Saturday, May 14, 2005

WAL-MART'S ADVERTISEMENT comparing a proposed Arizona ordinance that would prevent Wal-Mart from opening a store in Flagstaff to Nazi book burning has created such a storm of outrage that Wal-Mart has been forced to officially apologize.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said yesterday that it made a "terrible" mistake in approving a recent newspaper advertisement that equated a proposed Arizona zoning ordinance with Nazi book-burning.

The full-page advertisement included a 1933 photo of people throwing books on a pyre at Berlin's Opernplatz. It was run as part of a campaign against a Flagstaff ballot proposal that would restrict Wal-Mart from expanding a local store to include a grocery.
The ad, which ran May 8 in the Arizona Daily Sun, was "reviewed and approved by Wal-Mart, but we did not know what the photo was from. We obviously should have asked more questions," said Daphne Moore, Wal-Mart's director of community affairs. She said the company will also issue a letter of apology to the Arizona Anti-Defamation League.

The ADL, members of Congress and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union criticized the company for the advertisement.

"It's not the imagery itself. It trivializes the Nazis and what they did. And to try to attach that imagery to a municipal election goes beyond distasteful," said Bill Straus, Arizona regional director for the ADL.

In the blogging world, so far I have only seen two posts about the Wal-Mart ad -- by Echidne, writing on Duncan's blog, and by Monsterfodder on Daily Kos. Both have a sentence about the Nazi imagery in the ad and then quote from media sources about it.

Obviously, it's both outrageous and deeply offensive that Wal-Mart would compare an Arizona law keeping out big-box stores to Nazi book-burning. But, as the Arizona Daily Sun makes clear, the people responsible for this ad reveal, even as they say they know what they did was wrong, that they lack any real understanding of the underlying issue.

The ad was paid for by Protect Flagstaff's Future, which has received more than $280,000 from Wal-Mart for the campaign, and produced by High Ground, Inc., a Phoenix-based firm that has a retainer with Wal-Mart and was hired by the corporation to produce the ads.

Wal-Mart Regional Community Affairs Director Pete Kanelos had originally declined to comment on the ad because he said he had not seen it.

But High Ground, Inc. President Chuck Coughlin said Friday he believed Kanelos had seen the ad, and a Wal-Mart spokesperson said Friday the company was prepared to apologize.

"The ad was approved by Wal-Mart," said Daphne Moore, director of community affairs for Wal-Mart. "What's important right now is that we apologize and apologize to the right individuals."

An ad from Wal-Mart with the company's apology will run this weekend, she said. A letter to the Anti-Defamation League also will be issued.

High Ground, Inc. also designed an apology ad, paid for separately, that would address Flagstaff voters in Sunday's edition.

But late Friday there was a change in plans. "We're just going to let Wal-Mart's ad run," Coughlin said.


The photo is found on the National Holocaust Museum Web site, but Coughlin had said he was unaware the photo in the ad was from a Nazi book burning and pointed the finger of blame at "our graphics guy."

"We believed it was a Southern book burning," he said.
The company, though, still intends to write a letter of apology to the ADL, he said.
The italics are mine; and the heading above that section says it all. To my mind, the assumption contained in that sentence, "We believed it was a Southern book burning," is the most alarming part of this entire episode.

No comments: