Maybe Baby Einstein's founder isn't an American hero after all.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Oct. 25 2009 6:33 PM

Baby Einstein's Quasi-Recall

Maybe Julie Aigner-Clark isn't an American hero after all.

In a January 2007 column ("Bush's Baby Einstein Gaffe") I argued that the Bush White House blundered badly when it singled out Julie Aigner-Clark, founder of the Baby Einstein Co., to sit by First Lady Laura Bush as President George W. Bush rhapsodized, in his State of the Union address, "Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America." A tradition dating to the Reagan administration required the president to recognize a few American heroes during his annual speech to Congress. Seated alongside Aigner-Clark in the House visitor's gallery were Wesley Autrey, who had leapt in front of a New York City subway train to rescue a complete stranger, and Army Sgt. Tommy Reiman, who had repelled an enemy attack in Iraq with two legs full of shrapnel and bullet wounds in his arms and chest.

Aigner-Clarke's act of heroism had been to get rich marketing "educational" DVDs for an age group (zero to 2) that, pediatricians agreed, shouldn't be watching TV at all. Baby Einstein videos were at best devoid of their promised education benefits ("your child will learn to identify her different body parts, and also discover her five senses … in Spanish, English, and French!") and at worst actively harmful to brain development. Bush's own Federal Trade Commission was at that very moment weighing a complaint against Baby Einstein for making false and deceptive claims.

Advertisement

Aigner-Clark had sold Baby Einstein to Disney in 2001, she said in an e-mail after my column appeared, and therefore bore no current resonsibility for the company's product pitch. I answered that she maintained (and still maintains) a presence on Baby Einstein's Web site and that at least one basis for the FTC complaint—the company's name—was clearly Aigner-Clark's own doing.

The FTC dismissed the complaint late in 2007, largely because publicity generated by it had embarrassed Disney into abandoning its gaudiest educational claims. But escalating bad publicity and the threat of further legal action last month persuaded the company to offer a refund to anyone who purchased a Baby Einstein DVD between June 5, 2004, and Sept. 4, 2009, (which covers President Bush's January 2007 pitch). The company already offered a 60-day money-back guarantee for its videos, but the new refund offer gives consumers until March 2010 to return videos purchased during the designated time period and requires no receipt. That gives the transaction some flavor of a product recall. Sadly, no refund will be made available for the eight-year Bush presidency itself.

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

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Even When They Go to College, the Poor Sometimes Stay Poor

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in the New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Space: The Next Generation

An All-Female Mission to Mars

As a NASA guinea pig, I verified that women would be cheaper to launch than men.

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 7:13 PM Deadly Advice When it comes to Ebola, ignore American public opinion: It’s ignorant and misinformed about the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 6:32 PM Taylor Swift’s Pro-Gay “Welcome to New York” Takes Her Further Than Ever From Nashville 
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.