The misrepresentation of Pit Bull breeds in the media has been reflected in American culture. As these dogs were incorporated into World War I propaganda, they were perceived as symbols of courage and strength, the archetype of American dog breeds5. When, in the 1920s and 1930s, American Staffordshire Terrier “Pete the Pup” starred in the comedy Our Gang, later known as The Little Rascals, Pit Bulls were considered “nanny dogs” and family-friendly pets7. When the media focused heavily on illegal dog fighting rings and gang culture in the 1970s and 1980s, Pit Bulls were called demonic and unpredictable. Through their many roles, they have shown versatility and resilience, and lately they have suffered greatly.
Pit Bulls in the Press:
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Just as many types of dogs share “Pit Bull” characteristics, journalists utilize similar tactics when approaching stories about pit bull disturbances. Scare tactic journalism is used to report distressing news in a way that attracts and maintains audience attention or readership2. These stories feed off of public paranoia, using emotionally charged language and generalizations, ultimately attempting to apply an event to the life of an individual reader. Along with conspiracy theories and health scares, Pit Bull-type dogs are especially subject to this journalistic fear tactic.
At the heart of this particular scare tactic, is the common misuse of the term “Pit Bull.” “Pit Bull” is a negative slang term referring to the American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, or similar breeds3. It has ties to the dog fighting rings, which have plagued the media in recent years. In fact, the American Kennel Club purposefully registers these dogs as American Staffordshire Terriers in order to avoid the negative associations3. This term arose in the 1970s, when an influx of police activity in shutting down illegal dog fighting rings was featured in the media. Karen Delise notes, in her book The Pit Bull Placebo, that, although pit bull media attention originally sought to expose animal cruelty, the constant link between pit bull breeds and illegal, gang related