The anti-Wal-Mart film “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” has received most of the attention. The movie on the benefits of Wal-Mart, “Why Wal-Mart Works & Why That Makes Some People Crazy” was slighted. When both did get attention on “Lou Dobbs Tonight,” with the anti-Wal-Mart film getting more airtime from an agreeable Dobbs according to a report by the Free Market Project.
NBC began a November 1 “Today” segment with “A media blitz is under way about Wal-Mart and from Wal-Mart.” Text then appeared on the screen that read “Wal-Mart drives down retail wages $3 billion every year.” Despite mentioning the “media blitz” from Wal-Mart, the only official representation of the store was two lines from an ad. Reporter Dawn Fratangelo mentioned Wal-Mart’s new environmental programs and new health care plan. She then added “But critics call it a publicity stunt,” and interviewed a man from union-backed wakeupwalmart.com about it. Only anti-Wal-Mart people were featured in the story, and nothing positive about the company was included.
ABC’s November 1 “World News Tonight” focused on “Wal-Mart's bruised image…. Can it reverse things with a war room to combat the attacks?” The company’s “public relations pummeling” was discussed, then footage from the anti-Wal-Mart movie was shown, adding to the “pummeling.”
Again, nothing positive about Wal-Mart was ever mentioned, or problems with “The High Cost of Low Price.” The only time given to Wal-Mart was the vice president of Wal-Mart corporate affairs, Bob McAdam, who explained that “Whenever our company is attacked with misinformation, we are going to respond.”
Neither NBC nor ABC mentioned “Why Wal-Mart Works & Why That Makes Some People Crazy,” a film by Ron Galloway. It is a documentary on the benefits of Wal-Mart. He said on CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight” October 31 that he “started off neutral when making the film. But I did, through the course of the film, start going their way.” The film will be released on November 15.
Instead NBC and ABC only discussed Robert Greenwald’s “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.” Greenwald is a liberal filmmaker who has received awards from the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. His previous films include “OUTFOXED: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism,” “Uncovered: The War on Iraq,” and “Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election.” He set out to make a documentary against Wal-Mart. that film opens nationwide on November 13 and will be available on DVD on November 15.
NBC’s “Today,” CNN’s “Showbiz” and “Lou Dobbs Tonight” all included Wal-Mart’s response to Greenwald’s documentary, saying there were three errors in three minutes in his trailer. None, however, told viewers what those errors were. Wal-Mart made a short video explaining those inaccuracies:
- Greenwald showed a hardware store and stated that Wal-Mart put it out of business. But the store closed before Wal-Mart opened, was sold to a new owner, and is now open and looking to expand.
- The trailer had an African-American woman stating, “He just bluntly told me there is no place for people like you in management.” What she meant by “people like you” was never specified, the viewer is left to guess, but assume it’s either racial or gender. In regard to race and sex, Wal-Mart is one of America’s most diverse companies. Black Enterprise magazine rated it as one of the “30 Best Companies for Diversity,” and more than 40 percent of Wal-Mart managers are women. “Time Magazine” ran a story on September 5 about the growing support that Wal-Mart has from “black America.”
- The trailer showed a man who said “if they don’t pay a living wage, they can’t come to Chicago.” Wal-Mart pays on average more than $4 an hour above minimum wage, and $1 higher than the “living wage” set by Chicago for city contracts.
CNN covered both movies on three different shows. Lou Dobbs interviewed Greenwald and Galloway on separate nights for “Lou Dobbs Tonight.” On the October 31 show, Greenwald said, “They're [Wal-Mart] destroying families. They're destroying communities. They're destroying jobs.” Dobbs agreed, saying, “Now, the alienation, what bothers me, in point of fact here, is that Wal-Mart will not come on this broadcast and discuss these issues that we raise.”
Dobbs didn’t explain what CNN’s Andy Serwer knew – that Wal-Mart’s public relations policy has changed only recently. On the November 2 “NewsNight with Aaron Brown,” Serwer said, “you have to remember, this company was a very closed culture, really.” He reminded viewers that Sam Walton “didn't believe in talking to the press. He didn't believe in P.R. He said, all we need to do was open stores up and offer goods at low prices.” Now it is beginning to change, Serwer said: “They're starting to realize that they need to respond more and more. So, they're just getting up to speed.”
