Monday, November 28, 2011

Words as Bullets

PETA—People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals—is now suing Sea World out in San Diego for violating the constitutional rights of whales. Apparently, Sea World is not honoring the 13th, or anti-slavery amendment.

Now most sane people—meaning people who are not members of PETA—realize this is a publicity stunt, plainly and simply. But let’s humor these “activists” while I reminisce.

Back in 1992, I was assigned to write a series of profiles on all the candidates running for freeholder in Cape May County, because—believe it or not—I was covering politics in those days. I considered that my time in purgatory here on earth…so I got that goin’ for me. It’s sort of a spiritual deposit to my existential bank account. (Those who know me personally are aware of how little I admire politics and politicians.)

Anyway, the first woman I interviewed was an animal rights activist, and during the course of the interview she railed on about people who left unwanted pets at the animal shelter where she was employed.

What she said was very succinct: “I’d like to be waiting for those people with a machine gun and mow them down as they walk away,” she said.

Well, as a reporter, I jumped right on that. “Let me get this straight,” I said. “You want to machine gun human beings who have decided that they can no longer care for a pet. Can I quote you on that?”

She then answered, “Hey, those animals can’t take care of themselves, so we have to do it for them, right?”

I neither agreed nor disagreed; I just went on to my next question. And I wrote a pretty interesting article after that interview, even if I do say so myself.

However… (you knew there was a “however” coming, didn’t you?)…that article never saw the light of day. It—and the entire series of articles on all candidates—was spiked by the editor. Killed! DOA! Do not resuscitate!

When I asked why, I was simply told that there was not enough time or resource to give equal space to every candidate. Well, my opinion was—this is a newspaper; we find the time, we create the resources necessary to get the story to our readers.

And I thought that the voters of Cape May County needed to know that one of the candidates standing for freeholder was advocating the use of automatic assault weapons as a means of giving FIDO a fair chance at finding a home.

But I wasn’t the editor in those days—merely a reporter. So I couldn’t tell the tale. And I’ve looked askance at animal activists ever since. And…I’ve always wondered why journalists, when faced with something as out of the ordinary as a lawyer suing for a whale’s constitutional rights, don’t ask some obvious follow-up questions. I would want to know if that attorney would also think it reasonable…and just…to sue for the rights of a child in the womb who was about to be aborted.

Machine guns and pampered sea creatures aside, if we fight for the safety and freedom of whales, puppy dogs, mosquitoes, sewer rats, house flies, polar bears…do we not also fight for the safety and freedom of a child?

If not; why not? Why is the baby whale more valuable than the baby human? And more basically, why can’t a reporter ask that simple question?

As a writer—whether through my novels and short stories, or through my newspaper columns—I always tried to shoot straight from the hip. But, unlike some I’ve spoken to, I’ve used rapid fire words, not a thirty caliber machine gun.

No comments:

Post a Comment