Chicago Sun-Times Illustrates Irresponsible Media Reporting Concerning So-Called “Pit Bulls”

Update: Judging from the 5 p.m. news footage of the dogs in question, they are absolutely not the “usual suspect” breeds typically mislabeled “pit bulls.”   Nor are they mastiffs, or 150 pounds.   One of the dogs appears to be a 60-pound bulldog mix of some type, and the other appears to be a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix that is slightly larger.   Still, this incident illustrates how wildly inaccurate the media is when it comes to so-called “pit bull” attacks.   Neither of these dogs looks to be a pure breed or even any of the breeds I listed below.   This incident should prove how basing statistics or even politics on media reports of so-called “pit bull” attacks makes for horrible science and horrible policy respectively.   But then, breed-specific legislation itself makes for horrible policy, so there ya go.  


No matter what the breed, dog attacks can be terrifying events, particularly for children.   Yet simply reporting the facts about a child being attacked by two very large dogs apparently isn’t enough for the likes of the Chicago Sun-Times.   No, they need to boost their readership apparently by sensationalizing the event, as if a dog attack on a child wasn’t dramatic enough.   The Sun-Times embellished the events of Monday, June 3, with the following:

Willie Riley was cooking…when a frantic girl banged on his back door yelling that dogs were attacking her 3-year-old brother.

As Riley hopped a fence to reach the boys house about 3:30 p.m. Monday, he heard him screaming.

I was nervous to go in there, said Riley, who sought help at a fire station across the street from the home in the 7300 block of South Kingston in the South Shore neighborhood.

Unfortunately, the firefighter who came to the door was the sole firefighter in the building. All other firefighters were on a run. He told Riley to do the best he could and called for police and an ambulance.

Riley, 48, entered the house where the boy was being attacked and, armed with a wooden plank, walked into the rear dining room. He found two pit bulls, each weighing more than 150 pounds, biting the boy.

When breed-specific legislation (BSL) is passed, the proposal often defines so-called “pit bulls” as American Staffordshire Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, or American Pit Bull Terriers.   While it is of course wrong to define three distinct breeds as if they were one, and we’ve said so ad nauseam (since even a child can understand that lumping multiple breeds, their mixes, and lookalikes together as if they were one breed would skew bite statistics), how much more incorrect is it to call what must be some kind of mastiffs, “pit bulls”?   150 pounds???   No AmStaff, Staffy, or APBT is 150 pounds!   AmStaffs and APBTs should weigh no more than 65 pounds, and Staffies should weigh no more than 45 pounds.   Even a morbidly obese dog of any of these breeds could never weigh 150 pounds!   Clearly, this child was attacked by what must’ve been mastiffs, which are often erroneously called “pit bulls.”   Yet, how absurd to call a 150-pound mastiff a “pit bull”!  

Now, let’s look at how the Chicago Tribune reported on the same exact incident:

Willie Riley was cooking a meal in his South Shore home when a little girl jumped over the fence and said her 3-year-old cousin was being attacked by two pit bulls.

The little boy was hurting so I had to go in there and see what was wrong,” said Riley, 48.

But first, he grabbed a wood plank. “I jumped the fence, went in, fought the dogs off and got the little boy,” he told reporters Monday evening.

Riley said he brought the boy out of the house and across the street to a fire station, then went back for two other kids who were upstairs in the house in the 7300 block of South Kingston Avenue.

Notice there is no mention of the weight of the dogs, though there is still the classification (or misclassification) of their breed.

So, as we so often say here, what is a “pit bull”?   Why, it’s anything you want it to be.   Heck, some have even mistaken Chihuahuas for “pit bulls.”   That’s what we mean when we say there is no “breed” “pit bull” and that statistics on so-called “pit bulls” are greatly skewed and therefore meaningless.   Still, you can so clearly see the media is complicit in sensationalizing these attacks and incorrectly reporting the dogs involved as “pit bulls” as if that were an actual breed 1) to bolster their plummeting readership, 2) to lend support to a city or state that is seeking to pass breed-specific legislation, or 3) both.


One response to “Chicago Sun-Times Illustrates Irresponsible Media Reporting Concerning So-Called “Pit Bulls””

  1. By the way, the Sun-Times article excerpted above also mentions that “Willie Riley was cooking chicken gizzards” which has nothing to do with the story other than for the Sun-Times to point out that the hero of the story, Willie Riley, was black and lived in a poor neighborhood. Others have pointed out same in the comments section of this article, saying that the article is racist and classist. So, as I’ve been writing all these years, breed-specific legislation isn’t just prejudice against “pit bulls” or a breed or breeds of dog, it’s often a prejudice against their minority and socio-economically disadvantaged owners.

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