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Anyone can be an expert on kids' TV — just say you're one

May 29, 2009 |  1:04 pm

Want to become an expert on children's television? Just come up with a clever name for your group and put out a news release. Oh, and don't forget to Twitter.

That seems to be the strategy of TrueChild, a just-launched Washington advocacy group fighting to "combat stereotypes in children's culture and education." It announced its arrival on the scene with a splashy headline about the "limiting" and "dangerous" messages in many children's TV shows and invited all to participate in a Twitter chat.

We're all for that. There's nothing wrong with wanting to improve programming for kids.

Kjr6zcncJONASBut of all the shows that TrueChild could have singled out as bad for kids, is Disney's campy "Jonas" really the biggest offender? TrueChild gave it an F and cited it as offering a negative message because the program "revolves around three very skinny boys in a rock band and the girls that fawn over them." "Jonas," the group says, does not offer positive messages for girls or boys. Hmmm, seems to us that the positive message is to become a successful musician and girls will adore you. Doesn't anyone remember "The Monkees?"

This advocacy group's level of expertise on the topic seems a little questionable. As far as we can tell from a review of the group's website, no one on its staff or its board of directors has any direct experience or background in education or children's television. The president, Elizabeth Birch, is, according to her bio, a former director of litigation at Apple and hosts a blog on Huffington Post. The director of operations, Danny Baker, is "an award-winning graduate of Ithaca College." They don't say what awards he has won or how his love of gourmet food and passion for reading Wikipedia make him qualified to operate an advocacy group, but it's good to know he has "four young cousins he adores."

TrueChild's board isn't much better. Co-Chairwoman Cynthia Neff worked in human resources at IBM and enjoys "visiting all the wineries" in Virginia. Co-Chairman Kevin Jones received an MBA and a JD and then spent 25 years "trying to figure out what and where he wanted his life to be." Oh, and he likes palm trees.

We're not picking on this group. Okay, we are a little. But if you want to be taken seriously -- and you have funding from The Ford Foundation and George Soros' Open Society -- it doesn't seem too much to ask that on-point biographies relating to the group's founders be included. If you are going to say you can "give children back their childhoods," do it without typos and poorly worded sentences such as this one in Treasurer Melissa Theodore's biography: "She is not a parent, but helped to raise her older niece and nephew." Really? She helped raise a niece and nephew who were older than she? 

We can't help but wonder what another award winning Ithaca College alum, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger, would say about all of this.

— Joe Flint

Photo: The Jonas Brothers. Credit: Katy Winn / Associated Press