While “Sudden Random Unprovoked Violent” blogger retires with distinction
AUSTIN, BOSTON, SEATTLE––Two of the most widely read blogs about pit bulls came almost simultaneously to an end in February 2016, under strikingly different circumstances.
On or about February 6, 2016, the online news-and-commentary host Examiner.com, claiming 20 million readers worldwide, delisted American Pit Bull Examiner and terminated author Cindy Marabito, in response to complaints about publication of false information issued by Rhonda Roland Shearer, founder of the IMediaEthics.org journalism watchdog web site.
On February 11, 2016, Sudden Random Unprovoked Violent blogger Thomas Mair quietly announced his retirement. His blog was, and is, best known by the initials SRUV.
Both Marabito and Mair had developed international audiences, through approaches which could scarcely have been more different.
American Pit Bull Examiner apparently debuted as the Dallas Pit Bull Examiner in 2010, soon after publication of Marabito’s 2010 book Pit Bull Nation.
Engaged in pit bull rescue and advocacy since circa 2000, and founder of the organization Reunion Rescue, of Austin, Texas, Marabito rapidly became controversial even among fellow pit bull advocates for making flamboyant claims that others found questionable. Her American Pit Bull Examiner postings frequently featured “sob stories” about neglected or abused pit bulls, often alleging cruelty, indifference, or negligence on the parts of animal care and control agencies, humane societies, and fellow rescuers.
Mair, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War turned scholarly researcher, author of encyclopedia entries, and former literary editor, is by contrast known for extensively footnoting each SRUV post, offering links to each source.
While SRUV originated out of Mair’s earlier involvement with Safe Island, an organization formed in a failed attempt to exclude pit bulls from the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound, Mair as a blogger tended to critique pit bull advocacy, rather than taking outspoken advocacy positions himself, and to let facts speak for themselves rather than making opinionated statements.
Open letter to AP writer
Recounted Mair of the beginning and end of SRUV, “On February 3, 2011, newspapers across the country published an Associated Press article by Sue Manning titled Training, not nature, makes bully. The article was picked up by papers around the globe, and was reprinted for weeks. A week after the appearance of the Associated Press article SRUV published our first blog post,” an open letter to Manning.
“The current post is published on the fifth anniversary of our response to Ms Manning,” Mair continued, “and is our final post.”
Wrote Mair to Manning in the unanswered letter that became his first SRUV post, “Your article makes extensive use of statistics from [a poll],” which “was apparently commissioned by a corporation which many would view as a pit bull advocacy group, and conducted by a company owned by your employer. Your failure to disclose the relationship between the interest group, your employer, and yourself raises serious questions about the journalistic integrity of this story.”
Resumed Mair in his last SRUV blog, “During the five years from Ms Manning’s article until the publication of this post, 124 people have been killed by pit bulls. Others are critically injured and clinging to life.
“Ironically,” Mair elaborated, “the first fatal attack to occur during this period was the attack on a newborn child, Darius Tillman, in Kalamazoo, Michigan, a week after our first post. The irony is twofold: Kalamazoo is the home of the United Kennel Club, the organization formed in 1898 to legitimize pit bull dog fights. The second irony is that Michigan is a state dominated by exceptionally effective pit bull advocacy groups, which is perhaps a sad legacy of its dogfighting heritage.
“In addition to the 124 fatalities,” Mair summarized, “an estimated 20,000 people have been maimed or otherwise permanently disfigured. An estimated 100,000 companion and domestic animals have been killed in these five years.
“Associated Press journalists who write about pit bulls have a guaranteed audience,” Mair charged. “Their articles serve as internet click bait for hundreds of thousands of media-savvy pit bull advocates. If these authors receive a penny each time their article is read, they could live well. The newspapers that publish these stories, and their advertisers, all receive tens or hundreds of thousands of hits, generating an immense revenue stream for the publishers…The United States is experiencing a public safety crisis, while the journalists avert their eyes.
“The Editors of SRUV are grateful to the many readers who have supported us during the last five years.”
