Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Liza Featherstone in CJR: Watching Wal-Mart

Until a couple years ago, press coverage of Wal-Mart — the nation’s largest private employer, and its most powerful retailer — was fawning and sycophantic, and largely limited to the financial pages. Often, the company was presented as an icon of business success: how wal-mart keeps getting it right was a typical headline. All that has changed. Thousands of lawsuits against the company allege serious workers’ rights violations, ranging from child labor to sex discrimination. Labor unions, church leaders, economists, state governments, and many other players have been raising questions about Wal-Mart’s low wages and light benefits: Are they a helpful efficiency passed on to the consumer; inhumane and exploitive to the worker; burdensome to the taxpayer, who must foot the bill when the company’s workers need supplemental Food Stamps and Medicaid? Now, the press is far more vigilant in covering the retailer’s flaws and its economic impact. Stories potentially embarrassing to Wal-Mart appear just about every day. In this climate, over the past year, a flurry of documentary films have appeared, two in 2004 and two more just recently, representing some of the best and worst coverage of the retailer.

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