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Call off the “attack dogs”

   What do Joe Biden, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani — to name just a few — have in common?
   They’ve all been called “attack dogs” this week, so often that the phrase — in addition to reinforcing notions of dogs as vicious — has become a fairly major political reporting cliche, if it wasn’t one already
   Then again, to me (and maybe it’s just the attack dog in me) political reporting is about 50 percent cliches anwyay — though, granted, that’s because politics is about 80 percent cliches.

    You’d think the media, often portrayed as an attack dog itself, would better monitor its use of the term:

    NPR: “Biden Plays Second Fiddle (And Attack Dog)”

    Washington Post: “…Romney, a potential running mate for Sen. John McCain who was trying on the attack dog role.” 

    New York Daily News: “Attack-dog Rudy Giuliani takes a bite out of Hillary Clinton’s speech”

    And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I think it’s time for a wake-up call. That dog don’t hunt.

    Cliches are bad enough, but ones that needlessly denigrate the canine reputation are particularly disturbing. At least we can be glad the media is not calling the vice presidential candidates pit bulls.


    Associated Press: “Mitt Romney, a potential John McCain running mate playing Republican pit bull on the periphery of the Democratic National Convention…”

    Daily Kos: (on Biden) “… it should be fun having a real pit bull in the number two position to do some of the necessary dirty work…”

    Huffington Post: “Picking Biden is a solid choice that adds political savvy, national security experience and a pit bull campaigner to Obama’s ticket.”

    Clearly, I have no complaint with comparing politicians to dogs, but I think it should least be done in an informative and entertaining way — not just stereotyping for stereotyping’s sake.


Comment from Anne-n-Spencer
Time August 29, 2008 at 10:00 am

The best observation ever made about politics and dogs was made almost 300 years ago by Alexander Pope:

I am His Highness’ dog at Kew.
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

My guess is that the pundits have been “commentating” for so long now without a break that they wouldn’t recognize an original thought if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. I have some sort of mental filter that just tunes most of it out.

It’s a little bit like all those sports teams out there that are still named after members of a certain ethnic group: The Braves, the Indians, the (ahem) Redskins. Some genius somewhere at some point thought that these names made the teams sound courageous and warlike. Nobody thought or cared that to the people involved they might be insulting, degrading, and demeaning. That is, until they began pointing it out.

Maybe we should do the same thing for the dogs, who can’t speak for themselves and who probably don’t care anyway.

Comment from bluhawkk
Time August 29, 2008 at 2:39 pm

George Orwell in his 1946 essay “Politics and English Language” writes of “dying metaphors” e.g., “no axe to grind,” saying that political writing is generally bad. His first rule is “Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.”

It is the rare journalist that is inventive and avoids lazily reaching for the first trite phrase that quickly comes to mind.

It’s a pity that nothing is improved since 1946.

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