“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.
Let’s move on.