Wal-Mart, the nation’s largest retailer, recently decided to go into the newspaper editing business.
The Arkansas-based company responded to an article from New York Times columnist Timothy Egan, titled “The Corporate Daddy” by doing the work that it felt Egan’s Times editors should have done.
“Thanks for sharing your first draft,” reads a red-inked note from Wal-Mart, which is known more for its low prices than its snark.
“Below are a few thoughts to ensure something inaccurate doesn’t get published,” continued the note, which was posted at Walmart’s blog and is attributed to David Tovar, Wal-Mart’s director of corporate communications.
The retail giant apparently couldn’t resist sarcasm after it found what it considered numerous problems with Egan’s piece in which he criticized the company for paying its 2.2 million employees what he called “humiliating wages.”
“Walmart is a net drain on taxpayers,” wrote Egan in the missive, adding that the company forces “employees into public assistance with its poverty-wage structure.”
“We are the largest tax payer in America,” Tovar wrote in his edit. “Can we see your math?”
“We see more associates move off of public assistance as a result of their job at Walmart,” Tovar wrote.
Egan argued that “most advanced nations” look for ways to boost the middle class but that the U.S. had ceased doing that. “Witness the G.I. Bill, which helped millions of returning soldiers get a lift to a better life,” wrote the Times columnist.
“Did you know?” Tovar quizzed. “Walmart has hired more than 42,000 veterans this year.”
On the topic of veterans, Wal-Mart has won unlikely support. First Lady Michelle Obama, who made veteran hiring one of her top issues, praised the company last year when it announced it would be hiring 100,000 veterans.
“Wal-Mart is setting a groundbreaking example for the private sector to follow,” she said in a statement at the time.
But Egan had other issues with Wal-Mart, and the company had more edits.
The columnist wrote that the company’s “humiliating wages force thousands of employees to look to food stamps, Medicaid and other forms of welfare.”
“A bit repetitive,” wrote Tovar, like a seasoned professor. “See above.”
Egan cited a story from an Ohio Wal-Mart that went viral last year which showed a sign in the story’s break room. The picture was meant to show the company’s failures to provide enough for its employees.
“To clarify,” wrote Tovar, “associates were helping associated during unexpected hard times (fires, divorce, loss of life, etc.). And a noble cause, no doubt.”
The company also chastised Egan for using vague statistics.
“Walmart disputes these figures, claiming the average full-time store worker makes at least $12 an hour,” wrote Egan.
“Be specific,” reads Tovar’s edit. “Full time average associate wage is $12.91.”
“But these numbers are skewed by higher pay for management,” wrote Egan.
“False: Only includes associates paid hourly,” Tovar corrected.
“The average ‘associate’ at Walmart makes $8.81 an hour – poverty wage,” offered Egan.
“Argument incomplete — in this study, starting wage 3 years ago was $1.50 over minimum wage. That’s a good thing,” reads Tovar’s red ink.
Egan pointed out that Wal-Mart reaped $17 billion in profits last year, that it’s highest paid executive earned over $20 million and that the six Walton heirs are worth $150 billion.
“Possible addition: Largest corporate foundation in America. Gives more than $1 billion in cash and in kind donations each year.”
Egan pointed to a claim by Fortune magazine editor Stephen Gandel who wrote an article claiming that Wal-Mart could raise its wages by 50 percent without harming shareholder value.
“Confirm credibility of source?” wrote Wal-Mart. “Consider Economist Jason Furman,” Tovar continued.
Furman is the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers. In an article at Slate, Furman wrote that Wal-Mart’s low prices provide the “equivalent to a 6.5 percent boost in household income” for low-income households.
Egan then cited an opinion poll to suggest that the public dislikes Wal-Mart.
“A new poll by Lake Research Partners found that 28 percent of consumers surveyed have an unfavorable view of Walmart – almost five times the negative sentiment felt for Costco,” Egan wrote.
“Pretty sure any corporation, politician even media outlet would like to have a 72% favorability rating,” Tovar responded.
Egan did not mention that Lake Research Partners’ clients are mostly Democratic politicians and labor organizations.
Egan then compared the retail giant’s education outreach initiatives to Starbucks’ recent announcement that it would be providing tuition assistance to store associates.
“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,” wrote Egan, who called the plan a bust, pointing out that only about 400 employees had earned degrees.
“Most college degrees take more than 4 years. Not 3.”
“Better idea for a piece,” Tovar concluded. “Could focus on bringing back US manufacturing…and expanding education, training, and workforce programs, i.e. things that will make a bigger difference, not just focusing on starting wages.”