New York Times reporters Michael Barbaro and Stephanie Strom took a shot at Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) with a September 8 article slamming conservative think tanks for receiving money from the Walton family.
Yet an August 2006 review of IRS records shows that Wal-Mart gives nearly 300 times as much money to liberal think tanks as it does to conservative ones. Barbaro himself also reported that labor unions in 2005 gave about the same amount in one year to one liberal think tank.
Barbaro and Strom led the story noting that “top policy analysts” at “prominent conservative research groups” have penned op-eds, “defended the company in interviews with reporters, and testified on its behalf before government committees in Washington.”
The article then complained that these experts “have consistently failed to disclose a tie to the giant discount retailer,” or funding from “the Walton Family Foundation,” a philanthropy run by Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton’s heirs (although separate from the corporation itself).
All told, the Times correspondents added, Walton Family Foundation donations to conservative groups that have defended the retailer “totaled more than $2.5 million over the last six years” – a matter, he insisted, that raises “questions about what the research groups should disclose to newspaper editors, reporters or government officials.”
Yet buried deeper in his story, Barbaro acknowledged that labor unions, which are critical of non-unionized Wal-Mart, pumped about the same amount of money in 2005 into one liberal think tank: the Economic Policy Institute (EPI).
The study by researcher David Hogberg, now a senior analyst at the National Center for Public Policy Research, found that of the $150 million in donations given by Wal-Mart in 2004, only $2,530 went to politically right-of-center organizations while 289 times as much went to left-of-center think tanks, a total of $732,350.
In an interview with the Business & Media Institute, Hogberg dismissed Barbaro’s article as exhibiting a bias contrary to the facts by suggesting an ideological brotherhood that doesn’t exist.
“The article made Wal-Mart look like it’s in bed with the conservative movement. Wal-Mart seems to play both sides of the fence,” the researcher added, noting that the company gave to liberal-leaning groups like La Raza, the AARP and the Nature Conservancy.
“I’m sure the folks who run Wal-Mart want to run a profit,” Hogberg concluded, suggesting the retail chain is more interested in a favorable business climate by engaging the political left and right, not being ideologically committed to free markets.
A July 13 story – filed for publication the evening of July 12 – by Barbaro broke the news of “changes in Wal-Mart’s theft policy” as laid out in “30 pages of documents that were provided to The New York Times by WakeUpWalMart.com,” he acknowledged.
Yet the Web site for the anti-Wal-Mart group first mentioned the internal Wal-Mart memo on July 13 in a blog post, suggesting that Barbaro was given the source material as an exclusive to run in the Times before the labor-backed group took the item to the public’s attention.
The Media Research Center’s TimesWatch.org also has an analysis of Barbaro’s September 8 story. With $117 million “in grants in 2004 alone,” TimesWatch noted, the $2.5 million given out in the last six years seems “rather puny.”