Two recent tragedies spotlighted the absurd priorities that can guide news coverage — coverage that admittedly often reflects the increasingly warped priorities of society in general.
Here is how The Associated Press began an article about a woman whose husband allegedly stomped and killed the couple's dog and beat her with its body: "Police outside Atlanta say a woman was beaten with a dog's body in what they call one of the worst cases of animal cruelty they've ever seen."
Come again? Have we just stepped into a rerun of "The Twilight Zone"?
With all due respect to animal lovers, the main issue here is not the alleged cruel treatment of the dog but the almost unspeakable alleged mental and physical cruelty to the woman.
As a matter of law, the United States does — and should — put a different value on human versus animal life. No one ought to condone the brutal treatment of a pet. That's not in dispute. But when did the welfare of a dog come to be deemed as at least as important — to authorities, the news media or anyone else — as the welfare of an innocent human being?
Those iffy priorities were on similar display in the recent mass shooting in Tuscaloosa, Ala., that wounded nearly 20 people.
The focus after the horrifying attacks rapidly shifted from the 18 charges of attempted murder that the suspect faces to whether he is a racist.
"Witness says Alabama gunman used slur," the AP wrote in a headline used in more or less that form on news websites around the country.
"Wilkins used racial slurs before shooting," read the headline on an Alabama Fox affiliate's website.
Did he in fact utter a racial slur? We don't know.
But other than perhaps to suggest a motive, are the suspect's racial views the primary issue after a shooting that left 18 people wounded -- some of them seriously? Only some quick investigative work by police, which led them to rule out racism as any sort of key motive, prevented the predictable flood of demands for "hate crimes" charges -- as if a mass shooting were less tragic when motivated by personal animosity rather than racial hatred.
The responses to these sorts of incidents say something about our society's ability to make important moral distinctions. And that something isn't very flattering.