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Suckling at the power Teat: MLive and stenography for the DeVos Family

October 8, 2012

This morning, MLive once again demonstrated their inability to report on the DeVos Family in a critical manner.

The article, posted online today, is headlined, ArtPrize founder Rick DeVos shares qualities with his grandfather, Amway co-founder Rich DeVos. The article does as is suggested in the headline, makes the argument that Rick DeVos is following in the footsteps of Amway co-founder Richard DeVos Sr.

The glowing review of the third generation DeVos states in part:

The entrepreneurial spirit of Rich DeVos, which has had a stamp on West Michigan for decades, seems to be renewed with his grandson Rick DeVos, who launched the international art competition and the innovative seed fund.

While his grandfather revitalized downtown Grand Rapids by investing in buildings, Rick is doing it with people.

To provide further evidence of Rick DeVos’ leadership and entrepreneurial spirit, the MLive reporter uses Doug and Dick DeVos as sourced. And what do you think that Rick’s uncle and father had to say about what the ArtPrize guru is doing for Grand Rapids? Of course it was glowing and affirming.

In addition, the MLive reporter addressed Rick DeVos’ other project, Start Garden. Not surprising, this project that Rick DeVos kicked off earlier this year was also presented as nothing but a major benefit to the community.

How is it that the most widely read daily news source in West Michigan acts as a stenographer to power? What kinds of conversations do reporters have with editors about how to present such a story? Now, I don’t think for a second that MLive editors had to say to the reporter of this article that they need to paint Rick DeVos as a local hero. It is our observation over the years of monitoring media in this market that local news agencies have internalized the same values as the corporate world, not just because they are thinking about ad sales, but because MLive is a corporation.

This internalizing of the values of the system means that the reporting on powerful families like the DeVos family is positive, but there are no balancing or dissident voices. The fact that there were no critical voices about either ArtPrize or Start Garden is a clear indicator that MLive is either unwilling to be critical of local power or is blind to the negative and even destructive aspects of what the DeVos family has done.

The recent GQ article on ArtPrize was able to both look at the cultural aspect of Artprize, but provide some contextual critique of the annual event. The author of that article was also able to find critical voices of the art extravaganza, even though that author is not from this community.

There is no mention of the fact that Rick’s uncle Doug DeVos recently gave $500,000 to the National Organization of Marriage (NOM), which is the largest anti-Gay marriage group in the US. The MLive article also does not mention the kind of negative impacts that other DeVos family funding has caused all around the world. Lastly, there is nothing in the MLive story that looks at the political economy of ArtPrize, which would expose the real financial winners of ArtPrize.

MLive should not call these kinds of articles news reporting. Stories that coddle power are nothing more than stenography and free publicity for companies like Amway and families like the DeVoses.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2012 1:46 pm

    The lack of any critical writing about ArtPrize by the staff of the GR Press and MLive is because they, along with most newspapers today, lack any real ability to write on the subject of art and art in society. It’s only the occasional guest writer that offers up something of substance on the topic.
    The lack of any deep knowledge of art or insight into the politics and the history of the art world unfortunately doesn’t prevent staff writers from trying to write about the event. That is why you get these dumb article about the great success of ArtPrize based on attendance and ArtPrize t-shirts sold.

  2. Christian permalink
    October 8, 2012 2:28 pm

    Any reason this write-up fails to identify the MLive reporter, Shandra Martinez, by name?

  3. October 8, 2012 2:31 pm

    No reason and it is not really relevant to the points made.

  4. Randy Marsh permalink
    October 8, 2012 5:50 pm

    Oh look, another attack on MLive by Jeff Smith, who feels that any story about the DeVos family has to include every single thing they have ever been criticized for, or mention every place the family places its money.

    I suppose you missed the fact that MLive is currently mounting a legal challenge to a local township government which is violating federal sunshine laws by protecting the Van Andel family from having to disclose building files on their massive mansion under construction next to the Big Red lighthouse. Definitely suckling at that teat with that one.

    It’s all a one-way street over at GRIID. Anything outside the established anti-MLive, anti-GR Press narrative has no place here. I hope you all appreciate the irony. Information “democracy” indeed. Snort.

