Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price
Thats the picture of the successful retailer painted in the new attack-umentary, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, produced by Robert Greenwald.
Greenwald used the familiar liberal template of emotional appeals that ignore vital facts. Never mind that Wal-Mart provided low prices that allowed lower-income Americans to afford items they couldnt otherwise, raising their standard of living. No, never mind that, as This Land Is Your Land played against scenes of shuttered hometown stores. Never mind that as Greenwald lined up religious leaders on his side: As Christians were not about capital. Were about people. Money is the root of evil. You shall not steal. This is David versus Goliath.
No, economic facts had no place in a film that sank to the low of blaming Wal-Mart for the actions of malicious criminals. Tugging shamelessly on the audiences heartstrings, Greenwald interviewed crying family members of a girl who was abducted from a Wal-Mart parking lot and subsequently murdered. Accusing the store of putting profits before human life, those interviewed were convinced that if there had only been better security, their loved one would still be with them. But heartless Wal-Mart wouldnt waste money on protecting people.
Better security is always a good thing. And no one is going to say Wal-Mart is perfect. But blaming Wal-Mart for the heinous criminal choices of the truly heartless is beyond ridiculous. Unfortunately, the audience wasnt seeing right through the reasoning. They gasped and shook their heads at all the points Greenwald intended. Its that kind of unquestioning acceptance of propaganda that made it so effective.
The films logic was confusing, though, considering its anti-free market agenda. According to the tragic tales of crime in the parking lots, its Wal-Marts responsibility to protect its shoppers, even outside its store. Its also Wal-Marts responsibility to take care of all its employees in the form of expensive benefits packages, the film argued. In fact, the film even indicted the company for allowing its low-income employees to seek government aid.
Isnt government supposed to be good? Thats an interesting departure from the liberal love of taxpayer-subsidized programs and the usual assumption that its the governments responsibility to feed, clothe, house and protect everyone.
Greenwald also took aim at local governments that had offered tax breaks and other incentives for Wal-Mart to locate in their communities. He used a failsafe emotional device children to make a flawed comparison. Citing the amounts of tax breaks stores had received, Greenwald showed how many schools that money could have funded. Of course, this comparison is bogus, because the money he was talking about never belonged to the government in the first place. It was money NOT paid in taxes. Based on his misleading presentation, one might think the government actively took money out of its education treasury and handed it to Wal-Mart.
Also in the realm of the misleading, the film showed a toy manufactured in a Chinese factory for a cost of 18 cents and then jumps to the U.S. retail price of $14.95. The implication was that Wal-Mart simply marked up the item at a whopping 8,300 percent, failing to take other costs into account such as getting it from China to the United States, or paying workers and overhead costs all along the line.
Greenwalds case against Wal-Mart management was based on a handful of former managers who alleged shady things going on at their former stores. He also visited employees trying to unionize to fight the soulless management. As one employee working with union organizers wished, This is our store. This isnt their store.
The film did try to address some serious issues, including allegations that Wal-Mart instructed its workers in Chinese plants to lie to inspectors about working conditions, as well as one stores problems complying with environmental regulations. It is widely known that the company is working on public relations. But claims against the company in Greenwalds film were undermined by his hyperbole and his staunch refusal to acknowledge the way Wal-Mart really impacted communities paying millions in taxes, employing thousands, and saving countless shoppers millions of dollars.
The Business & Media Institute has addressed media coverage of the movie and its inaccuracies here.