Sunday, July 24, 2005

Up Against the Wal-Mart Bully

"Wal-Mart cultivates an aw-shucks, we’re-just-folks- from-Arkansas image of neighborly small-town shopkeepers trying to sell stuff cheaply to you and yours. Behind its soft homespun ads, however, is what one union leader calls "this devouring beast" of a corporation that ruthlessly stomps on workers, neighborhoods, competitors, and suppliers."

-- Beyond McSpotlight

Walmart has done it again. This time, the giant retailer -- now the largest corporation in the world, bigger even than Exxon-Mobile -- is refusing to sell the daily Pensacola News Journal out of pure spite.

Randy Hammer, executive editor of the PNJ, tells the story in today's newspaper.

Undermining the First Amendment

Here's the essence of Hammer's article:
You can't buy the Pensacola News Journal at Wal-Mart anymore.

The store ordered us off their property, told us to come pick up our newspaper racks and clear out.
* * *
Some managers at Wal-Mart didn't appreciate a column Mark O'Brien wrote last month about the downside of the cheap prices that Sam Walton's empire has brought to America. We all pay a little less, and sometimes a lot less, at the grocery store and department store because of Mr. Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart.
* * *
Leave it to old Mark, whose column runs four days a week in this newspaper, to find a downside to this. Actually, it wasn't Mark, but Thomas Friedman, who wrote "The World is Flat," which happens to be a best seller right now.

... here's what Mark wrote:

"I like Wal-Mart prices the same as the next shopper, but there's a downside, too. Many Wal-Mart employees lack the fringe benefits and insurance that makes the difference between existence and a good quality of life. Yet, we customers pay a surcharge from a different pocket — subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart employees who can't afford it."

Mark then described how Friedman's book pointed out that more than 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are in a Georgia health-care program, which costs the state's taxpayers nearly $10 million a year. Mark also pointed out that a New York Times report found that 31 percent of the patients at a North Carolina hospital were Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid.

Mark's column really wasn't about Mr. Walton's store, but about Pensacola and how we're becoming a Wal-Mart kind of town, "cheap and comfy on the surface, lots of unhappiness and hidden costs underneath."

That was the point Mark was trying to make.
The next thing to happen was someone named Bob Hart, who is described as "one of the upper managers for the Wal-Marts in the area" ordered local Walmart stores to remove the Pensacola News Journal from its shelves.

If Mr. Bob Hart doesn't like Mark O'Brien's columns, or anything else he may read in the newspaper, he is, of course, free to avert his eyes or even stop his personal subscription in protest of a columnist's opinion. But to refuse to sell it to others? That's downright un-American. How ironic for a company that once urged customers to "buy American."

Interference With Employment Contract

It's even worse than that. Hart's store-wide boycott actually is intended to get Mark O'Brien fired for what he wrote!

This, of course, would be grounds for a big-time tort lawsuit, if Mark O'Brien were the type to turn to the courts for justice instead of to his readers. (Then again, how can he appeal to readers if Walmart blacklists the newspaper he writes for?)

Here's how Hammer describes the real story behind the bullying by Walmart:
Mr. Hart... said he and his stores couldn't tolerate a newspaper that would print the opinions of someone who was as mean and negative as Mark O'Brien. * * * Hart said he wanted the newspaper to get its racks off his lots. But he also said that if I fired Mark, we could talk about continuing to sell the newspaper at his stores.[emphasis added]
What could this Bob Hart fellow have been thinking? Deprive Walmart's Pensacola customers of access to their only daily newspaper because he didn't agree with a columnist's opinion? Fire a popular columnist because another corporation doesn't like what he writes?

Bad Corporate Character

The arrogance -- not to mention the rank stupidity -- of all of this would be breathtaking if it weren't so predictable. Unfortunately, as many critics have charged, it seems to be very much in the corporate character of Walmart.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader has written that Walmart is a "Law-breaker, union-buster, tax-escapee and shifter of costs to others... ." Who are the "others" Nader says shoulder the costs of Walmart? The American taxpayer, which many believe Walmart has finagled into subsidizing its payroll and medical care costs.

According to the Pulitzer-Prize winning series published by the Los Angeles Times, Walmart long ago abandoned its "buy American" slogan. Now, it shamelessly exploits child labor in Asia and Mexico. has more about the deplorable state of corporate ethics at Walmart. According to its Walmart Week in Review: Litigation Walmart currently is facing:

  • A Sarbanes-Oxley complaint from a former employee after blowing the whistle on a senior executive
  • A discrimination suit filed by nine minority customers in Boston who allege they were “followed, searched, humiliated, and in some cases, detained by greeters”
  • A class action racial discrimination suit in by African-American truck drivers in Arkansas.
  • And the largest class action sex discrimination suit in the country.

So, is it possible Mr. Hart learned his bullying tactics from higher execs in the Walmart corporate suite? Was he ordered to do it? Quite possibly. According to BBC News, even Walmart shareholders are getting fed up with the arrogance and wrong-doing of the highest ranking Walmart executives.

Shopping with a Conscience

As Randy Hammer points out in today's op-ed -- which appears in the newspaper you can't buy at Walmart anymore -- the root criticism of Walmart which Bob Hart found so offensive is stated at greater length in a best selling book by New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. You probably can't buy that book at Walmart, either. So, go to the competition and order it from

While you're at it, consider buying everything else you need elsewhere. Including a copy of The Pearl by John Steinbeck.

The Pearl is a cautionary tale about a small village where a valuable pearl is found. Thinking it a treasure, the villagers soon are overcome by greed and avarice and abandon their timeless values just to get a piece of the action. In the process, everything and everyone the villagers once loved is destroyed.

Steinbeck couldn't have had Walmart's discount pricing in mind when he wrote The Pearl, of course. But more and more shoppers with a conscience are passing up the chance to save a few pennies at Walmart and buying elsewhere. Not because 'turn around is fair play' -- although it surely can be in circumstances precisely like these that Walmart has created. Because no thinking, humane American would want to trade with any retailer who undermines American values.

Our ancestors, and the soldiers and sailors now dispatched around the world, put their lives on the line to protect American democratic freedoms like those embedded in the Bill of Rights. These freedoms include, preeminently, the First Amendment's guarantee of free speech, a free press, and the freedom of conscience.

By its actions in Pensacola, Walmart is undermining those very same American values. Maybe it's time for us to 'support the troops' by avoiding Walmart.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Get a life dude!