Grand Rapids Press Editor Mike Lloyd Retiring

The Grand Rapids Press

The Grand Rapids Press announced today that longtime Editor Mike Lloyd will be stepping down on July 1st.

Not surprisingly, an article covering the announcement is filled with accolades, praise, and a list of awards and honors bestowed upon the Grand Rapids Press under Lloyd’s direction.

For many readers and progressives, it will likely be hard to say too much other than “good riddance” in response to this news. Lloyd has a reputation as being rather pompous–see his weekly columns in which he talks about editorial decisions made at The Press–and has generally been no friend to progressives.

His columns–which tend to be particularly aggravating–were praised in the announcement:

Shortly after assuming the editor title, Lloyd began writing a weekly column that focused on news coverage decisions and the Press writers and editors who made them. The column also served as a vehicle for answering reader questions and concerns.

I’m much more inclined to remember them for what they are–often obstinate defenses of objectionable editorial decisions. For example, earlier this year, Lloyd defended his paper’s repeated frontpage coverage of The Bachelor. In other instances, he has taken similarly frustrating positions: defending the distribution of an anti-Islamic DVD earlier this year, giving space to Pete Hoekstra to defend Blackwater’s Erik Prince, and dismissing animal rights protestors.

Hopefully, a new editor will bring a new direction to the Press.

Grand Rapids Press: Waterboarding is Illegal, but dont bother Prosecuting Anyone for It

Water Boarding Torture

Last week, The Grand Rapids Press gave space to Representative Pete Hoekstra to attempt to justify the United States use of torture.

Now, The Grand Rapids Press has weighed in with an editorial published Wednesday. In the editorial, The Grand Rapids Press acknowledges that the United States should not have used torture and that it was a “mistake” to have done so, even in light of the threat posed by al-Qaida:

Despite that compelling context, the decision to use water boarding and other “enhanced interrogation” was a mistake.

The harsh, sometimes brutal tactics lowered the nation’s moral standing, damaged international relations and likely put U.S. prisoners at risk for tougher treatment at the hands of enemies. Water boarding, in particular, is illegal under U.S. and international law.

However, while acknowledging that the conduct was illegal, The Grand Rapids Press simply doesn’t want to see anyone prosecuted for those crimes.

Although they acknowledge the use of torture was criminal, The Press says that “Authorizing torture as an officially sanctioned practice was a moral failure”–and ultimately one that should have no consequences.

For The Press, it would be too divisive to hold investigations:

Criminal investigations, professional censure or congressional hearings will only distract from the business of continued threats at home and abroad. Such action would send a chilling message to future government leaders and intelligence operatives seeking to protect the nation in moments of grave national threat.

However, if we don’t send a clear message that the use of torture will be prosecuted, we’re simply sending the message that torture is permissible. Agents can engage in those acts, they’ll just have to deal with a few strongly worded newspaper articles and some after-the-fact criticisms, but for the most part, they won’t face any consequences.

Press Runs Guest Column in Support of Employee Free Choice Act


After publishing yet another editorial against the Employee Free Choice Act earlier this month, the Grand Rapids Press published a guest column on Friday by Buckley Geno of West Michigan’s Friends of Labor and West Michigan Plumbers, Fitters, and Service Trades Local Union No. 174.

The column calls out the lie that the Employee Free Choice Act eliminates secret ball elections:

The Employee Free Choice Act does not eliminate elections. It gives working people the freedom to make their own decision about forming a union and how to accomplish that task without the fear of retribution. Currently, working people are struggling to make ends meet. The Employee Free Choice Act will allow more people to bargain for better wages and working conditions, which will help rebuild our middle class and create an economy that will benefit everyone.

Today big business dominates our economy, which enables corporations to insist that employees organize unions through so-called elections on their terms, even when a majority of employees have stated they want a union. The result is intimidation and coercion, which leads to “elections” that are more like fake elections in dictatorships.

However, while it is nice to see the Grand Rapids Press finally publishing something in support of the Act, it doesn’t make up for the fact that its coverage of the issue has been very one-sided and anti-union. It has editorialized against the Employee Free Choice Act four times and run columns from conservative commentators against the Act. Similarly, in its news coverage, it has spoken primarily to critics–business owners and Republican politicians–rather than supporters.

