Bush: Baby Einstein promotes sorely needed TV-watching for America’s babies.

January 26, 2007 | By | 5 Replies More

At his recent State of the Union address, President Bush pointed out a modern American hero

After her daughter was born, Julie Aigner-Clark searched for ways to share her love of music and art with her child. So she borrowed some equipment, and began filming children’s videos in her basement. The Baby Einstein Company was born — and in just five years her business grew to more than $20 million in sales. In November 2001, Julie sold Baby Einstein to the Walt Disney Company, and with her help Baby Einstein has grown into a $200 million business. Julie represents the great enterprising spirit of America.

What does Baby Einstein sell?  An “entire line of playful and interactive DVDs, videos, books, music CDs, and toys.”  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that products this good will turn millions of babies into . . . well, pooping drooling little Einsteins.  Once we harness all of the nation’s cognito-baby-power, solving of the Grand Unification Theory can’t possibly be far behind, I tell you!  In fact, whenever a few of those Baby Einstein babies are together in a playpen, you’d better not stray too far away, for those moments when they collaborate and start chanting solutions to Fermat’s Theorums.

It was good to see President Bush getting solidly behind a serious educational initiative like Baby Einstein. 

Or has Bush shot crookedly again?  It turns out that Baby Einstein excels at convincing you to entrust your baby to the boob tube.  Check out some of the popular Baby Einstein product lines here for newborns and here for ages 6 months and up.  Twelve-packs of DVDs to give your baby that invaluable experience that he or she needs in order to develop into a fully-functioning TV-gawking adult. 

“But what’s the harm?” you might ask. The following statement was issued by Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood in response to President Bush using his State of the Union address:

During his speech, the President lauded Baby Einstein’s founder, Julie Aigner-Clark, as an example of the “the heroic kindness, courage and self-sacrifice of the American people,” and described the success of Baby Einstein in detail.  In 2006, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood filed a Federal Trade Commission complaint against Baby Einstein for false and deceptive marketing; that complaint is pending.

It is extremely disappointing that the President used his State of the Union address to provide a free infomercial for a company built on false and deceptive marketing.  Despite its claims, there is no evidence that watching Baby Einstein videos is educational for babies and toddlers…

We don’t believe that preying on parents’ concerns about their children’s well-being; deceiving customers about a product’s benefits; or exploiting our youngest and most vulnerable children should have any role in the American marketplace. 

Research suggests that — for babies — TV viewing may be harmful.  It’s been found to interfere with cognitive development, language development and regular sleep patterns. The more time babies spend in front of TV, the less time they spend engaging in two activities that really do facilitate learning: interacting with parents away from screens, and spending time in creative play. 

TV viewing can also be habituating.  For older children, hours of television watched are linked to bullying, poor school performance and childhood obesity.

Despite these concerns, more babies are spending more time in front of televisions than ever.  They do so, in part, because well-financed sophisticated marketing campaigns insure that we’ve all heard of Baby Einstein. 

What is the essense of the Complaint that Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has filed against Baby Einstein at the FTC? 

The complaint charges that these companies are violating Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act by marketing their videos as educational for babies.  CCFC is asking the FTC to prohibit Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby from making claims about the educational and developmental benefits of their videos and require that advertisements, packaging and websites for all baby videos prominently display the American Academy of Pediatrics’ (AAP) recommendation of no screen time for children under two…

CCFC’s complaint charges that the videos’ packaging, websites, advertisements, and even the names “Baby Einstein” and “Brainy Baby” are likely to mislead parents into believing that they are beneficial to babies’ development.  For instance, on its website, Baby Einstein claims its Baby Wordsworth video – designed for babies as young as one year — “will foster the development of your toddler’s speech and language skills.”  Similarly, Brainy Baby’s claims on its website that its “brain stimulating” Peek-A-Boo video “helps nurture such important skills as object permanence, communication skills, cause and effect, language development and many others.”

“The industry, when pressed, acknowledges they have no proof these products do what they say they do,” said pediatrician Dr. Dimitri Christakis, a researcher at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle and the senior author of “A Teacher in the Living Room,” a study on educational media for babies, toddlers and preschoolers released in 2005 by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.  “Their unfounded claims undermine the research-based advice that families in my practice deserve.”

“Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby clearly violate the consumer protection laws.  The Federal Trade Commission Act prohibits companies from making false claims or claims they cannot substantiate.” said Jennifer Prime of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center, which is representing CCFC in its complaint.

As an attorney, I’ve often prosecuted consumer fraud (I once worked as an Assistant Attorney General for the state of Missouri).  With that background, let’s see if I understand the gist of the Baby Einstein problem . . . hmmmm . . .  a company slickly markets a series of TV shows as “educational” when there is no evidence that they are any more educational than inviting one’s baby to watch Moe throwing cream pies at Larry or Shemp.  Hmmmm.  Do I have it straight?

We live in a country that just can’t stop believing in trying to solve its serious problems passively, by watching TV, by taking pills, by whining to each other and by asking our Supreme Beings to solve things for us.  Baby Einstein is just one more bit of evidence that we can’t resist trying to get things done the easy way, even when there is no evidence that there is an easy way.

And, please (I’m trying to prempt a few comments) . . .  I’m not arguing here that all television is bad.  There are a few worthwhile television shows.  Then again, see here.

BTW, I was really impressed with Susan Linn of CCFS, who deliverd a talk at the recent National Conference for Media Reform. I summarized her comments here.  I also conducted a short video interview of Josh Golin, Program Manager of of CCFC, here.

I’m not going to pretend that I’ve never before been wrong.  Therefore, if any of you one-year old educationally-enriched Einstein babies disagrees with anything I’ve written, please post a comment explaining in detail what I’ve gotten wrong …

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Category: Communication, Consumerism, Education, Psychology Cognition, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (5)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Baby Einstein gets some bad publicity it richly deserves. Note only do these videos no help your baby; they HINDER intellectual development. This "educational" product appears to be damaging young minds. http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,8599,16

  2. Check out the book: "The Big Turnoff: Confessions of a TV-Addicted Mom Trying ot Raise a TV-Free Kid" (Algonquin 2007). It's all about the ongoing discussion!

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby had modified their advertising in response to CCFC complaints. They are no longer being marketed as "educational toys," according to the FTC. Well, except for the misleading names of the product lines, it seems. http://commercialfreechildhood.org/actions/letter

  4. Erich Vieth says:

    If Baby Einstein had been called "Couch Potato Kiddie," and the marketing had been "Get your child started on the joys of watching television as early as possible," that would have been honest marketing, and that really is what parents are buying.

    http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/03/29/paren

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