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This place matters

Sunday, April 18, 2010

"Psycho Dog Man"

I was vaguely aware that the HLN network was an appalling waste of space before, but something I saw this weekend blew me away.
I'm posting the link to their story entitled "Psycho Dog Man" here, but all you need to know is that HLN for some reason finds it newsworthy that a man in Australia barked like a dog at a reporter. A clip of "Psycho Dog Man" has been circulating the Internet lately, and HLN's story claimed to be covering the phenomenon. The story plays the clip of the man barking about a half dozen times, interviews "Psycho Dog Man," and has the reporter, I'm not kidding, interviewing dogs on their reaction to the story. Once again, no, I'm not kidding.
Now what bothers me more than the fact that this is in no way a news story is the callous use of the word "psycho." Using the word "psycho" in the headline of a news story is totally inappropriate, insensitive, and unprofessional. Would they run a story with the headline "Retard Wins Special Olympics"? How about "Local Lard-Ass Wins Pie Eating Contest"? Why on earth, then, would anyone at the news organization allow that term to be used? I'm not prudish about slang terms or "bad" words, but words like "psycho" are insulting and hurtful, as cruel as any racial or sexual slur. Also, in this case, the word isn't even accurate. But to explain that fact, we first have to define the word "psycho."
"Psycho" can refer either to someone who is psychotic, or it can refer to a "psychopath."
A person who is psychotic is someone who is suffering from an illness that causes them to hallucinate and have delusions. People with psychosis can be violent, but usually are not. They are folks, the same as everyone else but for a few misplaced synapses in the brain, who are suffering deeply from symptoms that are far beyond their control. Just as it would be beyond cruel to mock a person with cancer for having cancer, calling a person with psychosis a "psycho" is morally equivalent to pissing on a drowning man.
A "psychopath" is a person who lacks empathy and a conscience; to quote the movie Natural Born Killers, they "know the difference between right and wrong, they just don't give a damn." The problem here is that when we only use half the word, we cause confusion as to the definition, and people can come to be under the impression that people with psychosis are violent and evil folks with no conscience.
"Psycho Dog Man," as it turns out, is a just some guy who was attacked by a dog and was describing the dog attack, complete with a description of the dog's bark. This man is neither psychotic, nor psychopathic. So in addition to the story being crude, cruel, and unprofessional, it's also completely incorrect.

*grumble, grumble*

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