Some Buyers Upset; Local Stores Take Different Approaches
By NELSON MORAIS
A motion-activated baby doll that utters the sentence, "Islam is the light" in-between cooing and other baby sounds has raised the ire and concern of several Christian parents in the area.
In response to complaints from Christians about one month ago, managers at the local K-Mart store said they immediately pulled Fisher-Price's "Little Mommy Cuddle & Coo Doll" from the store's shelves.
The doll sells for $21.99.
An apparently-new version of "Cuddle & Coo Doll," clearly without the controversial phrase, was on sale at Kmart on Tuesday.
The local Wal-Mart Supercenter pulled its "Cuddle & Coo Dolls" several weeks ago for "a day or two" after the store received very few complaints, Manager Buddy Kolb said Tuesday, then returned the dolls to the shelves.
Kolb said managers decided to put the toys back on the shelves for sale after they were reassured by a Mattel, Inc. toy representative that there was nothing wrong with them.
Fisher-Price is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Mattel, according to the online reference source, Wikipedia.
On Tuesday evening, a Greeneville Sun reporter found four of the "Cuddle & Coo Dolls" with the sentence "Islam is the light" clearly spoken by each one when activated by motion in front of them.
Kolb, however, said the Mattel toy representative's "response [to complaints] was [that] it [the doll] was programmed to say indiscriminate babblings." The "babblings," he was told, could be misinterpreted to say "Islam is the light" or something close to that.
Kolb described the doll as "an extremely hot (selling) item" in the store.
"On extremely hot items like that, demand outruns supply. We don't have the ability to order (as many as) what we'd like. I don't know (therefore) if we'll carry more," he said.
"To my knowledge, they (Mattel) said they were going to change ... [the doll's] babblings, so I assume that's what they're going to do," Kolb said.
Gave Her 'The Creeps'
Jama Doty, a mother who works in retail banking, said she bought the doll several months ago from the local Wal-Mart and gave it to her three-year-old daughter, Mylee, to play with, never suspecting anything was unusual about the doll.
"We (Jama and her husband, Lynn) knew it cooed and said, 'Momma,' but then it breaks into a sentence kind of like baby talk," Doty recalled in an interview Monday.
She said her husband, Lynn, first noticed an almost-subliminal sentence coming from the doll amid the baby talk, but that the only word the couple could make out was the last one, "light."
That was more than enough to alarm Mrs. Doty, however.
"It gave me the creeps, so we took the batteries out" and gave the now-silenced doll back to their small daughter to play with, she said.
Jama Doty said she had forgotten about the matter until Sunday, when Phyllis Gross, another woman in her Sunday School Bible class at Oak Grove Free Will Baptist Church, mentioned the matter.
Gross had a videotape of the doll, including the doll saying the phrase, "Islam is the light," on her cellphone that she had videotaped Friday at the Wal-Mart store.
In addition, she stated that her husband, Milton, said he could distinguish the doll saying "Satan is king" in a different version of the doll's soundtrack that he found on the Internet. The phrase mentioning the word Satan occurs just before it utters, "Islam is the light," Mrs. Gross said.
Doty's reaction to what she heard Sunday?
"I was disgusted, first of all," she said.
"We are trying to raise Mylee in a godly home," Doty said. Christianity teaches that only Jesus "is the Light."
Doty also added, "We try to filter the TV she watches, the music she listens to and the people she associates with, so to know I bought the doll and brought it into my home and gave it to my daughter truly disturbs me."
She said her first reaction was to "throw the doll in the dumpster. I did get it out of the house. I didn't sleep well last night, have strong convictions about the doll, and feel other parents need to know."
She added, other parents "can make their own decision, but I know I don't want my child playing with a doll like that."
Doty, with Mylee, brought the doll to the offices of the Greeneville Sun Monday to ask the newspaper to alert other parents of what she claimed the doll said.
A reporter could make out the phrase, ". . . is the light," while an editor said he could clearly distinguish only the word, "light" when the sounds were listened to several times.
Neither Doty nor the reporter or editor heard the phrase, "Satan is King," uttered by the doll.
