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The arrest of Holland Restaurant owner provides a platform for far right ideas, which is then amplified by local news coverage

March 23, 2021

Over the past several days, the local news media has been reporting on the restaurant owner in Holland he went to jail for violation of COVID 19 polices.

The print and broadcast news media has been reporting on this non-stop, but more importantly is how they are framing the issue. In fact, there are several ways the West Michigan media has been framing this story. First, they are referring to the restaurant owner (Marlena) as someone who fled “communist Poland to migrate to the US.” Other stories keep using the term freedom to describe Marlena and those who support her.

How the local news media has been reporting on this story is very instructive, both for the kind of messaging the local news media is providing, as well as what they are not reporting. One example of the coverage, was a story that MLive ran on March 20th, a story that has been updated several times. This article is indicative of how the local news media has framed this issue, but more importantly, it demonstrates the poor quality of journalism that gets practiced in West Michigan.

The MLive story from March 20th was fairly long, as mLive stories go. In addition to the article, there were numerous pictures and two videos included, one that was just under 3 minutes in length, while the other was just over 23 minutes. However, let’s start with the written piece and then move on the deconstructing the videos.

While the MLive article does provide some context on why the Holland restaurant owner was jailed, stating:

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development determined Marlena’s Bistro posed an “imminent threat to public health” because the restaurant remained open during a statewide shutdown on indoor dining and did not enforce mandates for face coverings or social distancing. Pavlos-Hackney’s license was suspended in January, but she remained open and declined to follow state safety mandates.

However, this information doesn’t come until paragraph 12 and even then it is sandwich in between comments from Republican Party operatives, candidates and other far right sources.

Those sourced in the MLive article from March 20th are: Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock, Wyoming resident Julie Nelson, Make Michigan Great Again founder Mark Gurley, State Rep. Matt Maddock, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson, Stand Up Michigan organizer Garrett Soldano, Jon Rocha, who organized the GoFundMe for Pavlos-Hickney, American Patriot Council founder Ryan Kelley.

In the short video, we hear from Make Michigan Great Again founder Mark Gurley, Michigan Republican Party co-chair Meshawn Maddock, and Stand Up Michigan organizer Garrett Soldano. 

What is Wrong with this kind of journalism?

  • Whether or not it was intentional, stories like the March 20 MLive piece provides an unquestioning platform for far right ideas, ideas that at a minimum threaten public health.
  • None of the comments from those cited in the MLive article are verified, thus they end up being presented as fact. 
  • There is no information about or analysis on the issue of stay at home orders, PPP and other country models that pay people directly to stay home during the pandemic. The irony here is that at the federal level and in the State of Michigan, the primary push for re-opening the state, the decision to give businesses money instead of residents, all come from the Republican Party or Republican supporters, the same ones that have been most vocal about the Holland restaurant owner going to jail for public health violations.
  • There is also no context for those who spoke. For instance, we don’t know who Make Michigan Great Again founder Mark Gurley and what he believes. If you read his website, it state, “Our purpose is to help influence Michigan communities and culture with a biblical worldview.”
  • Then there is Stand Up Michigan, which talks about freedom a great deal, but the three team members – Tammy Clark, Ron Armstrong and Pastor Jason Georges – are all about promoting a far right brand of Christianity. 
  • In the longer video from the MLive article on March 20, we hear from Austin Chenge, who is running for Governor in Michigan as a Republican. Check out his platform, which includes “our God given American values, including Bible classes are taught in our schools.” 
  • Maybe the biggest omission had to do with Ryan Kelley, who is also running for Gov. of Michigan. MLive doesn’t tell us he is a co-founder of the American Patriot Council, that he organized the big anti-lockdown protests in Lansing last Spring, that he took part in the January 6th insurrection at the US Capital and that he has been connected to several of those charged with the attempted kidnapping of Gov. Whitmer. 
  • Lastly, it was instructive to see that those protesting for the Holland Restaurant owner were not wearing masks, despite the fact that it is being reported that there is another surge in COVID cases with the past week.

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