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Daley, The Media, And Wal-Mart: A Deconstruction

By Kevin Robinson in News on Jun 17, 2010 2:40PM

Photo by Kate Gardiner

Yesterday a series of news reports about Wal-Mart's (latest) attempt to break into the Chicago retail market made their way around the internet. First, the Chicago political class's favorite tool Michael Sneed got a hot "tip" that Mayor Daley met privately with Wal-Mart executives in Oklahoma City during the recent conference of mayors, and that construction of stores in the city would be great, if the evil unions didn't want to kill all the jobs here in town.

Then the Sun-Times city hall reporter Fran Spielman "reported" that Wal-Mart is prepared to build "dozens" of stores of every shape and size in the city to serve Chicagoans desperate for cheap Chinese imports at cut-rate prices. In covering her scoop, she quoted the usual players in the "debate" - namely Wal-Mart spokespeople, aldermen and leadership from the Chicago Federation of Labor, without bothering to get an opinion from the Pullman Community Organization (which opposes the store to be built in their neighborhood) or Good Jobs Chicago (which opposes the store to be built in any neighborhood). To top it all off, Mayor Daley ranted at the media in a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “If suburban areas have it, why can’t we have it in the black and Hispanic communities?” the mayor was quoted by the Chicago News Cooperative. “You never question it in the suburban areas? Why don’t you question it? Ask the same questions as hard as you ask me. You don’t. You accept it there because most of you live in the suburbs, right? Most of you live in the suburbs, so you don’t question that. But you will question it here in the city of Chicago. ‘Never question it where I live.’ Can I ask you a question? Why? Why is that?”

Which left this writer (who actually grew up in Chicago and still lives here) wondering which suburban reporters the mayor was referring to? Sneed and Speilman? The editors at the Chicago Tribune? The reporters at Crain's Chicago Business? The Wall Street Journal? All of those publications have covered Wal-Mart's foray into Chicago tepidly, painting the "debate" in neutral tones at worst. Among those who are covering Wal-Mart critically in the city are Hunter Clauss (who lives in the city), Ramsin Canon (who lives in the city) and myself.

The pattern in this news cycle is pretty typical of how Daley likes to operate: get sympathetic reporters in the mainstream media to cover the inevitability of some economic policy, plan or program the mayor wants but doesn't quite have the clout to set up, and then attack the media for its (obvious) bias as an outsider group populated by elitist non-Chicagoans. The one-two punch the mayor set up portrays him and his allies as the true local patriots and leaves his critics looking like phony transplants with a self-serving agenda. It also completely discounts the opinions and desires of the people who pay to keep the lights on around here.

If the mayor is so concerned about the opinions of people who disagree with his plans for Chicago's economy, I would challenge him to sit down with those of us who take issue with Wal-Mart's business practices and want to make sure that the mega corporation (which, by the way, is not from Chicago) is regulated fairly in our local market. He may find that, instead of ranting and raving at the local media, there is a middle ground to be found through negotiations and compromise.