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Wal-Mart may be having trouble opening a store in New York, but this week it is getting The New Yorker treatment…as the magazine looks at the retailer’s public relations effort in a section called Annals of Spin.

The piece, by Jeffrey Goldberg, details the writer’s attempts to cut through the artifice and positioning at Wal-Mart, to get a sense of what the company’s real priorities are 0- which can be difficult: “Wal-Mart corporate culture is parsimonious except in the matter of executive compensation, but…the company has been paying Edelman (the public relations firm) roughly ten million dollars annually to renovate its reputation.”

And the piece is an extensive (more than 5,700 words) and detailed look at how those renovations are proceeding – the people who are doing the renovations and the mentality that informs their actions, as Goldberg works to get a sense of what is real and what is manufactured.
KC's View:
(First of all, in the interest of full disclosure, we should mention here that we did public relations work for The New Yorker (how’s that for irony?) for more than three years back in the early eighties. And we are unabashed fans of the magazine – we’ve been reading it virtually every week for the past quarter-century.)

Wal-Mart won’t like it, but Goldberg’s article is a strong piece of reporting – he goes to both sides, endeavoring to give both Wal-Mart and its opponents a fair hearing. But what he keeps encountering at Wal-Mart – and what keeps undermining the company’s position – is the tight rein that executives there keep on their opinions and discussions. What seems to be sacrificed is candor – even, remarkably, the appearance of candor – by many of the company’s executives.

We have written in numerous places that one of Wal-Mart’s biggest problems seems to be that when folks move to Bentonville, they are forced to drink the Kool-Aid…and everybody loses their sense of perspective. And that certainly seems to be what Goldberg finds.

We were going to excerpt more of the article here, but decided against it. You should go pick up the April 2 edition of The New Yorker (the one with the Mets and Yankees cover) and read the piece. Judge for yourself.