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Reuters reported over the weekend on how Wal-Mart - named by Fortune as one of America's "most admired companies" while at the same time being among the nation's most-sued corporate entities - is launching a publicity offensive to combat its image as the "epicenter of retailing's evil empire."

The offensive is coming in the form of responses to what the company perceives as being inaccurate and unfair portrayals of its positions on such issues as employee compensation and benefits, as well as its impact on local retailing as the way it uses global sourcing to keep prices low. "As we have become the most visible company in the U.S., we have increasingly become a target of criticism and even attacks," Wal-Mart spokesman Sarah Clark told Reuters. "We are really in the position of protecting and enhancing an already good reputation, not trying to repair a bad one."

Some of the responses are coordinated from headquarters; others are said to be impromptu and unauthorized, emanating from company employees around the country.

However, Reuters also notes that Wal-Mart's efforts could be hindered if either a court case alleging gender discrimination or a probe into the hiring of illegal aliens goes against the company.
KC's View:
As the recipient of a number of emails critical of our occasional and (we hope) good-humored skepticism about Wal-Mart, we can vouch for the fact that there are plenty of Wal-Mart supporters/apologists out there ready to go to bat for the company.

We don't think that these folks are bad people; we sort of admire the fact that they feel strongly enough about the company for which they work to defend its virtue. It’s just that we may have different definitions of just how virtuous the Bentonville Behemoth happens to be.

We were driving one of our kids and a friend of his to the movies the other night, and without any prompting from us, this other kid started in about how Wal-Mart is evil because it doesn't pay people a fair wage and puts small retailers out of business. This is a 16-year-old kid with a strong, almost unshakeable view of the Bentonville Behemoth, a view that will only be reinforced if Wal-Mart gets slapped around by the courts and the feds.

Mary Winter, a columnist and editor with the Rocky Mountain News, had a column over the weekend that suggested while Wal-Mart has cheaper prices, enough questions have been raised by its business practices to give the ethically minded consumer pause. "Finding bargains is fun," she wrote. "Having to think about them isn't."

And Los Angeles Times columnist Michael Hiltzik joins in the criticism of the report released last week by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. saying that Wal-Mart's expansion into Southern California would be positive for the economy - a study paid for by Wal-Mart, though both sides have gone to great pains to say that the retailer had no editorial input. (It was conceded, however, that Wal-Mart had the right to prevent the publication of the report had the results gone the other way.)

"The fact is that while the LAEDC report may be fine as far as it goes, it doesn't go far enough in analyzing the Wal-Mart effect on a community," Hiltzik writes. "And by leaving out a few perceptible but unquantifiable consequences of Wal-Mart policies, it makes the overall effect look more favorable than it really is."

The entire piece can be read at:,1,6553542.column?coll=la-headlines-business

However, here's one particularly interesting bit of commentary:

    The company's claim to provide health benefits also deserves greater scrutiny. Although the LAEDC report notes that Wal-Mart provides employees with health insurance, it doesn't explore the implications of how it does so. As this column has pointed out in the past, not only do Wal-Mart workers pay a larger share of their health insurance premiums than the average worker nationwide, but the company also excludes coverage of many routine medical services, such as contraceptives and child vaccinations.

    Instead, Wal-Mart focuses on covering such "catastrophic" needs as cancer treatment and organ transplants. This allows the company to release gaudy numbers to make itself seem softhearted, such as by noting that it pays for 60 transplants a year at more than $1 million each. But these are obviously rare events — 60 transplant patients would be the equivalent of just over one-hundredth of 1% of Wal-Mart's 500,000 insured employees, for example.

    What happens when the child of a Wal-Mart employee on an hourly wage needs a shot for measles, chicken pox or the flu? The worker faces the choice of shelling out, say, $75 to get the shot at a private clinic (that's more than a day's pay for many of the workers); or going to a public, tax-supported clinic, which means we all pay; or trusting to luck that the child won't get sick, which would force the employee to stay home for a couple of days, losing more pay.

All of which suggests that the spinmeisters down in Arkansas have a lot of work to do.