Grand Rapids Press Publisher Discusses State of The Press

Dan Gaydou of the Grand Rapids Press

Last week, Grand Rapids Press publisher Dan Gaydou delivered a speech to the Rotary Club of Grand Rapids on the state of his newspaper. As the we’ve reported in recent months, The Grand Rapids Press’ parent company has made a number of cuts in recent months, as has The Grand Rapids Press.

However, The Grand Rapids Press reported on Gaydou’s talk and that The Press is in a solid position:

Acknowledging the newspaper business is changing dramatically, Gaydou said The Press — along with parent company Advance Publications Inc. — is poised to make the transition.

A string of major daily papers have filed bankruptcy or stopped publishing, but it’s inaccurate to assume that all newspapers are close to demise, he said, speaking at Kent Country Club. Many of the papers that have folded are in large metropolitan markets and have lost readership over time.

That isn’t the case with The Press, which is read by 56 percent of the community on a daily basis and 65 percent on Sunday, Gaydou said.

Gaydou said that the biggest challenge facing The Grand Rapids Press is the economy, but that it has recently cut costs through pay cuts and buyouts.

Gaydou went on to say that The Press is committed to maintaining its “reporting franchise” saying that it is necessary to “preserve a valuable component of the community and democracy.”

And as is always the case today, Gaydou hyped The Grand Rapids Press’ website saying that it “appeals to younger readers.”

Military Spending and the US Occupations: Week 12 of the Grand Rapids Press Coverage of the Obama Administration

Obama in the Grand Rapids Press

For the second week in a row, the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan have surpassed economic stories published in the Grand Rapids Press on news out of Washington. There were a total of ten articles in week twelve of the coverage and 7 of those stories were US foreign policy/military spending related. Only two stories were specific to the domestic economy and The Press ran one story from the Associated Press (4/12) asking the question, “Where will Obama worship?”

More Money for Occupations

There were a total of seven military related stories during week twelve of the The Grand Rapids Press coverage of the Obama administration. Two of those stories were focused on military spending; an April 10 story on the President’s request for an additional $83 billion for Iraq & Afghanistan, and an April 12 New York Times article that presented information on the proposed changes in the overall Defense budget.

The April 10 article states that the President has made an “$83.4 billion request for U.S. military and diplomatic operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The story continues by saying, “his Democratic allies in control of Congress are sure to approve the spending without the type of tortuous battle that characterized their dealings with former President George W. Bush.” The Press version of this AP story omits any critical comments from Democratic lawmakers who oppose the requested funds for war, which gives the impression that all Democrats support the President. However, independent reporter Jeremy Scahill provides several oppositional responses from Democrats in a recent article that challenges the administration’s foreign policy narrative.

The The Grand Rapids Press then ran a New York Times article on April 12 that begins by saying, “Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates announced a major reshaping of the Pentagon budget on Monday, with deep cuts in many traditional weapons systems but new billions of dollars for others, along with more troops and new technology to fight the insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.” However, the article focuses mostly on specific weapons systems and presents the proposed Defense Budget as inadequate for US national security.

Both Democrats and Republicans are cited in The Times article criticizing the President on defense cuts, which probably has more to do with their ties to Defense contractors than their concerns over the size of the military budget. Unfortunately, what the article missed was the fact that the Obama administration’s proposed 2010 military budget is $21 billion dollars more than the 2009 budget under Bush. The Times does cite a military expert from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a think-tank with ties to the defense industry, but that comment only looks at the military hardware, not the overall budget. This assessment is significantly different from the analysis provided by the Center for Defense Information, which is made up primarily of former high ranking US military personnel.

More Violence and Omitted Voices

The remaining stories on Obama’s foreign policy plans for Iraq and Afghanistan are very instructive when looking at home mainstream media presents an official narrative. The April 8 AP story on President Obama’s visit with US troops in Iraq focuses on the contrast between the new president’s “spontaneous visit” and “the staid, set-piece visits by the conflict’s author, former President George W. Bush.”

