April 19, 2006

Wal-Mart Media Conference

(Bentonville, Arkansas) The 2nd Annual Wal-Mart Media Conference began yesterday with about seventy credentialed media representatives in attendance for a tour and various presentations by the company. They came from all across both the print and broadcast spectrum and included, among many, the New York Times, Washington Post, US News & World Report, The Guardian, Women's Wear Daily, ABC News, CNN and CBS News. Notably, two bloggers were also invited and were able to break away from their normal lives and travel to Arkansas. At their own expense, I might add.

Tom Forbes of Palousitics traveled from western Washington State to Bentonville and spent the first day of the conference attending presentations by Wal-Mart executives and taking notes. At intervals, Tom was able to post some of the more salient aspects of the information presented by the speakers.

One of the presentations pertained to Wal-Mart employee health care programs and how they are evolving. Tom provides a good overview and remarks that Wal-Mart's health care programs continue to improve and are quite competitive when compared to others in private industry.

In another session, Tom listened to Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee eloquently support Wal-Mart as an example of free market competition which benefits low-income customers through low prices and benefits communities by providing jobs and taxes.

The other blogger in attendance, Rob Port of Say Anything, spent his day among a group of elite media representatives and found himself more engaged by their attitudes and antics than the presentations of the convention. Rob indicates that most of the 'jounalists' exhibited strongly negative attitudes toward Wal-Mart and he wondered whether they were capable of reporting objectively.

Anecdotally, Rob's reporting is a good snapshot of the people producing news about Wal-Mart. However, his most interesting remarks describe how the union ambushed and hijacked the media afterward.

After the tour we arrived back at our hotel. Upon walking through the front door I encountered a woman talking on a cell phone pointing those of us getting off the bus to a dining area off the lobby. Since a bunch of the reporters were headed in that direction, I followed.

What I was greeted with upon entering the dining area clearly wasn't on Wal-Mart's agenda. What we were being directed to was a press conference put together by the United Food & Commercial Workers International Union (a part of the AFL-CIO) through their front group "WakeUpWal-Mart.com."

The press conference speaker was Rev. Markel Hutchins, a civil rights advocate, who voiced inaccurate and nonsensical attacks against Wal-Mart. In one, Hutchins said poor people don't go to Wal-Mart for low prices, they go because they're poor and oppressed. In another, which I consider to be race-baiting and obscene, Hutchins said that Wal-Mart's health care programs are "like lynching somebody from a seven foot tree instead of an eight foot tree."

Rob doesn't believe the mainstream media will report on the comments at the UFCW press conference. I think he's right. I also think that Wal-Mart's public strategies to burnish its image always seem to backfire because the leftist media use the opportunity to give the microphone and the headlines to Wal-Mart's opponents. As an example, take a look at this morning's Los Angeles Times and you'll find that virtually all of a two-page report of the conference is devoted to demonization of Wal-Mart by its enemies.

Trusting the mainstream media to be objective about Wal-Mart is a mistake.

From Interested-Participant.

By at 06:12 AM | Comments |