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Erik Wemple
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Posted at 03:38 PM ET, 01/24/2012

‘Liberal dead cat Arkansas’: A Google search tells a partisan story


Non-partisan cat apparent victim of partisan politics. (Courtesy campaign of Ken Aden)
This past week, The Washington Post’s Marc Fisher attacked this country’s great media divide. He embedded with South Carolinians of differing political viewpoints and tracked their divergent news diets. “There’s more campaign news and commentary out there than ever before,” writes Fisher, “but more and more citizens are tucking themselves inside information silos where they see mainly what they already agree with.”

For further evidence of this phenomenon, try pumping “liberal dead cat arkansas” into Google News. Those search terms fetch a chilling and apparently partisan story from Russellville, Ark. The skinny is this: Jacob Burris, the campaign manager for Arkansas Democratic congressional candidate Ken Aden, found his family’s cat slain in front of his house, the word “liberal” painted on its dead body.

The extended version, as Burris relates it to me, has more sickening detail. On Sunday morning at about 8:30, the 31-year-old Burris loaded three of his kids into his van for a trip to the gas station. When they returned, Burris’s 5-year-old boy got out and went around to the other side of the vehicle to help unbuckle the other kids, who are nearly 2 and 3 years old. On his way to assisting with the arrival, the 5-year-old spotted something. ”Dad, think the cat’s dead,” said the youngster to Burris.

The child wondered what the letters on the cat meant. Burris tried to explain them away. “It could be tire tracks,” the father said. Once the kids were inside, Burris moved the cat with a shovel into a wooded area behind the house. That night, he called the police, and the events were on their way into the country’s news stream, to Burris’s dismay.

The Russellville Police Department is investigating the incident and animal-rights groups are offering rewards. PETA is offering a reward

“I don’t enjoy, after something like this happens, having the thing be high-profile. . . . I understand that a news story is a news story and they’re gonna run it, but I’d much rather it be on something else, for sure,”Burris said.

There’s some consolation for him on that front, and it has to do with the country’s partisan media divide.

Many local Arkansas outlets have picked up the story, as have the Huffington Post, CBS News, and Gawker, among other broader platforms.

Yet the nation’s conservative media machine hasn’t yet jumped on it, according to Google News. FoxNews.com, for instance, just posted a wire piece on it, about a day after the story broke.

Vince Leibowitz, a principal with the Austin, Texas-based Dawn Group and the general consultant to the Aden campaign, characterized the conservative media response this way: “My honest impression of it is that the conservative media probably looked at this story and said there’s really no point in giving a progressive candidate any coverage at all at this point,” says Leibowitz. “We don’t want to give a progressive candidate like Ken Aden airtime on the network or bandwidth on the website.”

A story like this, however, will have the cardiovascular chops to last a few news cycles, according to Leibowitz. So more news organizations will jump in. “When conservative media realizes that even conservatives are outraged by such a despicable act as killing a child’s pet for political purposes, that they will have to pick up the story unless they have simply lost all news judgment,” says Leibowitz.

Burris hasn’t had a chance to play media critic on this one. He’s had some technology problems, and last night he went off grid to spend some time with his family. “From everybody, I’ve talked to, everybody’s as disgusted as I am,” he says.

By  |  03:38 PM ET, 01/24/2012

 
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