Nowhere in the April 8 AP article does the reporter challenge or even clarify the Obama plan for Iraq. The story just repeats the mantra that the President plans on “ending the war in Iraq by 2010.” Independent reporter Dahr Jamail has much different assessment of the president’s visit to Iraq when he points out that while Obama praised the troops for their “extraordinary achievements,” he still doesn’t raise the issue that more than a million Iraqis have died since the US occupation of 2003 began.

The story on the upbeat visit by President Obama in Iraq is a much different story than the Los Angeles Times article which ran on April 11 in the Grand Rapids Press. The article states that a suicide bomber attacked US troops killing 5 “U.S. soldiers in the deadliest strike against American forces in Iraq in 13 months.” The story focuses on this one attack but doesn’t provide any analysis of the recent rise in violence that Dahr Jamail documents, nor does it mention the Iraqis who have been the target of violence from both insurgent groups and the US military.

Patrick Cockburn, who has been reporting from Iraq since the beginning of the US occupation, also provides some important analysis of the recent violence in Iraq. He also points out that “the Sunni who changed from insurgents to US allies over the last two years are once more fearful for their future.” This fear has increased with the plan to have more US troops leave Iraq between now and 2010.

There were also three stories that dealt with the US military campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan during the past week. On April 6, there was a New York Times piece on the reluctance of Pakistani leaders to support the US attacks against insurgent groups in that country. Unfortunately, the Grand Rapids Press omitted the bulk of The Times story, particularly the section that cites Pakistani leaders and their criticism of US policies. But even the full New York Times story does not provide any independent analysis of US policy in Pakistan, nor does it mention the human cost of the US use of unmanned military drones to bomb inside Pakistan.

The absence of coverage on human suffering in Pakistan and Afghanistan because of the US occupation was further reflected in an April 12 Associated Press story that focused on how Afghani rug makers have developed new designs in order to sell their rugs to US troops. The irony is that while the AP reporter tells readers that Afghani rug makers, who are desperate to make a living, have made rugs with images about the terrorist attacks against the US in 2001. What is not so ironic is that the reporter frames this story in such a way as to convey the idea that the Afghanis are happy that the US military occupies their country, despite growing opposition from Afghanis.

Rosa Parks Statue Funding Approved, The Press Focuses on Online Comments

Grand Rapids Press Frontpage

Sometimes, it’s just too easy to criticize The Grand Rapids Press. Yesterday, the newspaper ran an article about negative reaction to the Downtown Development Authority’s (DDA) decision to allocate $100,000 to go towards a statue of Rosa Parks. The statue is slated to be placed near Rosa Parks Circle at the corner of Monroe Avenue and Monroe Center.

Perhaps wanting to recall the debate over naming Rosa Parks Circle after the Civil Rights icon, The Grand Rapids Press titled its coverage “DDA statue gift lures monumental anger.” However, while the title implies that there is some legitimate opposition to the statue, the Press could only muster up some posts from its website. It writes:

“The Downtown Development Authority’s decision on Wednesday to allocate $100,000 toward a statue of civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks in the park bearing her name stirred online readers — at times getting ugly.

Some of the more than 30 anonymous comments left after two stories about the project had racist undertones, while others questioned the expenditure at a time when unemployment is high and the community’s needs are great.

Others complained Parks had no direct ties to Grand Rapids.

“Nothing against Ms. Parks or her role in civil rights, but come on — this smells to high heaven of trying to be P.C. and the city just keeps playing the game. Can’t anyone just stand up for common sense?” wrote “noreaster99″ in a comment posted after the story on”

It would be one thing if The Grand Rapids Press was able to cite a local politician, or someone on the DDA who was opposed to the statue–but the best it can do is mention some posts by goofballs on its website. The fact that online comments are a hotbed of racism and reactionary rhetoric is hardly news–almost any online forum associated with any of the West Michigan media sites has this. I hardly think this constitues “monumental anger”–but nice pun nevertheless.