Serwer also discussed the working conditions at Wal-Mart. He said “I mean, 1.3 million Americans work at Wal-Mart. A lot of people like working there. We have to remember that. I mean, it's not all these people who work there are unhappy.” Not only that, but “hundreds of millions of Americans are benefiting from low prices.”
Those low-priced products bothered Dobbs, however, who said in his October 31 broadcast there are “serious issues in terms of the Chinese products” Wal-Mart sells. Dobbs asked Greenwald how that can work. Greenwald did mention the efficiency of Wal-Mart, then undermined it by asking “at a certain point when you care about your country, you ask a question, when is it greed?” to which Dobbs responded, “That's a question we're asking too.”
Dobbs interviewed Galloway on November 2, but it wasn’t to give equal time to the other side. He bashed Wal-Mart for three and a half minutes along with Representative George Miller of California. Galloway’s interview was more than a minute shorter than Greenwald’s. And during the interview, Dobbs took time to wave at the camera and say, “I want to say hi to the Wal-Mart war room. Ron, wave into the camera. Wave into the camera. The Wal-Mart war room is here to protect the institution, that's understandable. We just want to be sure we say hi.”
Galloway mentioned that buying goods from China has lifted Chinese workers out of poverty, but Dobbs criticized America’s trade policy, calling it “absolutely mindless.” When Galloway responded that it was beneficial to consumers by lowering prices, Dobbs countered by claiming it also lowered wages.
A Two-Sided Story
CNN’s “Showbiz Tonight” discussed the “dueling documentaries” on October 31. Jason Carroll moderated a discussion between Greenwald and Galloway. Greenwald began the debate stating that he “felt compelled” to make his documentary after his neighbor who had been employed at Wal-Mart couldn’t afford his health care, “but the very, very nice managers at Wal-Mart were helping him fill out forms so he could apply and get state aid.” Greenwald then lamented that “every single one of us, every single taxpayer, is winding up paying for the Wal-Mart benefits that the corporation is not giving to their employees.”
Galloway responded, “I disagree with the effect on the American taxpayer. Let’s say – the figure bandied about is $1.5 billion that Wal-Mart costs taxpayers. Well, Wal-Mart pays $22 billion in taxes and their vendors generate another $40 billion in federal taxes. So Wal-Mart’s pretty much a cash cow for the U.S. government.”
When Greenwald stated that families were “getting torn apart by” Wal-Mart, instead of the moderator agreeing as Lou Dobbs did, Galloway had the chance to respond. He noted that 138 million people shop there weekly because of the store’s low prices. “And so those families therefore have more freedom, because money is freedom to go out and spend on other things.” He then concluded with “138 million people vote with their feet every week to go to Wal-Mart. And Americans are pretty smart. And I think Wal-Mart, if Wal-Mart were really doing something genuinely wrong, the American people would be able to figure it out and not go.”
“Showbiz Tonight” gave the most unbiased coverage of the documentaries, allowing both sides to speak instead of only showing the negative side.
Problems in Print
Even The New York Times Anita Gates review of “Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price” was highly critical of the company. The review discussed the “vanquishing thousands of small businesses coast to coast.” The alleged poor treatment of employees from health care to gender to race, to forced overtime work was also mentioned, as well as claims of security problems in company parking lots.
The closest thing to addressing any problems with the movie was a reluctant admission by Gates that “In all fairness, Wal-Mart is not the only company in the world accused of trying to work its employees to death or of economizing by using part-time and freelance people who don't receive expensive employee benefits.” At the end she tied the anti-Wal-Mart film to another propaganda project: “But it's impossible not to remember what happened with Michael Moore's ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’: it outraged many Americans, made White House decisions look ridiculously dishonest and/or inept, and President Bush was re-elected anyway.”
Joseph Nocera in a November 5 Times article “Our Love-Hate Relationship With Wal-Mart” added another benefit of Wal-Mart missed from all broadcasts. “Indeed, a reasonable argument can be made that over the last 10 or 15 years, Wal-Mart has done more to keep inflation in check than Alan Greenspan has. After all, Mr. Greenspan, the Fed chairman, can't force Procter & Gamble to roll back a planned increase in the wholesale price of toothpaste. Wal-Mart can – and does.”
Missing from most of the stories was Wal-Mart’s generosity. Wal-Mart donated more than $17 million to Katrina victims with another $15 million from the Walton family. Wal-Mart gave more than $40 million for the company-wide education initiative in 2004, in addition to money given to communities and Children's Miracle Network hospitals.
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