Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof

Wal-Mart as Censor

In Companies, Free speech on July 25, 2005 at 11:44 pm

Via Romanesko, I found a report in the Pensacola News Journal detailing a regional Wal-Mart manager’s attempt to pressure the paper into firing one of its columnists, Mark O’Brien. In one of his columns O’Brien had discussed the hidden cost of Wal-Mart’s price savings, primarily in additional health care burden borne by the state, since the company refuses to insure the majority of its employees.

“I like Wal-Mart prices the same as the next shopper, but there’s a downside, too. Many Wal-Mart employees lack the fringe benefits and insurance that makes the difference between existence and a good quality of life. Yet, we customers pay a surcharge from a different pocket — subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart employees who can’t afford it,” wrote O’Brien.

According to Randy Hammer, executive editor of the paper, “(Wal-Mart District Manager Bob) Hart, however, said he and his stores couldn’t tolerate a newspaper that would print the opinions of someone who was as mean and negative as Mark O’Brien…Mr. Hart said he wanted the newspaper to get its racks off his lots. But he also said that if I fired Mark, we could talk about continuing to sell the newspaper at his stores.”

Certainly a company is entitled to determine whether or not they wish to sell one product or another, including media products. But Mr. Hart honestly believed — and probably with good reason — that he could blackmail the paper into firing its columnist. (Thankfully, they did not.)

Mr. Hart seems not to realize he lives within a civil society in which other issues besides the sheer economic power of his employer still count.

***

Addendum: Wal-Mart bitch-slaps Bob Hart and restores the News Journal to its Pensacola-area stores.

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