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Wal-Mart's Spin Zone

The April 2 issue of The New Yorker has a fascinating must-read on Wal-Mart's massive and sophisticated public relations efforts, led by the Chicago-born Edelman PR firm. The story demonstrates just what reporters, politicians, and citizens are up against in trying to pan for truth amidst the onslaught of highly-paid professionals whose job is to spin public policy in favor of the private, secret, and lucrative interests of the company's executives. This is the company that the mayor and many of his city council cronies welcome to the city - the subject of several of the aldermanic runoffs in April. This article ought to make the rounds of those campaigns and city council chambers.

It's also worth considering that the mayor and other politicians, including those running for presidents, run similar spin divisions with the purpose of imprinting images, narratives, themes, and buzz words ("rock star" anyone?) unlodgably in your mind. And it is among the highest priority of journalists to resist, reveal, and destroy those efforts in favor of reality.

Excerpts of The New Yorker story follow, as well as excerpts from the Edelman website, the Edelman president's blog, and SourceWatch, which has a good summary of Edelman's more notorious works.

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"Action Alley is the company's war room, a communications center that was set up and is staffed by Washington-based operatives from Edelman, a public-relations firm that advises companies on issues of 'reputation management.' Wal-Mart corporate culture is parsimonious except in the matter of executive compensation, but, according to a source, the company has been paying Edelman roughly ten million dollars annually to renovate its reputation."

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"Barack Obama and John Edwards have joined union-led campaigns to denounce the company for its wage-and-benefit policies. Wal-Mart is notably unfriendly to unions; in 2000, when meat-cutters at a single Wal-Mart in Texas organized into a collective-bargaining unit, Wal-Mart responded by shutting down its meat counters across Texas and in five neighboring states. It closed an entire store in Quebec, rather than see workers unionize."

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Editor's Note: Obama has endorsed Ald. Dorothy Tillman (3rd) against the union-led Pat Dowell, and as far as I know has stayed out of the big-box debate in Chicago, as well as other aldermanic races. Daley supports Tillman and the anti-union incumbents.

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"Even Ron Galloway, the maker of a recent pro-Wal-Mart documentary, Why Wal-Mart Works and Why That Makes Some People Crazy,has turned against the company. Galloway told me that he now considers Wal-Mart to be a 'heartless' employer. 'They just instituted a wage cap for long-term employees - people making between thirteen and eighteen dollars an hour. It's a form of accelerated attrition. They can't expect me to defend that,' Galloway said."

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"Chief human-resources executive, M. Susan Chambers . . . noted [in a memo] that forty-six per cent of the children of Wal-Mart's million-plus American employees were uninsured or on Medicaid.

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Editor's Note: Certainly that figure needs to be considered in any big-box debate, seeing as how taxpayer money is involved. The article's discussion of "open availability" scheduling also calls into question the commitment of the mayor and his council allies to workers of Chicago. The big-box ordinance may not be the best solution, but demanding minimum work standards certainly is.

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"Owing in part to its status as a retail behemoth, Wal-Mart has met with resistance in numerous communities (including New York City) when it has tried to open stores."

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Editor's Note: Chicago doesn't have a monopoly on wisdom. Another tack would be for the mayor to offer incentives instead to companies like Costco, which operate with a much higher commitment to workers' wages and benefits.

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"Ethical ambidexterity is no barrier to success in the public-relations field, particularly in Washington. Many prominent Democrats spend the years between national elections representing corporate clients: the political consultant Carter Eskew, who has worked for such Democratic politicians as Al Gore and Christopher Dodd, also worked for the tobacco industry; Mike McCurry, the former Clinton White House press secretary, represents the telecommunications industry in its fight against, among others, Democratic bloggers on issues of Internet access. Democrats and Republicans frequently come together to build bipartisan lobbying firms that seek corporate clients; Clinton's onetime counsel Jack Quinn, who had as a client the international fugitive Marc Rich, for whom he helped arrange a Presidential pardon, built a successful firm with Ed Gillespie, the former Republican National Committee chairman."

