I will begin this column with an apology. The topic is bad taste in journalism. Thus, my column may seem to be in bad taste. Maybe it is. If so, I'm sorry. I'm also unable to resist.
On Thursday, April 10, the Philadelphia Daily News published a letter from a reader seeking advice. Here, in its entirety, is what it said:
"I am a 26-year-old female in a long-term committed relationship. However, when my boyfriend is out, I sometimes have intercourse with my dog. How common is this, can I get a disease and is this cheating?"
The letter was signed "Cat."
What the paper should have done, of course, was ignore the woman. It should have realized that the letter was probably a joke and definitely inappropriate for a newspaper of traditional informational priorities; therefore, it should have been transferred immediately from the "In" basket to the waste basket.
Instead, the Philadelphia Daily News had a fellow named Chris Fariello respond to "Cat." Not by telling her to get some doggie treats for her lover and some clinical assistance for herself, but by taking the letter seriously.
"There is a great deal of controversy surrounding sex with animals," Fariello begins, although it seems to me there is no controversy at all. Sex with animals is a good idea for other animals, a bad idea for humans. Am I missing something here, Chris?
He then goes on to tell his correspondent that she "must have an open and honest communication with your boyfriend" about the matter, even though "you have some fears about how he may react."
My reaction, insofar as I can imagine such a thing, would probably be to take both my girlfriend and my dog to the pound.
Then, perhaps inadvertently, Chris Fariello delivers one of the great, understated punch lines in the history of modern American journalism: "The good news is that there is nothing physically unhealthy about this behavior. Aside from getting scratched or perhaps fleas, there are no specific diseases to fear, and you cannot get pregnant."
In other words, don't worry about the contraceptives, Cat; just get yourself some flea powder.
The Daily News identifies Fariello as an "M.A., M.F.T. [and] a senior staff therapist at the Council for Relationships, specializing in sexuality, gender and anger."
The last is particularly appropriate, because Daily News readers were livid about the paper's decision to publish the tale of the dog's best friend.
Jeff Reynolds, Morrisville, Pennsylvania: "Whatever happened to journalistic responsibility. Or has that too become an oxymoron?"
Jim Pasquale, Hammonton, New Jersey: "Fariello ought to be fired and the editor should be reprimanded for allowing such trash in print."
H.A. Prickett, Philadelphia: "I never thought I would see the day that I would not encourage my children to read the paper. Each day, I'd bring home the Daily News and leave it on the coffee table, reminding the kids how much can be learned from reading the newspaper. On April 10, that ended."
And so it went.
If I am correct that the letter was a hoax, then somewhere in southeastern Pennsylvania or environs there is a woman — or perhaps even a man — enjoying a hearty laugh at the expense of the Philadelphia Daily News.
In the same place, there are untold numbers of women and men not enjoying their rage at the Daily News.
It is bad enough that so many people these days think the media are ideologically biased, emotionally insensitive and anti-American. Thanks to "Cat" and Chris and the newspaper that made them public, the media now find themselves open to charges of zoological correctness.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch, which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.. ET/8 p.m. PT .