Pay-per-click does not describe the modus operandi of Associated Press, whose writers are on salary. But pay-per-click is the modus operandi of Examiner.com and many other online portals that host pit bull advocacy blogs.
Exponentially increasing workload
Mair debuted by attempting an unprecedentedly wide scope of pit bull attack coverage while the numbers of pit bull attacks were soaring by more than 800% in eight years, and pit bull advocacy was comparably escalating.
Repeatedly trying to reduce the SRUV workload to an amount manageable as a part-time volunteer, Mair disabled the SRUV comment function at the end of 2011 to avoid spending excessive time moderating; reduced his schedule for publishing new posts in September 2013; and at the end of 2014 discontinued logging pit bull attack timelines for California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, and Texas.
Posts ANIMALS 24-7 attack logs
“News of pit bull attacks is self-censored by media or otherwise suppressed,” Mair complained, “and realistic logging is not possible for SRUV,” as a one-person project.
The ANIMALS 24-7 log of fatal and disfiguring dog attacks by breed has been compiled from news reports since 1982, but with the help of a paid researcher and an extensive network of volunteers.
“I’m still interested and could write about pits forever,” if time permitted, Mair told ANIMALS 24-7. Mair pledged to continue publishing periodic updates of the ANIMALS 24-7 dog attack log, as he has almost since SRUV began, “at least until SRUV becomes irrelevant.”
Mair and SRUV for about three months in early 2014 shared an office at the ANIMALS 24-7 headquarters, but the two projects are not otherwise related.
Pit bull transport
Ironically, Mair was among the few bloggers on pit bull issues to cite Marabito in a complimentary context, and probably the only one who did while arguing from a pro-public health and safety perspective.
“An incident last spring,” Mair wrote in a November 2013 posting, “offers graphic testimony to the hazards a dog may encounter” while in transit from U.S. rescue organizations to potential adopters in Canada.
“I-5 is the artery which carries these dogs north to Canada,” Mair explained. “The final 150 miles of the route, from Olympia to Bellingham, offers numerous stopover points for pit bulls before they cross over into Canada.
“On May 12, 2013, Keith Eckert of Edmonds, an easy half hour north of Seattle, filmed a dog fight in his neighbor’s back yard,” Mair recounted. “Within days the video went viral. As a result of the video, police descended on the house of Rose Marie Adams-Beutler and removed 14 pit bulls. Neighbors claimed that Adams had been fostering or keeping pit bulls for at least three years in filthy conditions.
“It is difficult if not impossible to verify the number of pit bulls that are moved into Canada,” Mair assessed. “But there is no more authoritative source than Cindy Marabito of Reunion Rescue. Marabito responded to the video with justifiable outrage,” including “open acknowledgement that these dogs were part of a rescue operation, and were likely on their way to Canada.”
Marabito via the American Pit Bull Examiner took a leading role in exposing several pit bull rescue operations that eventually ran afoul of the law, perhaps most notably the pit bull sanctuary Spindletop Refuge, of Willis, Texas.
Marabito in early 2012 helped Spindletop Refuge founder Leah Purcell to raise funds after the facilities purportedly were damaged by spring flooding. But after 298 allegedly neglected and abused pit bulls and the remains of 38 others were impounded from Spindletop by law enforcement agencies in July 2012, Marabito became vehemently critical of Purcell and her associates.
Marabito in her American Pit Bull Examiner postings indicated that at least one dog who died at Spindletop had been sent there by Reunion Rescue for boarding.
Purcell in February 2015 accepted a plea bargain sentence. “Purcell’s lone felony animal cruelty charge was dismissed,” wrote Houston Press crime reporter Craig Malisow, “and two of her four misdemeanor cruelty charges were also dropped. She was sentenced to 30 days in jail for two remaining cruelty charges, as well as a misdemeanor charge for illegal dumping, but she was given credit for the time she served in Montgomery County Jail following her July 2014 arrest.”
Perhaps the most vehement controversy involving Marabito and the American Pit Bull Examiner erupted after Darla Napora, 32, identified in her family-provided obituary as “an avid supporter of Bay Area Dog Lovers Responsible About Pit Bulls (BADRAP),” was fatally mauled in her home in Pacifica, California on August 11, 2011 by her two-year-old pit bull Gunner. Police shot Gunner at the scene.
