Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lion Attack Didn't Roar Until It Was On YouTube

You might recall that one of the biggest news stories of the past decade out of Las Vegas involved a public animal attack that nearly killed a man and ended one of the most legendary performing careers in illusionist or Strip history.

It was a big deal. Magazine-covers-for-weeks big deal. Such a big deal, you would think, that if anything even remotely similar to it ever occurred again, the press would go into a, uh, feeding frenzy.

But, no. You'd be forgiven if you were unaware until yesterday that a lion went after a handler in the MGM Grand's Lion Habitat exhibit more than a week ago. And you probably still would know little about it if not for this:

How could we all have missed this? Well, for one thing, it was buried deep in Friday's Review-Journal as the LAST brief, less important than even an update on a murder case in another state.

The R-J gave this matter a whopping 78 words. Seventy-eight. It turns out, the brief was actually written by the Associated Press and used, as well, by the Las Vegas Sun on their site. So neither paper even covered it themselves and the AP, which was indefatigable thanks to former Vegas correspondent Adam Goldman on the Roy Horn case, provided nothing but a quickie explanation from a MGM Resorts publicist. That explanation: The handler had "stepped too close" to one of the lions.

I don't get it. The call comes over the police scanner that someone had been bitten by a lion at the MGM Grand in the middle of the day and nobody in the newsroom on Bonanza says, "Holy crap! We gotta get over there! We've gotta talk to tourists! We've gotta find out what's happening!"? Even if, as happened to be the case, it turned out to be a minor injury, how do you know when that scanner call goes out?

Ah, but now that there's a YouTube video, the local news stations and national web media are interested. Yet nobody's bothered to ask how even the meager, play-it-down explanation from MGM Resorts comports with what we see in the video! If the guy who was bitten "stepped too close" to the cat, how far away are they supposed to be? That other guy is seen petting ole Leo as though he were a German Shepherd moments earlier, right?

OK, so the handler did get away with some stitches on his leg and the public wasn't in danger. Does that mean this isn't serious business? I bet the folks at Sea World, who saw a skilled trainer killed by Shamu in February, might disagree. And didn't I just read that Dirk Arthur is planning to bring a menagerie of dangerous wild cats on stage at the tiny, gross showroom at O'Shea's next week? Doesn't it behoove us in the media to be vigilant about such events as warning signs that raise questions about the wisdom and safety of such exhibits?

I'm surprised, but I suppose I shouldn't be, that MGM Resorts still tries to minimize these incidents after what happened to Roy Horn in 2003. They had to know sooner or later, a tourist would post a video like this, right? Remember, this is the gang who for years has spun that white tiger Montecore was just trying to help Roy when he shook him like a rag doll even though 1,500 horrified viewers saw it happen. These are the folks who got Sen. Harry Reid to ensure the USDA would never make public the video of the incident.

So their explanations must be examined skeptically and these stories must be covered. And you know what else? Here's an added little bonus: People care. They love reading about this stuff. It's news AND it garners eyeballs. Neat, huh?


Phil said...

And to think they used to allow you to get this close at both the original MGM Grand LV and Reno. Ahhh the good ol' days.

By the way, I think they stopped doing these photos when an attack occured, I don't recall anyone being hurt but I remember hearing a rumor about it. Not sure if it was true, can't find anything online relating to it. The lion was supposed to be a direct descendent from one of the famous lions used in the MGM logo, there were several from what I recall.