National News? Really?

dog on news station

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I was pleased to see Max, the 85-pound Argentine Mastiff that bit 9News anchor Kyle Dyer, return home to his family yesterday. Max could have ended up being the biggest victim in this circus.

For those of you who missed it (or don’t live in Colorado), Dyer was bit by Max during a live interview Feb. 8. Max, his owner and the firefighter who rescued the dog from an icy pond on Tuesday were all present. The bite, unfortunately, was to Dyer’s face — not pleasant for any of us, but a possible career-ending event if you’re a television news anchor.

This was a clearly a regional story from the beginning. A firefighter rescues a family pet who has fallen through the ice — personally, I’m glad I live in a city where stories like this can get some air time with a perennial ratings leader. Inviting them all on the air the next day was completely appropriate.

At the same time, the unfortunate turn of events — the bite — was also a legitimate regional story. Dyer has been a fixture on the Colorado media scene since 1996, and people who have started their day with her for 15-plus years were concerned. KUSA-TV covered the story appropriately from my point of view, both on the air and in their use of social media communities. While some might say they “milked” it, the simple fact is their audience was concerned. To not cover the story would have been irresponsible and probably fueled rumors and speculation.

But when Today picked it up, the national news show highlighted so much of what’s terribly wrong with television news today. To nearly anyone outside of KUSA’s broadcast area, the story just played on our lowest interests: vicious dog attacks beautiful news anchor in the face.

That’s not what happened. It was an unfortunate incident. An accident on all sides. Plain and simple.

First, Dyer has worked tirelessly for animals in this community, starting the “Kyle’s Kritters” segment shortly after joining 9News to highlight animals at the Denver Zoo. Second, Max had just been through a traumatic experience. I might have just been a snarky jerk if I was that stressed out, but Max did the dog equivalent. He snapped at Kyle.

“This is a very unfortunate event,” said Dr. Kim Vanderholm, D.V.M. at Franktown Animal Clinic and board member for Friends of Douglas County K-9 told us. “It’s important to remember that any dog of any size can bite if feeling threatened or nervous. This particular dog had recently been in a very stressful life-or-death situation. It was also in a new environment in the TV studio which was filled with strangers and equipment. Remember to always put safety first and do not get too close to an unfamiliar dog no matter how friendly they may seem.”

KUSA-TV did a number of follow-up pieces on working with animals, turning lemons into lemonade. Today just ran the piece as drama. The anchor used phrases like “huge dog” and “lunged at Dyer’s face.” Because they chose not to show the bite — at the request of KUSA, an NBC affiliate — I found the descriptive language, although technically accurate, to be more inflammatory than necessary.

The biggest issue for me? We have national unemployment of more than eight percent, a presidential election cycle underway, several very important pieces of potential legislation pending in Congress and tens of thousands of American troops around the globe. The only reason this story rose to the national stage was for the gawker element. Nothing more.

Today, I’m glad Max is home. I hope Kyle is recovering well (she’s a pro that I’ve had the opportunity to work with a number of times, and hope to again) and I hope Max’s family is on the way to moving past some really bad few days in February.

And I hope Today spends more time covering news that truly impacts Americans, not stories that simply play to the “looking at a car wreck” card that, sadly, lives in all of us. You can do better, Today.


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