Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

Thursday’s front page a case study in wrong impressions

Post by Brian O'Neill on June 14, 2012 at 12:21 pm with 14 Comments »
June 14, 2012 12:21 pm

“We all see only that which we are trained to see.” Robert Anton Wilson

Today’s print edition of the Trib carries two similar stories on its front page. The first, spread over the entire width of the page, describes the memorial service for Chance, a Puyallup Police Department K9 that died during a recent medical procedure. The second, which takes up about a third of the space underneath, is a lead for a Page 3 tribute to 2nd Lt Travis Morgada, a 25 year old Army officer killed during a battle in Afghanistan.

The discrepancy in formatting, however unintended, is just plain wrong. We perceive events, as Wilson’s quote above suggests, in the manner in which we are trained to view them. We are accustomed to reading the important news events by order of importance, typically displayed in decreasing priority from top to bottom. The larger the front page coverage, the more significance we are taught to attribute to the story.

In this case, the reader’s eye picks up  the notable difference in column width and vertical placement, as well as the relative size of the pictures, all in a glance. The perception, again, intended or not, is that the story about a young soldier dying violently in a war zone is of less import than the untimely passing of a well-loved service animal.

This should not be perceived (there’s that word again) as a slight to the Puyallup Police Department or Chance’s handler, Officer Gary Shilley. The loss of a police dog, service animal or pet can be traumatic, a fact most of us would acknowledge.

How does that loss compare with the death of a person, especially a young soldier? The answer is that it does not. There is simply no comparison between the two, a point on which I believe Officer Shilley and his colleagues would agree. Yet the proximity of these two articles, in disjointed proportion and location on the front page, clearly made that comparison.

Maybe I am overreacting to this issue. Maybe this perception is simply my own, a result of having teenage sons who may someday find themselves on a path similar to 2nd Lt Travis Morgada. Maybe I see myself, a UW grad who, like Morgada, decided to join the military after college. Maybe I am sensitive to the huge ceremonies the police put on when one of our own is killed in the line of duty, events which dwarf the far more frequent funerals for the troops killed in our wars.

Maybe I would not want to read about my own son’s tribute underneath a much larger story about a dog’s.

2nd Lt Travis Morgada's casket/ Courtesy of



Let’s move on.

Leave a comment Comments → 14
  1. BlaineCGarver says:

    Lose the PC…. People that worry about that sort of thing need to get a life.

  2. Brian O'Neill says:

    Whether or not you consider this a PC issue, this is still a matter of basic human dignity. Have some respect.

  3. tacomaboy46 says:

    People who have a life don’t spend every waking moment commenting on the local fishwraps website…

  4. Chippert says:

    Brian, you are absolutely correct and thank you for having to courage to write about it. I think much of the problem is a function of the human reflex that allows us to adapt to unpleasantness. In this case, we see so many articles and stories of soldiers dying in Afghanistan which followed on the heels of daily stories from Iraq, that they just become another news article to skim by. But the death of a police dog is rare enough to draw our attention and then we can all relate that to the death of a personal pet, whereas few of us have personal experience with war deaths, at least not since Viet Nam. The same hold true for all the murders we read about. Next time one is reported in the Trib, read the accompanying comments. Very few will be concerned about the impact that the loss of a human life has on their families and friends. Instead they will focus on the murderer or how bad a person the victim must have been. And not a few of them will merely use it as another arguing point for their own political views.

    John Dunne said in his Meditation XVII “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind” and it is true. But few of us today really take that to heart and that is a shame. If we each felt a little bit of the loss the premature death of a human being really is, whether they be hero or villain, the world would be a much better, kinder place.

  5. BlaineCGarver says:

    Respect….Every deceased peron on the obit page has a loved one that thinks their loss if greater than others. So, Brian, let’s see you put all the departures of the day in the proper order.

  6. Piercecountyvet says:

    Thank you Brian, I think you hit it dead on.

  7. huffington says:

    Brian, being that over 6,000 U.S. servicemen have died since we invaded two countries, that is a lot of front page articles about dead soldiers. I don’t think it was a slight to the soldier, but other news does happen daily, which also needs attention.

  8. Brian O'Neill says:

    Thank you for wading in, Piercecountyvet and huffington. I understand that the number of deaths has diminished the news-worthy nature of each new death. However, in this case the front page editor should have seen that his formatting could lead to some grief. Had that been my son’s picture under the story about a dead police K9, the indignity would have hurt me very deeply.

    And Blaine, dogs don’t make it on the obituary pages.

  9. BlaineCGarver says:

    Thank you for intentionally spinning my comment 180 degrees from what I actually said.

  10. Brian O'Neill says:

    My column was written to point out the poor taste implied by elevating a dog’s death to a human’s. Your objection suggested this perspective was mere PC. I disagree and stand by the column and my comments.

  11. BlaineCGarver says:

    “Implied”= feelings = PC <{:-)

    I stand by my comment,as well, Sir. Dozens of people died that day. Remember that you write for a NEWS paper.

  12. Brian O'Neill says:

    One more comment and then you are free to have the last word: Dogs are not people.

  13. BlaineCGarver says:

    Despite evidence to the contrary, I respect your opinion. I thought, though, that the K-9 officers were considered actual LEOs? If I’m wrong, it won’t be the first time. <{:-)~

  14. Brian O'Neill says:

    K9 officer is the term used for the human cop, though sometimes the dogs are given the honorific, “Officer.” In reality they are well-loved service animals.

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