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The importance of casting a critical eye on Dan Gilbert

Dec 9, 2014

Credit Quicken Loans

Dan Gilbert, founder of Quicken Loans, has become synonymous with downtown Detroit. 

He's been called "Detroit's savior" by the national media because of his purchase of about 60 buildings downtown, but two new articles argue for a more dynamic depiction of Gilbert.

Ryan Felton recently wrote a piece titled "Dan Gilbert, downtown Detroit's demigod" for Detroit MetroTimes. 

Anna Clark authored "Detroit's Dan Gilbert and the savior complex" for the Columbia Journalism Review.

Both articles question how Gilbert has been framed in the media and scrutinize this portrayal of Gilbert as Detroit's guardian angel.

"Once he says something, it becomes a story."

"Journalists can sometimes conflate a private business person with a charity or philanthropic figure," Clark says. He says it's important to remember Gilbert is still an individual working for his own self-interest.

Journalists often have roots in the area and Clark says this can make them susceptible to the simplistic story of hope Gilbert represents.

Felton and Clark are both critical of the amount of sway Gilbert has on the area. According to Felton, "once he says something, it becomes a story." He says this amount of power in one individual can be dangerous.

Clark further stresses the need for journalists to remain skeptical of Gilbert.

"It's not necessarily that Dan Gilbert's this awful guy or that he's done terrible things. It's not like there's some scandal necessarily that's meant to be uncovered. But it's sort of acknowledging that here's a person with disproportionate influence on the present of the city and certainly the future of the city," says Clark.

Gilbert's dedication to the blight removal task force shows his commitment to the city, Felton says, but he's still waiting for Gilbert to take it a step further by announcing a plan beyond just removal.

– Katrina Shafer, Michigan Radio Newsroom