Unfortunately, as newspapers like The Grand Rapids Press struggle to stay relevant, we are seeing a lot of this. The Press will occasionally feature quotes–always attributed to ridiculous nicknames–on various news topics. In some cases, it has even made what “happens” on its website “news.” See for example, its coverage of the “live blog” during the final episode of The Bachelor.

Can’t we just call this what it is? Laziness and an easy way to promote their online presence.

NATO Summit and Afghan Policy: Week Eleven of The Grand Rapids Press Coverage of the Obama Administration

Barack Obama and the Grand Rapids Press

One domestic issue and the President’s role in the NATO Summit that took place in on the German/French border dominated the eleventh week of The Grand Rapids Press coverage of the Obama administration.

Three stories were related to the announcement by the Obama administration that GM CEO Rich Wagner would step down, while four stories focused on the NATO Summit in Europe that the President attended. The only other story that received any attention related to the new administration was a short article written by a Grand Rapids Press reporter on an upcoming debate between two national magazine editors on the first one hundred days of the Obama administration.

GM CEO Steps Down

The week’s coverage began with a story from the Washington Post headlined, “Obama pushes, GM chief jumps.” The article states that the “administration effectively rejected as untenable the business plans that GM and Chrysler had submitted to restructure their companies, saying that neither had fulfilled the terms of the federal loans the companies received in December.”

The only sources cited in this story are an unnamed “senior White House official” and a representative from Edmunds, which the articles states, is “a consumer-focused automotive Web site.” In reality, the Web site appears more like a marketing site for auto dealers.

On Tuesday, March 31st The Press ran an Associated Press article on how autoworkers responded to the administration’s decision to not provide any financial assistance to the auto industry. One UAW local president stated, “when it comes to auto manufacturing and middle-class jobs and people that don’t matter on Wall Street, there are certainly different standards that we have to meet — higher standards — than the financials. That is a double standard that exists and it’s unfair.”

Another UAW spokesperson mention the double standard of the government imposing strict conditions on the auto industry in order to receive financial assistance, but the same conditions do not apply to Wall Street. One additional article appeared on the 31st that dealt with a reaction to the administration’s announcement about GM. The Grand Rapids Press published a reaction from current Congressional Representative Pete Hoekstra. However, the article has more to do with Hoekstra’s candidacy for the Michigan Governor’s seat in the 2010 election. Hoekstra states that President Obama should not be able to intervene in the matters of private industry.

NATO, Afghanistan, and US Power

There were four articles during the week of March 30 – April 5 that dealt with the foreign policy pronouncements of the Obama administration during the annual NATO Summit. The first story appeared on March 31st from the Washington Post and framed Obama’s NATO Summit role in terms of his campaign promise to “regain the international community’s confidence in the US.” The Washington Post reporter accepts the administration’s position that the US is ” the world leader.” By not questioning this premise, the reporter never challenges the role that the US plays in foreign affairs. Only President Obama is cited in the article, so readers never hear other opinions on the new administration’s broad foreign policy agenda.

An additional article on March 31st announcemes a conference between 73 nations on the current crisis in Afghanistan. The Press ran a shortened version of an AP story that only included a brief comment from US Secretary of State Clinton and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. This article is also framed in such a way that doesn’t challenge the US role in the current Afghan crisis by stating that nations were gathering “to reinvigorate international efforts to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan’s lawless western border region.” Unfortunately, there is no analysis of how the Afghan/Pakistan border has become so “lawless,” as the article states, particularly since Obama took office.

The coverage of NATO Summit ended on April 5 with an AP story headlined, “NATO support has limits.” The article states that many other nations will only commit to providing security forces in Afghanistan for the upcoming elections, but are hesitant to support the US escalation. The story only provides comments from President Obama and other NATO leaders, but omits Afghani or Pakistani perspectives on the current crisis. There is mention of anti-war protestors at the NATO Summit, but the article provides no details of the protest or any articulation of why thousands of people gathered in opposition to the US/NATO occupation of Afghanistan.

Grand Rapids Press Comes Out Against Workers (Yet Again)

Employee Free Choice Act

Once again, The Grand Rapids Press has editorialized against the Employee Free Choice Act. The act would make it easier for workers to form unions and is being supported by a broad range of labor and progressive groups.

