Current Comment

Its a Dogs Life


Cruelty toward pets, all agree, is the kind of behavior law-abiding citizens should not tolerate. Understandably, then, recent revelations that N.F.L. quarterback Michael Vick oversaw a dog-fighting operation that tortured and killed dogs have prompted widespread public condemnation, as well as satisfaction that Vick could face up to five years in prison. But does one detect a certain excess of zeal in some of the reactions? “While we are pleased to hear that the Vick case is being settled through the criminal justice system,” said a representative of the American Kennel Club, “we remain concerned that the punishment will be inadequate considering the heinous nature of the crimes.”

In many jurisdictions in the United States, a five-year sentence exceeds the maximum allowed for spousal abuse or assault. Countless athletes over the past decade have been found guilty of one or both and walked away with far lighter sentences. No one will shed too many tears for Michael Vick after discovery of his awful crimes, but does the sudden frenzy of calls for draconian retribution send a disturbing message to human victims of physical violence? That our pets are more important than our people?

Don’t think so? Note that the late Leona Helmsley left two of her grandchildren $10 million apiece, leaving two others nothing at all, “for reasons which are known to them,” as she stated in her will. There was room, however, for another gift: she left $12 million to her pet dog, Trouble.

Klan Group Under Fire

Hate groups around the country continue to be challenged by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Imperial Klans of America, the nation’s second largest Ku Klux Klan group, is the defendant in a lawsuit filed by the S.P.L.C. in late July. An earlier suit against the same organization stemmed from the vicious beating in 2006 of a 16-year-old American boy of Panamanian descent. Two of the attackers, members of the Imperial Klans, are currently serving prison terms. The beating, which resulted in serious injuries, took place on the county fairgrounds in Brandenburg, Ky., during an I.K.A. recruiting drive, at which the men were distributing flyers for the “white only” event.

The present suit includes as defendants not only the I.K.A. organization, but also its Imperial Wizard, Ron Edwards, who owns a 28-acre compound in Dawson Springs, Ky. The compound serves both as the group’s headquarters and as the site of the annual Nordic Fest, a white supremacist music festival held on Memorial Day weekend. It brings together not only Klan members but also racist skinheads and members of other violent hate groups.

Commenting on the larger picture of racism in the United States, the center points to a 40 percent rise in hate groups in the last seven years, contending that the increase has been driven by “anti-immigrant furor aimed largely at Latinos” (Lou Dobbs, take note). Because of litigation against supremacist organizations over the past decades, S.P.L.C. officials have received death threats—a sign of just how successful the litigation has been.

Going Soft

A recent profile of the publisher and editor Mort Zuckerman in The New Yorker included the surprising news that despite an impressive run in the 1990s, which saw his print periodical, U.S. News & World Report, almost catch Time and Newsweek in terms of circulation and prestige, the magazine recently gutted its investigative staff in favor of soft news “amid a retrenchment severe even by the dismal standards of the category.”

It’s depressing news for Mr. Zuckerman, but he has company: most of the mainstream print organs in the United States have seen their relevance diminish rapidly in recent years, and journals of opinion everywhere struggle with declining (and graying) readerships. What does it all mean? Are Ray Bradbury’s feverish dreams of a deliberately illiterate culture becoming a reality?

One can view the latest news from Iraq within scant minutes on CNN; similarly, any number of Web sites can tell us much quicker than The New York Post what exactly Lindsay Lohan’s breath smelled like to her arresting officer. Even some devotees of newspapers will admit that the instant gratification provided by online information has changed their reading habits; we skim the headlines, scan for items above the fold, absorb the pictures without always bothering with the text.

What will happen to long-form investigative journalism in this brave new world? In a nation whose fourth estate has a long and proud history, where will tomorrow’s journalistic enterprises find the time or place for the muckrakers of yesteryear?

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