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Press: ‘Dog bites man (or woman)’ still isn’t news

02 February 2024


IT IS an axiom of the business that “Dog bites man” is not news. Only “Man bites dog” counts as news. A couple of weeks ago, the editor of the Los Angeles Times was sacked for misunderstanding this rule, despite his years of experience. The backstory is simple enough. Dr Gary Michelsen is a retired orthopaedic surgeon with a knack for inventing useful gadgets — so useful, in fact, that he has 995 patents to his name, and a medical equipment company bought some of them from him for $1.35 billion in 2004. He loves dogs. In 2011, according to a profile in the LA Times, he was living with three of them (no wife, no children): a pit bull, an alsatian, and a whippet.

It is not clear which of them, if any, bit an unnamed woman in a Los Angeles park last year. She sued him; he sued her back. That’s how things are done in California. The story might have ended there, had Dr Michelsen not been a friend of Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong, another retired doctor. By a remarkable coincidence, his new friend had also made a fortune, although this time in bioethics; and, a couple of years ago, Dr Soon-Shiong spent $250 million of it buying the Los Angeles Times.

When the paper started to investigate the dog-bite story, Dr Soon-Shiong took a keen interest; for he felt that he knew what had really happened. The editor thought this improper in a proprietor and, two weeks ago, resigned. The next day, Dr Soon-Shiong sacked 120 more journalists. The moral of the story is that while “Dog bites man” still isn’t news, “Dog bites woman” is even more absolutely not news.

IT IS obvious, then, that a billionaire’s dog is more valuable than anyone they might bite. But is the billionaire himself worth more? In most contexts, the powerful and their interests obviously count for more than the less powerful. That’s practically a tautology. Yet our culture is haunted by a concept of uncountable value, which makes sense only if God exists.

A piece by Canon Giles Fraser, in the Mail Online, seemed to me to circle around this point. It’s about an argument with his mother, who wants him to take her to Dignitas when her time comes: “Thank goodness you are aged only 86 and that time is not yet close. But I know you fear the indignity of all that comes with old age. And I have said I would go with you to Zurich, even though I don’t agree with it.

“You are my Mum, I love you, and I will do as you ask. You have done so many things for me, and I cannot refuse you this last kindness. But I have to tell you why I am so against it.”

So he puts the argument from Canada, where a vote on expanding the availability of assisted suicide was preceded by an estimate from the parliamentary budget office that it would lead to health-care savings of nearly £90 million a year (Comment, 5 January). This reasoning shocks Canon Fraser.

“Looking at the astronomical price of care homes, there will be some who will think it would be better to spend the price of Granny’s end-of-life care on their children, for instance. Or worse, a new car.

“This is a Pandora’s box of nastiness. Once the State allows assisted dying, it is the most vulnerable in our society who will be most at threat.”

The whole point about the vulnerable is that they are not particularly valuable to anyone else, and often not to themselves, either. And value is always value to someone for some purpose. As such, it can always be ranked against other values. While I might not prefer a new Tesla to an ageing mother, I certainly wouldn’t spend the money on saving a stranger instead, whatever Peter Singer says.

The suffering servant is of no earthly use to anyone. That’s why he suffers. And, if there is no God to raise him up, there’s no reason for fellow humans to care, as for the most part they don’t. But this is not an argument that you can make to the readers of the Mail Online.

MEANWHILE, in Colorado, Pastor Eli Regalado and his wife, Kaitlyn, started their own cryptocurrency in 2022, and marketed it to their congregation. Prosecutors say that 300 people put in more than $3.2 million. The following year, as if by a miracle, it had all disappeared, and the Regalados had a new kitchen. Pastor Regalado responded to his criminal charges with a video message: “Those charges are true. . . We sold a cryptocurrency with no clear exit. . . We did. We took God at his word. . . The Lord told us to walk away from our parking company. . . He took us into this cryptocurrency. . . Well, that cryptocurrency turned out to be a scam. . . And I said Lord . . . you told me to do this.”

This is not quite what I meant when talking about God as the source and guarantor of value.

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