TV Breaking News Goes to the Dogs

Back in the dark ages of television (i.e., the mid-20th century), the term "breaking news" was typically reserved for the biggest stories -- incidents so important that viewers needed to be informed about them immediately, regardless of the regular newscast schedule. In recent years, innovations like the bottom-of-the-screen video crawl have eroded the concept. But even by these degraded standards, the must-see update that flashed before those watching a repeat of Two and a Half Men on Channel 2 at around 6:23 p.m. on February 26 was comically absurd. The text read: "Breaking news from the CW2 newsroom: Rolo, the five-year-old German shepherd, has been found guilty in an Arvada courtroom of biting a neighbor..."

Let's take this a step at a time, shall we?

First of all, the decision in the dog-biting case hadn't just come down at 6:23 p.m. The time stamp on a Boulder Daily Camera article on the topic reads 1:50 p.m., meaning that the news had actually broken well over four hours earlier. Then again, Channel 2 doesn't appear to be especially quick on the switch. On the morning of February 27, the main web story about Rolo was a preview piece headlined "Court to Decide if German Shepherd Will Live or Die." The item's subhead is even more priceless. It reads, "Rolo: Good Dog or Bad Dog?"

As for the claim that the judge specifically found the German shepherd guilty, well, it's admittedly amusing to picture the scene: The stern, berobed figure intoning, "Rolo, please stand," the dog nervously rising to his feet, trying not to growl or bark, because that would only reinforce his bad reputation, the jury foreman trying not to make contact with those dark, soulful eyes... But in fact, it was the dog's owner, Laura Hagan, who was found guilty of two counts, not Rolo himself.

Granted, Channel 2 isn't the only media outlet to have used this phraseology: On February 27, KHOW talk-show host Peter Boyles said that Rolo had been found guilty, too, during a segment featuring a verklempt Hagan. And if the verdict actually had targeted Rolo -- and if he'd reacted by, say, taking a chunk out of the judge's calf -- maybe the breaking-news categorization would have been justified. But the actual story, including the fact that a final determination about Rolo's fate wouldn't be made until the next day, turns the breaking-news categorization into a self-satirizing joke.

Of course, Channel 2's real goal was to pimp its website and entice Two and a Half Men fans into tuning in for its 9 p.m. newscast, as the rest of the crawl made clear: "Go to to tell us what you think should happen to Rolo. We'll read some of your responses tonight..."

Did Denver turn thumbs up or thumbs down? Dunno. Instead of watching the newscast, I waited until 10 p.m. and then tuned in other local channels in search of some real breaking news. And all I found were lots of reports about Rolo. -- Michael Roberts