In an August 10 action alert, FAIR wondered if ABC's reporting on corporate giant Wal-Mart was improperly influenced by Wal-Mart's status as a major advertiser on the network's news programming. While ABC failed to answer FAIR's charges, a September 20 World News Tonight report on Wal-Mart's business practices in China once again suggests favoritism toward the network's sponsor.
Anchor Charlie Gibson began by mentioning the "kind of gold rush" happening in China, where companies "from the U.S. and beyond position themselves to grab a piece of the fastest-growing market in the world." Gibson then turned to ABC colleague Bill Weir to show "how Wal-Mart is changing the way the Chinese shop."
Weir started in a more traditional Chinese market--"there isn't a refrigerator in sight"--in order to contrast that kind of old-fashioned thinking to Wal-Mart: "While hundreds of millions of Chinese still shop in places like this, more and more are being lured by the siren song of one-stop shopping."
Weir highlighted singing Wal-Mart workers and the "brightly-lit aisles" where "China's exploding middle class is discovering the novelty of free samples and a wide selection of everything."
After one customer touted Wal-Mart's stores ("It's big, it's clean...and you feel good here"), ABC turned to its next source: Wal-Mart Asia CEO Joe Hatfield. ("Talk about price conscious," he says of his customers.)
The only other source in the report was Jim McGregor, identified simply as the author of "One Billion Customers." (His role as senior director of Stonebridge International, "a global business strategy firm that helps U.S. and multinational companies... seize business opportunities worldwide," was not mentioned.) McGregor enthused about the new efficiency Wal-Mart has brought to the Chinese economy, saying that Wal-Mart's suppliers had to "clean up their act to compete."
ABC's Weir also praised Wal-Mart for that efficiency:
"While Wal-Mart has changed the way people shop, they're also changing the way suppliers think.... Many manufacturers were shocked to learn that if they want their products on these shelves, it's not who you know, it's what you know about keeping costs down."
If ABC were open to presenting critics of Wal-Mart's business practices--who aren't hard to find--viewers might have heard a different perspective on just how Wal-Mart is "keeping costs down." Many critics charge that Wal-Mart's practice of pressuring its suppliers to meet unreasonable price goals results in serious labor abuses. Other outlets, like PBS's Frontline (11/16/04) and the Los Angeles Times (11/24/03), have managed to present that case. And a recent lawsuit filed against Wal-Mart by the International Labor Rights Fund charges that the company maintains relationships with abusive suppliers in a number of countries--including China. Similar complaints have been levied for years by academics and advocacy groups like the National Labor Committee. But ABC apparently had no time for critical commentary about a prominent advertiser.
Contact ABC and demand that coverage of large corporations include the views of critics--even if the corporation happens to be a major ABC advertiser.
ABC World News Tonight