"There's been a lot of complaints about the doll" circulating on the Internet, Gross said Monday in an interview.
Gross said that, regardless of one's religious convictions, customers should be concerned with Fisher-Price's action because the packaging on the doll states it says cooing sounds and "Mama," without mentioning any additional phrases -- an alleged lack of full disclosure, in her view.
"I'm concerned that it [the 'Cuddle & Coo Doll'] doesn't state clearly what it says on the box so I can choose to not buy it," Gross said. She added, "I wouldn't trust that doll with a 10-foot pole."
Kmart Removes Doll
Kmart Assistant Manager Karl Banner recalled Tuesday that about one month ago, a couple first brought the doll's questionable sound to the attention of management.
He said he "clearly" heard it say "Islam is the light," and immediately pulled all 7 to 10 of the dolls off the toy department's shelf.
Manager Rick Jones said when he later listened to those dolls in a back office of the store, the recording and phrase, "Islam is the light," was clear in some of the dolls but harder to distinguish in others -- probably a result of the normal, slight differences among products when manufactured, he said.
Jones said the store has "probably pulled 40 to 50" of the dolls off the shelves in K-Mart in the last month as they were inadvertently put there by night crews unloading merchandise and stocking shelves. He said management did not want the dolls sold.
"We've been receiving phone calls" about the doll from concerned parents, he said.
Jones said that, as with other products that don't sell or are returned, the dolls will likely join other Christmas toys left over after Christmas and be shipped to a reseller.
"We're basically catering to the community" by not selling the dolls with the phrase that was offensive to some customers, Jones said.
"We just made a decision at this store. We're not speaking for the store (corporately)," Jones explained.
"I don't think it was a corporate decision of Fisher-Price or Mattel" to include that phrase in the cooing sounds, Kmart Manager Jones said.
He added, "I think it was someone down the line in manufacturing, maybe someone who did it as a joke."
Day-Care Center Owner
On Tuesday, Louise Barner contacted the Sun by telephone, apparently unaware of Doty's visit the day before, to inquire about the doll.
Barner, the owner of a day-care center, Bekah's Babies, said she has been "getting a lot of emails in the Tri-Cities" from a "family support group" of the day-care center suggesting mothers of the children at the day care center be warned about the doll.
Barner said that before she made the decision to do that, she wanted more information about the controversy.
The day-care center on Leonard Street averages 12 children a day, from ages six weeks to 12 years of age, according to Barner.
She said she heard the doll utter the phrase, "Islam is the light," on the Internet Web site, QuickTime. (QuickTime is a multimedia framework developed by Apple Inc., that handles various formats of digital video, media clips, sound, text, animation, music, etc.)
Mattel Issues Release
Despite adverse publicity and news coverage by some major media outlets, a Fisher-Price representative told the Sun in a telephone interview on Tuesday that the company has not recalled the doll with the phrase.
However, in an undated press release issued Tuesday to the Sun, Fisher-Price acknowledged having made the decision to change the recording in "future production" of the doll.
The company will issue a $21 voucher for another Mattel product to anyone returning the doll, according to a representative contacted by phone by a reporter.
The phone number -- 800.524.TOYS (8697) -- was supplied in the official press release from Fisher-Price about the doll.
The release states that the dolls "feature realistic baby sounds including cooing, giggling, and baby babble with no real sentence structure. The only scripted word the doll says is 'mama.' "
The release continues, "There is a sound that may resemble something close to the word 'night, right, or light.' To avoid any potential misinterpretation, we have eliminated that segment of the sound file from future production.
"Because the original sound track is compressed into a file that can be played through an inexpensive toy speaker, actual sounds may be imprecise or distorted."
"We remain confident in the high quality standards of our Little Mommy Cuddle 'n Coo dolls. If consumers have any questions or concerns regarding any Mattel or Fisher-Price toys, they may contact our consumer relations center at 800.524.TOYS (8697), and we will be happy to assist them," the release states.
"We take every call from our consumers very seriously and do our best to help address their concerns," it states.
The release also lists a Web site to hear the soundtrack of the doll: http://www.shareholder.com/mattel/default.cfm