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Fox News Plays Defense in 'War on Wal-Mart'

Reported by Judy - December 9, 2006 -

Somebody has declared "War on Wal-Mart," and Fox News rushed to the front lines to defend the world's largest retailer on Saturday (December 9, 2006), but it never made clear exactly who has been launching all the attacks. And it also was less than forthright about who some Wal-Mart's defenders are.

Brenda Buttner, host of "Bulls and Bears," rallied the Fox News troops to Wal-Mart's defense with her typically over-the-top framing of the issue: "Is Wal-Mart caring more about its critics than its customers? Why that could be disastrous not just for the world’s biggest retailer, but for you, in fact for the entire economy."

If that's not enough to make the average Fox News viewer look up from drooling in his morning oatmeal, I don't know what is. Armageddon looms in the aisles of your local Wal-Mart!

Buttner went on to claim, without providing any specific examples, that Wal-Mart has been "lately a target of relentless criticism for its business practices and treatment of its workers. Plenty of evidence that Wal-Mart is forgetting about price, price, price, and maybe caving in to critics?"

Throughout the show, Buttner and the panel make several references to "critics" of Wal-Mart without spelling out who the critics are and what they are carping out. The viewer must fill in the news blanks on his or her own, even though Fox News is supposed to be in the business of supplying information, not leaving it out.

To help out the viewer (and do part of Buttner's job for her), here are some recent items in the news that Buttner might have mentioned:

--That Wal-Mart sells clothing made by a sweatshop where children ages 11 to 14 are forced to work 12 to 14 hours a day, sometimes even 20 hours, and are paid the magnificent sum of 6 cents an hour. But they also get to sleep four hours on the factory floor between shifts and are beaten if they miss their production quotas, so it's not like the 6 cents an hour pay is the worst part of it of anything.
--That Wal-Mart has had to bow to complaints from some of its own workers that the working environment is unacceptable, although its response -- to offer a 10 percent discount on one item and a $15 polo shirt if they stay for 20 years -- has been stingy.

No, Buttner leaves all that out, and instead goes to right-winger Jon Najarian, of optionmonster.com, for his comments on the end of the world as Wal-Mart shoppers know it.

"I think we should all be worried about it, because when Wal-Mart does cave in, then they risk going the route that Ford and General Motors have gone down when they caved in to critics," warned Najarian.

"Certainly Henry Ford didn’t set up Ford to be the way that it ended up, and United Airlines, Delta Airlines, the reasons that we’ve seen so many of these tremendous American success stories fail so miserably is when they cave in to critics. And Wal-Mart needs to keep its focus, needs to keep bringing the prices that are low, which benefits all Americans. One-hundred-twenty-seven million Americans shop there every week. If all of a sudden Wal-Mart starts bowing to pressure and is unable to provide those low prices, which benefit all of us, not just the shoppers of Wal-Mart, that’s a bad thing of America and it could just be a disaster for the stock market as well."

There it is again, "cave in to critics," but no word on who the critics are.

Amid the spreading panic of Fox News viewers, Gary B. Smith, of Exemplar Capital, tries to preach a little calm. "Wal-Mart is going to do what’s best to keep or grow their market share and if it takes ameliorating the unions or placating the local town councils in order to gain land and resources, that’s what they’re going to do. And even if John’s right and they cave into the critics, as he said Ford did, then so be it. So they weaken their hand. That gives another competitor a chance to come in and take out a niche, just like the Japanese auto manufacturers came in and allowed the American consumer to get great cars at lower prices when Ford and GM stumbled. So I think this is a win-win no matter what happens."

After that interlude of common sense, Buttner went back to the "end of the world as Wal-Mart shoppers know it" crowd. This time it was John Carlisle of something called the National Legal and Policy Center. Does Buttner tell us that's a right-wing group funded by Scaife foundations. that it devotes its time to attacking Democrats and unions? Of course not. Fox is only a 24-hour news channel. It doesn't have time for details like that. There would have to be like 48 hours in the day for Fox News to be able to work in any real facts.

But at last Carlisle does shine a little light on what everybody is really so upset about.

"It's certainly not going to be a win-win situation," he warned. "Wal-Mart started to endorse the controversial agenda of environmentalists, endorsing economically damaging reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, supporting race and gender quotas in the work place and supporting the homosexual movement’s demands to legitimize same-sex marriage.

"These issues are broadly, deeply unpopular with Wal-Mart’s consumer base. Consumer preference polls show that Wal-Mart consumers are the most conservative consumers that tend to be socially conservative, pro-gun and rural, as opposed to Bloomingdale shoppers that tend to be urban and more affluent."

So gay marriage is what it's all about. That's why the world as Wal-Mart shoppers know it will end soon. Those people hanging clothes on the racks and refolding all the sweatshop-manufactured clothing could not only be gay, but could be married to a gay person. Now I see why everybody is so upset. That could cause Wall Street more problems than another terrorist attack.

Does Buttner mention that Carlisle's bunch is going to make a stink at the next Wal-Mart stockholder's meeting about this? No, of course not.

Joe Battipaglia, of Ryan, Beck & Co., said such changes are evidence of Wal-Mart wanting to "talk moderate on a whole bunch of issues" and trying to treat its workers well enough that they won't join unions, but in the end, Wal-Mart's strategy of low prices won't change.

But even as Pat Dorsey, of morningstar.com, concluded, in the end, Wal-Mart will do just fine and so will America, Buttner warned that viewers need to keep watching Fox for more updates in the "War on Wal-Mart."