Right-Wing Think Tank Expands to Downtown; Mlive Raves
Author’s note: It was brought to our attention that in the original publishing of this article we stated that the three Mlive articles discussed were published within 8 days of one another, when in fact the first of the three articles was published in February 2012, while the later two were published in February of 2013. This was an oversight, and the article has been corrected. It is our belief that the analysis and conlusions reached remain relevant, despite the intial error.
The conservative, right-wing think tank Acton Institute has purchased and renovated the building at 98 E. Fulton at the center of downtown, Grand Rapids,
where it will soon call home. GRIID covered this development almost exactly a year ago, but this month Mlive Media Group, specifically Jim Harger, has published two stories on Acton last week, following one about a year ago. We’ll take a deeper look at this uptick in coverage by the local press.
Two of the articles by Harger detail the institute’s move from it’s “cramped, rented space in the Waters Building” to it’s new digs downtown. The institute’s $7 million remodeling bill will cover “a 200 seat auditorium, state-of-the art recording equipment and a soundproof booth for translators” in addition to a chapel with German-made stained glass, amongst other amenities. The third article takes a look at the “local funding” supporting the ever growing “international footprint” of Acton.
The first article, “Acton Institute will raise its profile in Grand Rapids with purchase of downtown landmark building”, opens under the angle that many in West Michigan have not heard of Acton, (acknowledging that many of the readers probably don’t care that the think tank is moving in the first place, and thus begs the question, “why is this news?”). To quell these early concerns, Harger quotes Acton’s spokesperson, John Couretas, “We’re the only public policy think tank in Grand Rapids, but we’re probably better known internationally than in Grand Rapids.”
After Harger establishes that Acton is moving, and that the building has historic roots as a Jacobson’s department store, he grasps at straws for the rest of the story, giving a brief history of Acton, another attempt to get his readers to care. No one commented on the story.
For the second article, “Acton Institute’s new headquarters gives think tank a high-tech base for its free market mission”, Harger goes beyond the spokesperson straight to Acton’s Executive Director and co-founder, Kris Mauren, who proudly divulges more detail about the auditorium, the chapel, and how many jobs the construction project is creating. For more on this angle, Hanger goes on to interview the general contractor Tim Schowalter, president and CEO of Pioneer Construction Co. Clearly, Harger is done pulling punches. He even states that “the project is seeking certification from the Society of Environmentally Responsible Facilities (SERF),” audatiusly suggesting that Acton is now part of the environmental movement (more on that later).
Harger’s third act hints at some in-depth analysis with its headline: “Acton Institute’s financial backing has strong ties to West Michigan’s wealthiest families”. One might think that a journalistic class analysis is about to follow, maybe Harger will even look at the effect of the policies Acton Institute ethos has had locally and globally. One would be mistaken. Here, Harger returns to Kris Mauren and diversifies his approach by including the perspective of John Kennedy, president and CEO of Autocam Corp., and funder to the think tank.
Apparently, according to Kennedy, “Acton excels in encouraging entrepreneurs to develop their skills in the marketplace to improve the lives of others,” and “they don’t say the markets are moral, but players in the market have a responsibility to be moral.” Kennedy neglects to say how Acton’s history of climate change denial fits into its moral responsibility, and Harger forgets to ask.
Even more disturbing is Acton’s “educational campaign”, dubbed “PovertyCure”, which states “wealth creation, rule of law and private property – situated in a moral culture – are the keys to reversing worldwide poverty.” The think take even has a university that’s “taught” this ideology to more than 800 students last year alone, and looks to expand to 1,000 by next year. Seeing as how the Devos family are major contributors to both Acton and the attack on public education, this should serve as no surprise.
Harger follows these statements with zero critical analysis of the claims at hand and provides no evidence to support them. With so many stories of austerity and the ensuing popular revolts around the world, any reader of the news can hardly go a day without hearing about the devastation and hardship brought by the “rule of law and private property.” It is an old myth that free-market capitalism will somehow resolve poverty and inequality. A system that rewards only greed and self preservation will by its very nature always be exploitive. These policies are hardly “reversing worldwide poverty”, but creating and perpetuating it.
Additionally, by listening exclusively the perspectives of white males from the elite class and regurgitating their claims uncritically, Harger serves as a mouthpiece to those in power. This is why three articles were published on Acton’s move in an eight day period, it benefits Acton. If there is any question, Harger makes sure to mention how Acton has been named as one of the top think tanks by various organizations at least once in every article. No criticisms of Acton or their right-wing Christian ideology are presented what-so-ever.
For as much as contemporary culture demands we do not forget “our founders”, we often ignore their lessons when convenient. Thomas Jefferson said, “Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it,” and that “the only security of all is in a
free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed.” While Jefferson himself showed little commitment to the liberty of those who didn’t share his race, class, or gender, he understood the dynamics of democracy, especially when it came to the press. The purpose of the free press is to keep power in check for the protection of the people. When the press becomes a servant of the powerful, corruption will surely follow; and corruption is halted by the transparency provided by a free press.
Articles such as those detailed above (and dozens others analyzed by GRIID) illustrate that Mlive does not represent the free press or the people, and thus hasno role in a democracy. Mlive Media Group is part of the capitalist press and is a tool of oppression used by the power elite to keep the people of Michigan ignorant and unquestioning of their thieving practices, which will enviably leave us more broke, bankrupt, and hungry than we were yesterday. Meanwhile the dividends, capital gains, and bank statements of those responsible continue to soar upward. People are well advised to recognize Mlive for what it is, and to act accordingly.