However, a variety of right-leaning business groups are opposing the legislation, including several in West Michigan. The Grand Rapids Press–a newspaper that has historically prioritized the interests of employers over employees (see its business section on any given day for anecdotal evidence, how many stories do you see on workers?)–published its fourth editorial against the Employee Free Choice Act yesterday.

Press Editorial Rests on Debunked Arguments

The editorial is titled “Ballot privacy for workers” and it essentially offers nothing new to the debate. It applauds the fact that the legislation is now facing an uncertain future in Congress due to the recently announced opposition of Senator Arlan Specter.

The Press editorial trots out a familiar refrain among critics of the Employee Free Choice Act–that it will eliminate “the secret ballot.” The Press writes:

“The legislation would do away with an employer’s right to demand a fair, secret-ballot election when employees seek to form a union. In place of that time-tested method would be a “card check” process allowing a union to establish if more than 50 percent of employees simply signed a card — absent a private election.

The list of opponents should include anybody who values ballot box sanctity and worker privacy. Depriving employees of the right to make the significant decision about joining a union in the same way they decide who will be mayor or president of the United States would be a dramatic step backward for worker rights. Where the case for a union is strong, organizers should be able to confidently sell certification, regardless of how ballots are cast.”

This is a flawed argument that has long been debunked by supporters of the Employee Free Choice Act. The bill allows workers to form a union once a majority sign cards indicating they want to–or they can use the current voting system. The bottom line is that it is their choice. Under current labor law, employers are allowed to demand an election.

Recently, after years of saying that the Act would eliminate “the secret ballot” the business-friendly Wall Street Journal was forced to admit that the law would not eliminate the option.

A careful reading of The Grand Rapids Press‘ editorial shows the real problem that critics have–it removes the preference that current labor law gives to employers. Employers frequently spy on workers, engage in one-on-one meetings aimed at influencing union election results, and more. The “secret ballot” barely exists now and employers have been all to willing to interfere in its use.

The Press also criticizes the Employee Free Choice Act for increasing penalties aimed at employers that violate labor laws:

“Besides changing the rules on ballots, the proposed act would make several other substantial changes to labor law. Under current law, there is no deadline for first contract talks. Nor is there a requirement that if talks fail, the negotiations move to arbitration. But under the proposed law, a strict timeline would be set. Talks would have to begin 10 days after a union is formed. The sides would have 90 days to reach a deal. If no deal is reached, an arbitrator is brought in. If labor and management are still deadlocked after 30 days, the matter goes to binding arbitration to set the terms of the first two-year contract.

Also, the proposed law sets tougher fines for companies that mistreat employees involved in union activity. The law would assess triple back pay and a $20,000 fine for each infraction. Right now, companies that harass workers have to fork over back pay, offset by subsequent income, and they have to post a public apology in the workplace.”

The Grand Rapids Press is predictability silent on the fact that under current labor laws, companies can drag their heels and delay contracts for years. Similarly, The Press neglects to mention that the current penalties are too weak and that many employers fire workers attempting to organize unions as a result. We’ve seen this in Grand Rapids, with the termination of a union organizer at Starbucks.

Overall, The Grand Rapids Press has provided relatively little news coverage of the legislation and has run two columns critical of the legislation. It’s pretty clear where their interests lie…

Managing the Economy and Afghanistan: Week Ten of the Grand Rapids Press Coverage of the Obama Administration

Grand Rapids Press and Obama

The economy still continues to be the dominant news story coming out of Washington in week ten of the Obama administration, but US policy in Afghanistan also received significant coverage for the week. A total of 11 stories were published by The Grand Rapids Press on the Obama administration for week ten, with six stories focused on the economy and four on Afghanistan.

