck, Reese is getting better,” Reese being a dog of pit bull and Doberman mix that had been horribly injured in the dragging incident still under investigation. Above the headline, however, was another: “Animal who did it still out there.” The article itself contained the same kind of statement: “The animal who did it is still driving the streets.” The rest of the article told of the wonderful work done by the SPCA to enable Reese to recover, retrain her to overcome some minor “bad manners” she had developed from poor training, and enable her to be a lovable dog fit for a new human owner and a better life.
An uplifting and helpful report was spoiled by name calling and mislabeling. A newspaper should not engage in labeling that corrupts appropriate indignation at an outrageous act into disgust with a person and, almost inevitably, with an entire group of people.
What’s wrong with this expression of outrage? Is it not natural when having learned of such a cruel and senseless deed to ask, “Which one is the animal?” Yes, it is a natural response, but not a helpful one. Reese is the animal. The perpetrator is a human being, an individual human being.