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Covering Wal-Mart

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A new television ad critical of Wal-Mart says that the huge retailer’s business practices are far from Christ-like, a reporter on Channel 4’s newscast informed us the other night, but she quickly added – lest anybody get the wrong idea about Wal‑Mart or Channel 4 — that “religious leaders” had concluded the ad’s labor-union sponsor was only attempting to appropriate the banner of Christian values for the union’s own secular purposes. Those “religious leaders” she mentioned turned out to be Jerry Cox, the head of the Arkansas Family Council, a right-wing lobby group. All one of him.

Conservative pundits profess to see major mistreatment of Wal-Mart in the media. They see what they want to see, just as that Channel 4 reporter saw a band of Jerry Coxes. Wal-Mart has many friends and protectors in the media, especially the Big Media. Wal-Mart is, among other things, an advertiser, much more of an advertiser than any labor union or consumer group, and no cow is so sacred to most of the media as an advertiser.

When ABC’s “World News Tonight” focused its attention on a class-action sex discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart, the show ran a segment quoting one plaintiff, then went to three sources for criticism of the case, including Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott. Steve Bokat of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, another member of the defense team, echoed Scott, calling the suit “fundamentally unfair.” ABC reporter Geoff Morrell advised that “economists say [the lawsuit] could have a chilling effect on big retailers, forcing them to raise prices and implement stricter policies for promotion.” For affirmation of Morrell’s remarks, the network turned to Tim Kane of the right-wing Heritage Foundation, who said the lawsuit would “make the management risk-averse; that adds cost to you and me.” No other economists were quoted. E pluribus unum.

Wal-Mart roughs up the media as much as the other way around. Among the largest sellers of media products, Wal-Mart denies shelf space to those it deems inappropriate, such as “America (The Book),” a satirical look at politics and government by Jon Stewart and Comedy Central’s Daily Show. Too irreverent for Wal-Mart.

It was widely reported that Time magazine had intended to select Osama bin Laden as its “person of the year” for 2001, but backed down under pressure from Wal-Mart, which did not officially confirm the reports, but didn’t deny that pressure had been applied either. Editor Wal-Mart at work.

Time had no hard feelings that it dared show, if it wanted to stay on the shelves of the company that accounts for 15 percent of all single-copy magazine sales in the U.S. In June 2005, Time did a cheerleading piece on Wal-Mart’s Chinese enterprises. It found that Chinese employees and customers alike were delighted with Wal-Mart, the big softy.


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