Racial Disparity

The only story in the past week not about Afghanistan or exclusively about the economy was a story based on the Urban League’s annual “State of Black America” report. ( The Associated Press story provides a summary of the report findings, which state that there is a disparity between Whites and Blacks in the US when it comes to employment, health care, education, jobs, and housing. The article does quote Urban League CEO Mark Morial who says, “Public policy matters, and we have to recognize too that it does require additional and extraordinary investments when it comes to children, to lift up children that are disadvantaged.” The AP article does not include the numerous policy recommendations that the Urban League offers in its annual report, recommendations that could benefit readers by providing them with the idea that the Urban League is not just pointing out what is wrong, but is offering up some solutions.

More on the Economy

The state of the national economy was presented in a variety of stories, ranging from the federal budget to the stimulus package. The week began (3/23) with an article from The New York Times headlined, “Wanted: Buyers for bad assets.” The article provides a summary of a new Obama administration plan that, “relies on private investors to team up with the government to relieve banks of assets tied to loans and mortgage-linked securities of unknown value.”

The only people sourced in this story are administration officials and the chief executive of BlackRock, a money management company, who said, “his firm planned to participate in the program.” It’s unfortunate that no other voices are included in the story, especially since BlackRock recently brought on to its board of directors someone who works for Merrill Lynch, one of the companies receiving billions in taxpayer bailout money that also provided huge bonuses to its staff right after the bailout was announced.

On Tuesday, March 24, the President gave a speech from the White House, a speech that was reported on by The New York Times and published on March 25 in The Grand Rapids Press. The New York Times article focused mostly on the demeanor of the President, with comments from Democratic consultant Joe Trippi, who said, “He said all the right things. But sometimes his confidence makes him seem flat.” The story did not provide readers with many details of the President’s speech, reactions from analysts or any verification of the claims made in the speech.

The Grand Rapids Press did run a follow up story to the President’s March 24 address to the nation, which includes comments from a local non-profit worker and Congressman Ehlers. The comments cited in The Press article from Ehlers are critical of the President’s budget proposal, but a financial counselor with the Inner City Christian Federation said she had “faith (Obama) is doing what he can to make that happen.”

The remaining economic stories reported on how States will lose federal tax money because of the stimulus (3/26), a House panel endorses the proposed federal budget (3/26), and an Associated Press story on March 27 commenting on how government regulation of the market might not be a political liability right now.

Obama and Afghanistan

On Monday, March 23, The Grand Rapids Press ran an AP story that was based on a CBS 60 Minutes interview with President Obama on March 22. The AP story provides a very brief overview of the President’s comments, but offers no investigation into the claims made about the President’s strategic plan for the US military occupation of Afghanistan. In addition, there are no Afghani responses to the President’s plan, nor any independent analysis of what this 3-5 year plan would mean for that region of the world.

In addition to the story on the President’s interview, The Press ran an AP article on the same day that touched on the possible increase in private military contractors in Afghanistan. The story cites Michigan Senator Carl Levin who expresses some concern over the proposed increase of private security forces in Afghanistan. Levin was quoted as saying that the increase in private contractors in Iraq is what led to “widespread abuses” of human rights. The AP article provides a response to Levin from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but offers no details on what private military contractors would do in Afghanistan or what they have already been used for since the 2001 US invasion began.

The remaining two articles on Afghanistan were published on March 27 and March 29. The March 27 article from the Los Angeles Times was headlined, “Afghanistan Taliban still a puzzle.” Most of the article relies on comments from State Department officials and Dennis Blair, the director of National Intelligence discussing how to combat the resurgence of the Taliban. The only other source cited in the article was Michigan Senator Carl Levin. Levin’s comments are a criticism of how NATO has not done their part to prevent the Taliban from regaining significant portions of the country. Again, no Afghani voices are sourced in the story, nor are there any independent assessments of why the Taliban control much of the country once again.

The last article for the week’s coverage was a Washington Post article on President Obama’s new strategic plan for Afghanistan. The article is based upon a speech the President gave on March 28 where he laid out his plan for US policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Washington Post article does a pretty good job of summarizing the President’s comments. The article did acknowledge the US missile attacks in Pakistan, but there is no mention of civilian deaths from those attacks. The only other sources cited in the story besides the President are a CIA consultant, Richard Holbrooke and Michigan Senator Carl Levin. All three of these sources had favorable comments about the new US plan for Afghanistan.

