In Public Relations, Reputation

By: Jacob Nadeau
The battle betwwmt_logo_2een opinionated columnists and the big corporations they target took a peculiar turn last month when New York Times columnist Timothy Egan wrote an editorial titled “The Corporate Daddy: Walmart, Starbucks and the Fight Against Inequality.”  Egan’s column called Walmart a “…net drain on taxpayers, forcing employees into public assistance with its poverty-wage structure” and argued that Walmart could afford to pay its employees more.

In response to the column, Walmart Vice President of Communications, David Tovar, took a red pen to Egan’s article and posted a “fact checked” version that was riddled with sarcasm on their corporate blog and sent it directly to journalists. Tovar’s response takes issue with some of the factual assertions of Egan’s column, including how much the average Walmart employee makes. For example, Egan cited studies that said Walmart “associates” make anywhere from $8.81 per hour to under $11 per hour.  Tovar’s “correction” called him out for being off by $0.83.   Not only did Mr. Tovar offer his perspective on Egan’s argument, he also corrected the numbers, grammar, and even provided alternative sources and a follow-up story idea.

As it turns out Walmart’s “fact check” was more snarky than it was factual.  Either way, I think this conflict will end in a draw in the court of public opinion. Sure, some may now question the credibility and bias of the New York Times, but Walmart also seems childish.

I’m all for protecting your employer but why the passive aggressive, dripping with sarcasm snark? It comes off as unprofessional. Especially in regard to the serious issue the New York Time’s editorial was attempting to discuss. Andrew Rosenthal, editorial page editor of the Times said it best in his defense of the piece, “The fact that Walmart thought this issue was something to have ‘fun’ with says volumes about their practices.”

If Walmart had serious issues with the facts presented in Egan’s piece they should have put out a clear, point-by-point, refutation instead of a red-inked, thin-skinned counterattack.  Sounds like the Times editorial might just have hit a bit too close to home.

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