  5. October 8, 2012 5:54 pm

    Oh look Randy Marsh, once again defending the practices of MLive, a subsidiary of the tenth largest media conglomerate in the US and apologist for the 1% in West Michigan.

  6. Joshua permalink
    October 9, 2012 1:43 am


    You’re correct in your description of what MLive is doing over the FOIA request, however I do not see how that article is critical of the Devos or Van Andel families either, as you suggest.

    I wonder, what do you believe the role of the press to be?

  7. Randy Marsh permalink
    October 13, 2012 1:15 am

    The media has many roles. One of those roles is to act as a ”watchdog” of the public trust, something Jeff Smith apparently does not feel a media outlet can possibly do if they are owned by a conglomerate.

    I understand this perspective. Really, I do, because I used to feel that way myself… as a teenager. Then I grew up, went to school, got a degree and a job in media. I’ve worked for various media outlets around the country for many years, and never once did I ever encounter a directive from above that instructed biased news coverage. Not once in more than a decade reporting the news.

    Not every news organization is Fox News.

    Just to clarify: I do not work for MLive, but I did work for Booth Newspapers in the mid to late 1990s. I am (was) familiar with their internal structure, and I was very sad to see the people who lost their jobs in the restructuring this year. Many were friends. However, the changes that happened over there were long overdue. Print circulations have been declining for years, not just in Grand Rapids, but in many markets owned by Booth. But that’s largely due to changing demographics and technology. It’s not an isolated phenomenon, either.

    Because of this, there is a need for news sources like GRIID to fill the gaps. As newsrooms have declined in manpower over the last few decades, wide and expansive coverage has suffered. The situation in Park Township is a perfect example of what happens when a local government structure operates without a reporter covering their meetings every week. They begin to lose their respect for the power of public scrutiny and start to think themselves above the law.

    Jeff Smith provides a valuable service as an independent media. The problem is, he does such a piss poor job of it. Smith is nothing more than an ideological mirror of intolerance for those with whom he disagrees. That makes him untrustworthy as a rule. He has an axe to grind, plain and simple. He is so blinded by an apparent hate for the wealthy business interests of Grand Rapids that he attacks any media which does not automatically share his bias in every aspect of their coverage.

    The fact is, MLive and the GR Press have written extensively on the DeVos family’s political contributions to, among other very right wing causes, anti-gay efforts. Where do you think the pervasive knowledge of those facts came from in the first place? Duh. I agree that what they are funding is intolerance and bigotry and would love to see their contributions to such efforts cease. However, I do not need to read about it every day on MLive to maintain that. I do not fault the local media for writing a fluff piece on the DeVos family now and then, because, among the numerous roles of media, two are to simply inform and entertain.

    Not every story they do has to or will be an investigative piece on the DeVos’, or the GR Chamber, or whatever business story that Jeff has a beef with this week. In fact, even strong national newspapers like the WSJ and NYT to not solely devote their business coverage to “critical” stories. Much of it is written for the business audience (remember, inform), and much of it is feature-driven. Sometimes they acknowledge the good those people do, like building children’s hospitals or starting hugely successfully art festivals. It does not mean they are “suckling at the power teat” or whatever stale rhetorical cliché that Jeff thinks is clever enough to repeat over and over.

    Since the Media Mouse days, I’ve watched GRIID slowly descend into nothing but a mouthpiece for the local anarchists. At this point, the very name of this website is a lie. There is no democracy here. There is only Jeff Smith and his anti-capitalist crusade. And he doesn’t even have much direction, as far as I can tell. Just, ‘if it’s pro-business its bad.’ And God help anyone who disagrees with that.

    Jeff, if you want to be taken seriously outside the echo chamber of like-minded radicals you surround yourself with (I saw the Wolverine Oil and Gas YouTube video), please, for the love of god, start doing some actual reporting and quit taking this lazy ‘criticize others for not being critical enough’ approach. If you don’t like the way Mlive covers a story, then pick up the phone and do some digging. Anyone can blog. If you had any gumption, Jeff, you’d stop getting arrested for anti-facking stunts and start doing the investigative reporting you rail against MLive for not doing. Lets see what you can come up with besides reposting recycled and questionably-sourced crap from other left wing websites and books.

    You, sir, are falling down on the job just as badly as you accuse Mlive of.

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