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Editor's Note: This is one of many good reasons to hate Democrats. They are often not willing to make any personal sacrifices to live out their principles. They want to change the byways of society, but until those byways are changed, they exploit them for their own wealth and advancement. And you know what? It's easy to have values, but unless you are willing to make personal sacrifices for those values, it's all just double-talk lip service. It's like free speech - easy to support when speech isn't threatening anyone's sensibilities. It's only meaningful when it comes time to protect speech we don't like. Similarly, liberal values are easy to have as long as you don't have to live by them.

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From Edelman's website:

Our Mission
To provide public relations counsel and strategic communications services that enable our clients to build strong relationships and to influence attitudes and behaviors in a complex world.

* We undertake our mission through convergence by integrating specialist knowledge of practices and industries, local market understanding, proprietary methodology and breakthrough creativity.

* We are dedicated to building long-term, rewarding partnerships that add value to our clients and our people.

* Our clients are leaders in their fields who are initiating change and seeking new solutions.

Our Values:
Quality: Excellence in products, services, and people that drives long-term growth and employee satisfaction.

Integrity: Responsible, trustworthy partners respected by all stakeholders.

Respect: Positive relationships with our colleagues, clients, and the communities in which we do business.

Entrepreneurial Spirit: Superior staff with the drive to take charge and make a difference for our clients.

Mutual Benefits: Financial success that rewards our firm, our employees, and our clients.

Principles:

* Edelman is committed to honesty.
* Edelman is committed to transparency.
* Edelman is committed to fair dealing.
* Edelman will ensure activity aligns with the interests of its employees, clients and critical stakeholders.
* Edelman will strive to model best practice in the marketplace.
* Employees will not violate legal obligations or prohibitions where Edelman does business.

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From SourceWatch:

"Edelman PR tells clients that activists are winning because 'they play offense all the time; they take their message to the consumer; they are ingenious at building coalitions; they always have a clear agenda; they move at Internet speed; they speak in the media's tone.'"

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"The solution, it argues, are partnerships between NGO's and business. 'Our experience to date is positive,' they say, citing examples such as 'Chiquita-Rainforest Alliance' and 'Home Depot-Forest Stewardship Council.'"

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"Edelman works for the Mormon Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints). While details of their work on the account are scarce, in 1997 Edelman did the PR for re-enactment of thousands of Mormons travelling from Illinois to Utah in covered wagons."

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"In February 2004 the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Edelman's Chicago office had contributed $32,600 to Illinois Democratic Party Governor Rod Blagojevich. The story also reported that Edelman's contract with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Development (DCED) to promote tourism had been renewed despite competition from rival PR companies Ketchum and Ruder Finn. The three-year contract was reported to be worth $6.2 million with $12.2 million having been paid to the company since 2000.

"While the Chicago Sun-Times reported that Edelman was not the lowest bidder, the director of communications for the department, Laura Hunter, told PR week the contract renewal was 'entirely based on their qualifications.'

"Edelman Chicago's general manager of consumer practice and tourism practice leader within the agency told PR Week defended making political contributions as a part of a strategy to win contracts. 'It's really a part of doing business . . . We have made contributions throughout the history of the company really because we're a part of the community,' she said."

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From the blog of company president Richard Edelman (low in post):

"I also take exception to the article by Jeff Goldberg in this week's New Yorker Magazine on Wal-Mart, because it is biased and hopelessly one-sided. His characterization of my former colleague, Leslie Dach, now a senior executive at Wal-Mart, is fundamentally flawed. Leslie is a gifted PR man, with a genuine commitment to the environment and social equality. Goldberg depicts our profession as based on spin, hardball tactics and messages, an Orwellian world of mind control. In fact, the best PR is premised on truth and that is why Wal-Mart's leadership on environment, prescription drug prices and affordable products is getting favorable coverage."

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See also:

* Big Box of Nonsense: Wal-Mart's Imaginary Billions.

* The [Big-Box Veto] Papers.

* "Does Mayor Richard M. Daley really think those who support the big-box ordinance are racists whose motivation is to screw black people out of shopping options?"

* "A Sun-Times story about Wal-Mart wages fails to quote a single worker, union official or labor expert. Because wages are always about the corporation, not the hired help." (News-Mart item)

* And if you plop Wal-Mart into the Beachwood's search, you'll find the rest of our ongoing coverage appearing in various venues throughout the site.



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Posted on March 30, 2007


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