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Another Tale of Incomplete Transparency


Business Week: Wal-Mart’s Jim and Laura: The Real Story. So are Laura and Jim real people? Or part of an elaborate publicity stunt? It turns out they are for real. However, their story, told in full, with certain financial payments disclosed, does not reflect as well on Wal-Mart as perhaps the company would like. The tale of how they started the blog reveals how hungry Wal-Mart is to find people who have anything positive to say about the company. And little wonder.

Jim works for the Washington Post. He repaid the Wal-Mart-sponsored organization that subsidized the trip, but there are lots and lots of problems here…

(Note: Wal-Mart is a client of Edelman Worldwide, whose CEO, Richard Edelman, is an advisor to this Center.)

7 Comments on “Another Tale of Incomplete Transparency”

  1. #1 Anna Haynes
    on Oct 12th, 2006 at 5:34 pm

    Also interesting: what degree of disclosure, if any, should the [Edelman-supported] Center for Citizen Media be providing, when posting about this story?

    (does the disclosure reqt change, depending on whether you express approval or disapproval of the Jim&Laura arrangement?)

    (and what does this say about the tangles one gets into when accepting support from a PR agency?)

  2. #2 tish grier
    on Oct 12th, 2006 at 9:05 pm

    Fascinating, though, how this is the second incident this year where Wal-Mart’s been involved in something a bit (if not more) hinky (remember the Wal-Mart bloggers?)

    Thing is WaPo has very strict policies regarding freelancers and what they can/can’t do. He’s not the first to be fired this year, even if his situation is different from the other one that was fired (a female, can’t remember why.) Really kind of WaPo’s discretion to do so…

    but I think, too that this calls into question how someone breaking into journalism by using both tradtional print and blogging *might* be tempted to fudge things a bit to his/her advantage. After all, playing things squeaky-clean isn’t necessarily the fast track to the big bucks.

  3. #3 Dan Gillmor
    on Oct 13th, 2006 at 8:39 am

    Anna, fair point. I’m adding this (though I’m not aware that the blog in question has any direct Edelman connection) to the post.

  4. #4 Anna Haynes
    on Oct 13th, 2006 at 5:26 pm

    Thanks Dan (and I see this as a ‘disclosure dry run’ not a here-and-now problem, given all the factors, especially who the blogger is.)

    What I find interesting is the neverending story – this episode, on top of the McClatchy reporters in Florida, on top of, well, the multitudes of other cases in which newspapers were shocked, shocked to find they were publishing people who were being compensated elsewhere.

    If you can get a firm grip on the ear of a newspaper exec, and ask why he doesn’t follow Andrew Cline’s recommendation
    (“Right now–not later today, not tomorrow, not later this week–right now put someone on this task: Call every pundit in your employ and put this question to them: Who pays you, and what do they pay you for?– please disclose everything. Fire anyone who refuses to answer.”)
    – what exc^H^H^Hreason does he give?

  5. #5 Anna Haynes
    on Oct 13th, 2006 at 5:40 pm

    > publishing people who were being compensated elsewhere

    admittedly, lumping the wapo photographer in with the Armstrong Williamses is a bit of a stretch. on the other hand, where did he learn these tactics?

  6. #6 Dan Gillmor
    on Oct 14th, 2006 at 1:19 pm

    It’s even more complicated than you’d imagine. Most op-ed pieces are not written by staffers, but are from syndicates or one-offs. Should editors of newspapers demand answers from the syndicates? They should clearly do a better job asking people who write single-case op-ed pieces.

  7. #7 Anna
    on Oct 15th, 2006 at 5:49 pm

    > “Should editors of newspapers demand answers from the syndicates?”

    They should try; they’ll likely be able to get answers, whereas a lowly blogger gets stonewalled.

    and if they don’t get answers, they should print a nondisclosure disclosure – “this columnist was unwilling to disclose whether s/he received hidden payments to write this column”, or more concise phrasing to same effect.

    > “Richard Edelman is an advisor to this Center”

    What’s the difference between an advisor and a supporter? (Edelman Worldwide is listed on the “Supporters” page.)

    > “not aware that the blog in question has any direct Edelman connection”

    We may not know for sure, but it has the smell of one; Ed Cone relays this info:
    “Working Families for Wal-Mart (WFWM), an organization launched by Wal-Mart’s public relations firm Edelman[,]… paid for the RV and all travel expenses, rerouted the trip’s original plan, and plastered a logo on the RV’s side. Although the blog featured a link to WFWM, it did not identify the organization as a paid sponsor.”