In Sunday’s edition of the Grand Rapids Press, Editor Mike Lloyd wrote a revealing column explaining why the Press chose not to cover protests held in conjunction with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus in Grand Rapids. In the column, one of Lloyd’s regular musings about how the Press decides what stories to cover, Lloyd described circus protestors, whom he chose to identify entirely with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) (despite the fact that protests were also organized by the local group Uniting for Justice), as a “circus” that “offered nudes, not news.”
The Press dismissed PETA’s tactics as a “publicity stunt” and objected to PETA’s use of a naked woman in shackles and covered in scars, which PETA argued was similar to the treatment of animals in Ringling Brothers Circus. While many in the animal rights movement have objected to PETA’s sexism, the Press chose not to examine the reasons why PETA was protesting, instead dismissing the protestors by saying that they offered no “evidence of abuse of the animals performing here” and that PETA has not filed any complaints with health or animal control officials. However, following the death of a horse in Grand Rapids at last year’s circus, PETA did ask Kent County Animal Control to investigate the death and other animal welfare violations. This complaint was reported in the Grand Rapids Press last year. Additionally, PETA has compiled a ten-page fact sheet outlining a litany of animal abuse by Ringling including numerous deaths due to negligence, citations by the United States Department of Agriculture for failing to follow various guidelines for food storage, and a failure to provide adequate veterinary care.
Moreover, while the Press justified their coverage of the circus’ marching of elephants down Ionia Street (the Press admitted it was a “marketing gimmick”) by describing how people were calling into the Press and asking about it, they ignored protests, despite the fact that each time the circus comes to town it is met by protests. This year there were protests by a national group, PETA, as well as the local group Uniting for Justice. Furthermore, the circus met such opposition last year that an anonymous group of animal rights activists used property destruction to make their statement against the circus, suggesting a level of opposition that is significantly out of the ordinary for Grand Rapids.