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Man Bites Dog Yet Again

There’s typically not too much to laugh about in the journalism profession of late, so we’ll take what we can get. That probably explains some of the collective mirth every time a headline like the one from today’s South Wales Argus pops up.

Man Bites Dog, as you’re probably aware, is shorthand for one of the guiding axioms of journalism: A dog bites a man? That’s not a story. A man bites a dog on the other hand…

In other words, it instructs reporters to look for a story with a surprising angle that readers might not expect. But, as fun as it is to see the headline actually put to use, it turns out it’s not as rare as you might think anymore.

An Ontario man was arrested in 2012 after witnesses told police they saw him bite a dog, The Star reported.

“Man Bites Dog in N.C. Police Chase” ABC News wrote a few months earlier about a fugitive who went feral on a police dog.

“When [the man] was biting the dog, it was something we haven’t seen,” Cpl. David Pellegrino told ABC affiliate WWAY in Wilmington. “Yes, our dogs do get assaulted, but no one has ever tried to cannibalize one of our animals before.”

I don’t think that technically counts as cannibalism, but point taken.

“Man bites dog. No, seriously,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported that same year of another tussle with a police dog. “He has gotten his teeth into Dexter,” Acting Inspector Jack Brown said of the suspect. “At that point the dog has retaliated, biting him. As you can imagine, Dexter [the dog] did a better job of it.”

You would hope.

“Man bites police dog,” the Israel Post wrote in, you guessed it, 2012. What was going on that year anyway?

Man bites dog (and a policeman), the BBC wrote of a 2004 attack. “I’ve had people fight my dog before, but not bite him,” the police officer involved told the Kansas City Star. Really? It’s all the rage nowadays. It happened again this year in Kansas City as well.

“Finally it happens: MAN BITES DOG – after stabbing himself” reads the headline from the The Register about a 2013 incident in California reported on by KTVU, which also couldn’t resist.

“Man Bites Dog, Eats Dog While High on ‘Spice’” ABC News wrote, going to the well once again in 2012. The man “then allegedly took his housemate’s dog, a medium-sized spaniel mix, out onto the house’s porch. He allegedly beat and strangled the dog, according to Waco Police Sgt. Patrick Swanton, and then began chewing ‘hunks of flesh’ from the animal.”

Drugs Take Man? Now that would be a headline.

“Charges: Naked man bites dog,” headlined the Deseret News in December of last year of another incident with a police dog in Utah. Man bites naked dog might’ve worked as well.

In May 2013 a Des Moines man bit a dog to save his wife from an attack, the Des Moines Register noted.

Those are just a few of the dozens of examples you’ll find online (here are a few more). Many more of these and we may have to recalibrate the old aphorism. Maybe: Cliche Headline Writes Itself?

[image via South Wales Argus]
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>> Luke O’Neil is a journalist and blogger in Boston. Follow him on Twitter (@lukeoneil47).

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