Men in Crisp Suits

For many people, the day hasn’t really started until they’ve read The New York Times and this writer in particular owes most of his knowledge to reading the newspaper every day for 35 years.  The paper’s coverage is so uniformly credible and balanced that its intimate readers instantly recognize when a reporter is reaching — anonymous quotes, unsourced opinions and in portraits of  insufficiently villainous bad guys, cruelty to animals, anecdotes about high school arrogance and references to unrelated lawsuits, long dismissed.  This past Sunday’s paper carries variant number two of this technique used when it is deemed appropriate to paint a corporation in a poor light without any evidence for bad behavior.  In Walmart Tries a Refined Path into New York, reporter Elizabeth Harris delivers a gem of this particular genre.  The way to recognize this particular type of story is that there is always a reference to the PR people, inevitably wearing crisp suits.  Then there’s the obligatory Dr. Evil analogy (Walmart henchmen “furiously” tap Blackberry messages to company exec watching remotely).  We are also treated in these stories to power words that add little information —   “all out push,” “overwhelm,” “out manoeuver,” “aggressive” (and “aggressiveness”).  Note the sheepish dissonance between the headline descriptor (refined) and what the reporter appears to want to characterize as a brute force campaign to (OMG) influence public opinion in open forums.  The reporter is keeping all options open here, accusing the company of simultaneously saying too little (“would not speak to a reporter for this article”) and too much (“the e-mails kept popping up for nearly four hours”).  What exactly does one need to add to a campaign (“aggressive media strategy”) conducted so stridently in the open?

This is not to argue for a moment the merits of the issue.  For all we know Walmart does destroy small businesses and replace good jobs with bad ones.  We’d just like to “out” these veiled editorials, although we have little expectation that even “in your face aggressiveness” will cure the Times of this occasional vice.  In the mean time, we have a few recommendations for the good people of Walmart — ditch the “emblazoned” (Scarlet Letter) folders and hand out information on coffee stained napkins.  And we have two more words for the PR people: cargo pants.

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One Response to “Men in Crisp Suits”

  1. Jon Goldberg Says:

    I think a letter to the editor is called for here, Peter. Maybe they’ll Dach her pay.

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