Chattermailbox: Baby Einstein replies.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Jan. 31 2007 8:23 PM

Baby Einstein Replies

An e-mail from Julia Aigner-Clark, and a reply.

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A footnote cites a 1946 decision, Jacob Seigel Co. v. F.T.C., which "held that a product's name can play a role in implying a claim."

There is no evidence that parking a child under the age of two in front of a video—any video—will make him smarter, and there's some evidence that it may do him harm, which is why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against it. By all accounts, what Baby Einstein videos are really good for is distracting the baby while Mom or Dad sneaks off to take a shower. I'm a parent myself, and I well remember those moments when a baby could feel like the commandant of a particularly inhumane prisoner-of-war camp. (No, you may not go to the toilet! I don't care how long you've been waiting!) But you didn't market these videos under the brand name Baby Hypnotize or Baby Chloroform. You marketed them under the name Baby Einstein. That's deceptive.

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What's more, your disassociation from marketing practices undertaken by Walt Disney Co. after you sold Baby Einstein strikes me as disingenuous. You may no longer own the company, but President Bush said in his speech that "with [your] help Baby Einstein has grown into a $200 million business." That suggests that you maintained a role in the company after you sold it. Your picture appears beside the words, "Our Founder," on a Baby Einstein Web page. And that's you in a QuickTime video on that same Web page touting the videos. "We use art to teach color to children in really fun, silly ways," you say. Not "We used to teach color in really fun, silly ways, before those unscrupulous hacks at Disney took over." And in what sense can a video really "teach" an infant anything? What evidence do you have that anything is being learned, other than an early attachment to the TV screen?

4.) You may have been raised a Democrat, but you are now being used by Republicans. Don't mistake the president's mentioning you in his speech as anything other than condescension—a condescension of which Democrats are equally capable. If President Bush cared at all about the issue of child development, then someone on his staff would have taken the five minutes necessary to discover that prominent medical professionals consider the business you founded to be a scam. (For that matter, if President Bush cared at all about the issue of early child development, then he wouldn't have let Head Start funding lie flat during the past five years. But that's another story.) The White House's choosing to spotlight your accomplishment was surely meant to demonstrate its commitment to children, to families, and to all those other womanly good feelings it fears that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D., Calif., taps  into with female voters. But in failing to perform even rudimentary research on what it is Baby Einstein actually does, the White House ended up demonstrating the precise opposite. The fact that this screw-up attracted less attention in the press than the president's absent-mindedly referring to the "Democrat" rather than the "Democratic" party further shows that President Bush's indifference to these "women's" issues is widely shared in newsrooms.

Cheers,

Timothy Noah

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.