Barbie, Desire, and the Grand Rapids Press


Grand Rapids Press Editorial Staff,

I write to express my extreme disappointment in the editing approach that was utilized on my Your Life Barbie contribution printed on Monday, March 9. While I certainly understand the need to whittle down contributions due to length requirements and other such justifiable factors, the editing job on my piece reads more like censorship and misrepresentation than an appropriate slimming down of a reader contribution.

Deeming my piece inappropriate for the feature would have been an understandable and responsible decision- editing it down until it reads as very different piece and publishing it next to my name is extremely irresponsible and borderline unethical.

My piece clearly juxtaposed my own Barbie experiences with the shifting and symbolic role that Barbie has played in the 1980’s through today. Unfortunately, almost every mention of Barbie’s potentially negative social implications was omitted, leaving very little of the intent or integrity of the original composition. In the absence of the developed critique, your editing job reduced a thoughtful social analysis to an ill-composed commentary that was a shadow of its original intention. I do not find this to be responsible editing on behalf of the press and I request a republication of my piece that preserves the overall integrity of the contribution.

I look forward to hearing from you regarding this matter as soon as possible.

-Mindy Holohan

Original GR Press Submission:

When I think of Barbie, the first feeling that comes to mind is desire. I distinctly remember the shape of her rectangular packaging and the allure of her department store window arrangement. Surrounded by a constellation of coveted accessories strung up behind that malleable plastic window, Barbie always tapped into some kind of longing. I recall the early grown up thrill of slipping on her stilettos and the satisfaction of snapping a form fitting skirt around the convex curve of her waist. Her very being seemed an access point for the secrets of femininity and the seductive promise of perfection. Whether the appeal of the adult world or a type of imaginary alter ego, she was a way to explore themes that were outside of the range of my middle class childhood experience.

Our relationship began well into Barbie’s third decade when she was already an established fixture in the American girl experience. For a girl of the 1980’s, Barbie was an icon, far removed from her debutante years of my mom’s childhood. While the volume of Barbie-centric products paled in comparison to what exists today, she was not just a toy. Barbie now had toy section aisles reserved exclusively for her. Barbie was on socks and sweatshirts and paper plates and party hats. Barbie was a brand.

Barbie’s growing circle of friends and cache of fabulous plastic trimmings compelled me to keep coming back and to add new items to the birthday and Christmas lists. Through the years her opulence increased as well. Every Saturday morning I was introduced to yet another must have addition to her sprawling estate. Barbie houses turned to Barbie mansions and Barbie cars morphed into stretch limos with hot tubs and televisions. Echoing the themes of a political and business environment of deregulation and increased programming and advertising targeting children, Barbie introduced an almost insatiable appetite for more.

Barbie survived a number of incarnations at our house moving from revered gift and genuine object of pretend play to prop, and ultimately, fading star falling completely out of favor. Any chance she stood as a collector’s item disappeared with the snip of scissors and the dye of markers as my sister and I decided a punk rock look might be more fitting for her and her posse of friends.

Decades later however, I find that Barbie has certainly not left the building. To the contrary, she owns the whole block. I see her everywhere. She seems to be the form from which the cookie cutter look of teen idols is cast. I imagine plastic surgeons singing her praises as they enjoy the biggest increase in selective surgeries ever. I feel her influence when little boys won’t touch the color pink. How do you draw a sunset without pink? What started as a toy has turned into a lifestyle, a persona and identity that can be (and is) bought and sold. I have to admit that Barbie may even hold some prime real estate in me; a woman who has proudly birthed and breastfed three children. I admit to looking in dismay at the residual stretchmarks and bodily changes that have accompanied the most monumental experiences of my life and comparing my strong experienced body to some long ago formed version of the impossible.

My thoughts of Barbie in her fiftieth year find me yet again navigating a strong feeling of desire but with a drastically different focus. I observe that Barbie today looks more like a hypersexed Bratz doll than anything else. I note that the Barbie Dallas Cowboy set just earned the TOADY (Toys Oppresive And Destructive to Young children) award from the national Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood. I find that in 2009, my desire is to stay as far away from the girl as possible.