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6 Ways Walmart's Response to The New York Times Is Dishonest or Misleading

Photo courtesy OurWalmart on Flickr

A New York Times op-ed by Timothy Egan criticizing Walmart drew a response from the corporate giant that Ari Rabin-Havt at Slate called "juvenile." That's a nice way to say that the self-serving response is either wildly misleading or just plain dishonest in defending the country's largest employer against charges that it underpays its workers and harms the economy. Here are six ways that the response, by Walmart's Vice President of Corporate Communications David Tovar, is misleading or dishonest:

1. Tovar claims Walmart is the largest taxpayer in the United States. But this article from USA Today places them fifth on the list of corporate income tax payers. Tovar jokingly asks to see Egan's math but provides no math of his own that would make the claim true. More importantly, the numbers used in such comparisons are absolute numbers and are not comparative numbers. As the country's largest retailers and one of the most profitable companies in the country, it should be paying more taxes than your local mom-and-pop store because it makes more profits. The better question is how those taxes compare when equalized for the size and profits of the company. Tovar is silent on that topic.

2. Rabin-Havt calls attention to Tovar's claim that “we see more associates move off of public assistance as a result of their job at Walmart” and the fact that the only evidence the company provides for this claim is one story about a single employee. Meanwhile, a recent study put the total cost of Walmart employees receiving government assistance at $6.2 billion annually.

3. In response to an Egan line about government programs, such as the G.I. Bill, helping returning veterans have better lives, Tovar brags that Walmart hired 42,000 veterans last year. But it is hard to see how an average salary of less than $25,000 a year, as Making Change at Walmart notes the company's employees make, leads to a better life.

4. Tovar's "fact-check" says that the company's oft-cited number that its employees get paid an average wage of $12.91 an hour doesn't include any managers, despite what Egan claims. But Huffington Post reports confirming with Walmart that the $12.91 number does, in fact, include some managers. We are left to conclude that either Tovar misspoke, he is woefully uninformed about the numbers he's fact-checking.

5. In one of the most dishonest parts of Tovar's response, he tells Egan to "confirm the credibility of source" when The New York Times reporter cites Stephen Gandel of Fortune, who said that Walmart could raise wages by 50% for its workforce without harming shareholder value.  here is literally no reason to question the validity of either Gandel, a professional journalist, or Fortune, a widely respected industry magazine (maybe you've heard of the Fortune 500?). And in the Gandel article in question, the reporter shows exactly the math he used to arrive at his conclusion and gets his results confirmed by two experts in the field.  Tovar's questioning of Gandel includes no reasons to dispute anything in the Fortune article and, instead, offers a 2006 article from Jason Furman, a former Obama administration official, that, as Huffington Post notes, doesn't even talk about the issue in question.

6. Next, Tovar claims that any corporation would be happy with the 72% approval rating that Walmart has among consumers. What he doesn't mention is that the number, as Rabin-Havt notes, is significantly lower than Walmart's key competitors, Target, Costco and Amazon.

There are several other misleading or dishonest claims in Tovar's response, but you get the point. Maybe next time Walmart engages in a "fact check," it should first gather some facts.

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