Can PETA be Fixed?

March 22, 2010

So I was on Digg.com this morning and I came upon a front page link to a Huffington Post story about PETA going after Mike Tyson for doing a reality show for Animal Planet based on his pigeon racing hobby.

If you read my blog regularly, you probably know I’m not a huge fan of PETA. They hire some amazing people and do some great things, but they’ve also got a knack for making some unforgivable choices about their campaigns and their publicity stunts. I often feel that, as an animal advocate, many people judge me for PETA’s frequent stupidities—and I resent PETA for making our community look like fringe idiots.

So when I finished reading the Huffington Post piece I thought, “there they go again.” It seemed like yet another ineptly chosen campaign and I actually thought the unthinkable: that Mike Tyson, of all people, was being unfairly attacked. The commenters on Digg, who are some of the stupidest people on the Internet, tore into PETA with glee.

I decided to do some of digging to see if this was yet another case of PETA sticking its foot in its mouth. Oddly, the Huffington Post story didn’t link to PETA’s latest blog entry about their campaign against Mike Tyson’s show. I located the piece, and it was surprisingly good. But this PETA blog entry from last week is even better, and does a great job of explaining the group’s concerns:

While we would never knock someone’s love for these intelligent birds, Tyson’s claim to care about pigeons is rather incredulous [sic] given that he chooses to tout using them in a “sport” that—like horseracing—exposes them to danger and death. In a typical race, the birds are taken great distances—sometimes as many as 500 miles—away from their homes and then released to see if they can find their way back. It can only be a traumatic experience, as evidenced by the fallen pigeons who succumb to storms, shotgun pellets, and collisions with high-tension wires and who are often found starving, exhausted, and a long way from home. Pigeons mate for life, and the likelihood that both partners will find each other again or that the bird who is released will be reunited with the one left in the coop is a crapshoot. For those banded birds who are found by concerned citizens or turned in to humane societies and have their bands traced, the voice on the other end of the phone is likely to say what we have been told directly, i.e., “Wring their necks, that’s what we do with losers.”

After researching the matter further, I found that the small amount of material available online seems to support PETA’s position: see this excellent online forum discussion by the New York Bird Club, as well as this South China Morning Post article.

So, all in all, it looks like the Huffington Post piece is a hatchet job regarding an issue in which PETA has taken a very defensible position—one that an informed public would indeed support. And it’s inexcusable that the author didn’t at the very least link to PETA’s blog entries so that readers could easily see PETA’s argument for themselves.

Shit, here I am defending PETA. What is this world coming to? Well, let me finish this thing up with two final points.

First, PETA deserves some blame for apparently not seeking out sympathetic journalists who would cover this campaign fairly. When you’ve got as many enemies as PETA has, you can’t just make a reasonable blog post or two about an obscure topic like pigeon racing and expect your side of the story to get a fair hearing.

Second, I’ve long thought that most of PETA’s problems could be fixed by making one crucial hire. What PETA desperately needs is to hire one smart and sane person—someone with a grasp of current public opinion and with a deep knowledge of the animal protection movement—and put that person in charge of reviewing any campaign, blog entry, or media release that the group is contemplating putting out into the world.

Call this person The Terminator, and give him or her absolute authority to squash any campaign or publicity stunt before it gets launched. Whoever PETA hires for this position, it needs to be someone who can spot bullshit and idiocy and won’t tolerate it being released to the public. Someone, for instance, who would have strangled PETA’s outrageously counterproductive Holocaust On Your Plate campaign before it could be released into the world.

The general public, and activists as well, should never be left wondering if PETA’s latest utterance is important and sensible, or whether it’s yet another half-assed ploy to gain publicity. The right person could abruptly end PETA’s long-held position as the animal rights movement’s laughingstock. PETA’s continued relevance, as well as the animal protection movement’s future prospects, depends greatly on the organization creating this vital position—and filling it with the right person.

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