Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Don't Piss on the New York Times Unless You Drink a Lot of Water

Walmart Flack Spends Too Much Time on Snark, Not Enough on  the Facts

A letter to the editor just wouldn't suffice.

Walmart's corporate communications veep David Tovar was really cheesed off about Timothy Egan's column in Sunday's New York Times. He actually had a headstart in generating his outrage, as the column appeared online three days earlier.

The basic premise of the piece by Egan (left) is that Walmart is a big contributor to poverty in this country because of the relatively paltry wages it pays to most of its 1.4 million workers.

Their humiliating wages force thousands of employees to look to food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of welfare. A sign appearing at a Walmart in Ohio last year, asking people to donate food so that the company’s employees “could enjoy Thanksgiving,” was a perfect symbol of what’s wrong with the nation’s most despised retailer.

Not that this is a new criticism, far from it, but it was made in the Times, in the Sunday edition, no less. The boys in Bentonville prepared to do battle.

That came in the form last Friday of an ersatz letter to Egan, in which Tovar (right) on his blog had some "fun," in his words, and annotated Egan's column and
offered in red ink--not unlike the variety commonly employed by high school English teachers--purported corrections to inaccuracies and distortions. It wasn't meant to be ha-ha funny in its observations. It wasn't meant to call out Egan as a dithering lefty in the tank for the progressives. But it was dripping with enough sarcasm to make you wonder what the hell Tovar was thinking.

Egan is apparently wondering the same, as he told Business Insider:

It seems pretty snarky for a company that puts Smiley buttons on every piece of Chinese-made crap they sell. I didn't see anything concrete, except the dispute over exactly how much they pay [employees] — which is in dispute. I cited two independent studies on their average worker's pay ... One was $8.81 an hour. The other [was under $11 an hour]. Wal-Mart says [it pays] $12-plus an hour, but critics say that is skewed, and they don't include part time workers, a huge part of their workforce."

If you take a look at Tovar's "notes," you'll see a lot of it doesn't exactly refute what Egan says, but tries to put a smiley face on some otherwise damning figures. And some non-sequiturs too. Egan wrote:

Walmart in 2010 pledged to spend $50 million over three years to offset some of the cost for a small percentage of employees who enrolled in a for-profit, online university. So far, it’s been a bust — only about 400 have earned degrees.

To which Tovar chirped: "Most college degrees take more than 4 years. Not 3?"

And that matters how? If you've reportedly committed $50 million to something, yet can show a precious few have benefited, how is that not a bust? Better to have said how many are enrolled and how many are on track to get a degree. But that might not help Tovar make his point, whatever that might be.

For many of his other notes, Tovar is either in furious spin mode (Did you know? Walmart hired over 92,000 veterans last year) or providing examples of something good that can likely be countered with many more worse stories. Conservative bloggers and websites were doing jigs over Tovar's takedown. But just because you write something in red pen doesn't necessarily make it right. It just makes it red, not a good color for a company whose logo is blue.

P.S. On Tovar's blog, he included a letter supposedly written by a store manager in Virginia that sings all the hosannas you'd expect about how wonderful Walmart's been to him. Fair enough. Now let's see if Tovar runs one from one of his cashiers who needs food stamps to feed her family.

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