Asserted Marabito in her American Pit Bull Examiner post of August 12, 2011, “According to residents of the Napora neighborhood, the dog did not maul Darla Napora, just found out that the woman fell off a ladder and hit her head.”
Marabito never clearly identified her purported multiple sources. No on-the-record source and no other source who verifiably visited the scene appears to have even mentioned that a ladder was present. Napora’s stepfather, Darold Larson of Yakima, Washington, has repeatedly rebutted the claim that a ladder was involved. The San Mateo County coroner’s report found that Gunner was solely responsible for the fatal attack on Napora.
But so far as ANIMALS 24-7 can determine, Marabito never corrected or retracted her claim about the alleged ladder that no one else saw.
“Pit Bulls Against Misinformation”
Marabito became involved in another online controversy in August 2014 involving a rescue called The Real Deal. Eventually an entity called Pit Bulls Against Misinformation published a disclaimer that “No current officer, board member, or Facebook moderator of Pit Bulls Against Misinformation is affiliated with The Real Deal, Reunion Rescue, or American Pit Bull Examiner.”
In May 2015, Marabito was by her own account temporarily blocked from using Facebook, banned from the premises of Austin Animal Services, and threatened with arrest in May 2015, after one of the dogs in her custody escaped from Reunion Rescue and was impounded.
“A final kiss goodbye”
Marabito reached the end of the line with Examiner.com, recounted Katie Kausch and Rhonda Roland Shearer of IMediaEthics, after Marabito posted an item entitled “A final kiss goodbye before Skye is killed in New York City.”
Marabito’s account “claimed that Skye and Milo, allegedly two sibling pit bulls, were about to be killed at a Harlem animal control center. There was only one problem with this sensational story, published on a site where writers are paid by the number of clicks: It wasn’t true,” Kausch and Shearer summarized. “Five hours before the story was posted, Skye had already been adopted and was safe and secure in her new home.”
Shearer herself, as it happened, had adopted Skye.
As well as misreporting the facts of the matter, Marabito misattributed the photo, by long-time New York City Animal Care & Control volunteer Carol Rothschild, to another photographer, Julie Carner.
Contacted by Kausch, an IMediaEthics intern, “Marabito then posted Kausch’s personal phone number and e-mail address [in an update to her Examiner post],” and “refused to remove them when iMediaEthics asked. This led to her eventual downfall, as such postings of personal information are a violation of Examiner.com’s terms and conditions,” Kausch and Shearer wrote.
Marabito on February 4, 2016 announced “she was no longer an Examiner.com contributor, as she was ‘fired.’ iMediaEthics verified [this] with Examiner.com’s Justin Jimenez who confirms ‘she is no longer a contributor,’ Kausch and Shearer recounted.
Beth Clifton, Dogsbite, & BADRAP
Alleged Marabito, posting as “DogGirlPitBull” via Blogspot on February 14, 2016, “Imediaethics is on a mission to shut down everything associated with American Pit Bull Examiner. They’ve shut down organizer and rescue director’s Facebook page for 30 days and enlisted the help of mass pit bull hate groups in their effort. Groups which want all pit bulls killed like dogsbite.org and Beth Clifton are sharing the lie-filled article and rejoicing all over the internet that a pit bull rescue is under siege.”
ANIMALS 24-7 social media editor and photographer Beth Clifton, a former pit bull adopter and rescuer, had in fact “shared” the IMediaEthics account of the American Pit Bull Examiner debacle on her Facebook page, but the demise of American Pit Bull Examiner also seems not to have been mourned by many of Marabito’s erstwhile allies.
Commented BADRAP founder Donna Reynolds via Facebook, in a posting distributed by Marabito herself in a blog entitled Pit Bulls and Other Animals, “Cindy Marabito was a blogger, not a reporter. And now she’s a disappeared blogger. Bye-bye, Crazy Loon Cyber-Bully.”