This post is a part of our People’s Insights monthly brief for October, called “On Responding.”
NYT calls Walmart a “drain on taxpayers”
Over the summer, New York Times contributor Timothy Egan wrote the opinion piece The Corporate Daddy which painted a bleak economic future and criticized Walmart’s impact on the American economy. Egan’s argument:
“It’s a sad day when we have to look to corporations for education, health care and basic ways to boost the middle class….
“Walmart, the nation’s top private employer and the world’s largest public corporation, is a big part of the problem — and could be a big part of the solution.”
Egan then proceeded to point out the income gap between Walmart’s lowest and highest paid employees, called Walmart a “drain on taxpayers” and criticized the poor adoption of Walmart’s program to help employees pay for tuition.
Response: Walmart’s VP of corp comms “fact checks” the article
The very next day, Walmart’s former VP of corporate communications David Tovar responded to the article, marking it up with his comments in a red pen and posting it to the Walmart blog.
“We had some fun with it” he says in the blog post, and begins his response with a sarcastic note:
“Tim – Thanks for sharing your first draft. Below are a few thoughts to ensure something inaccurate doesn’t get published. Hope this helps – WMT”
Tovar then shared stats and arguments that paint Walmart in a much more positive light, including, like Walmart’s position as the largest tax payer in the US and its plan to buy $250 billion in US products over 10 years.
He also questioned some of the stats used in the original piece, with links to other articles on the same topic and some numbers from Walmart’s own records.
In an interview with PRWeek, Tovar explained that Walmart should have been contacted before the piece went live and that they simply wanted to explain their point of view:
“The ultimate goal is to inform anyone who read the op-ed about the good jobs and opportunities we offer at Walmart. We wanted to use this as an opportunity to educate and inform the public about the facts.”
Reactions: Bold, eye-opening… but perhaps too defensive?
Tovar’s response attracted a lot of attention in the form of comments, shares and coverage in media. Several media houses shared his blog post, calling his response “brilliant” and increasing the reach of his corrections extensively.
Some found the approach refreshing and indicative of the possibilities of a digital world, which provides corporate communicators with new ways to reach audiences. Others pointed out that Walmart’s response too should be subject to a fact check – several news sites and organizations complied.
Several PR professionals and journalists felt the approach could be more constructive. PRWeek has a good round-up of PR professionals’ views here, best summarized in Salon contributor Ari Rabin-Havt’s comments: Walmart missed the opportunity to use the NYT column as a “moment for serious introspection”:
“Wal-Mart isn’t going away and any conversation about wages, manufacturing and the reliance on public benefits by the employees of America’s largest corporations is ultimately going to include its participation. This latest salvo seems to indicate it remains intent on making it as unproductive a conversation as possible.”