business news in context, analysis with attitude

In response to our ongoing discussion about Wal-Mart’s role in determining content (some might call it censorship, others would not use such draconian language), one MNB user wrote:

I must respond to your reader who asked the question, “Do we really want Wal-Mart telling us what we can and should see?” I’m not a huge fan of Wal-Mart, although I do shop there regularly, but it drives me crazy when people start attributing the evil behavior of “censorship” to them. This issue goes back at least to Wal-Mart’s decision a few years ago to no longer sell the “Lad Mags” Stuff, FHM and Maxim. I heard so many people at that time ask similar questions to the one your reader posed. “Should Wal-Mart be allowed to tell us what we can read, see, hear, etc?” Granted, Wal-Mart’s size and power in the market place and in our society make any action on their part of greater impact than most. But everyone must get over this idea that Wal-Mart is trying to somehow dictate America’s morality and politics!

Wal-Mart makes their decisions based on what they believe their customer will want or will not want. They got caught with their pants down (pun intended) over the aforementioned “Lad Mags” issue because they didn’t recognize that many of their core customers found those publications (particularly their choices in cover photos) to be offensive. But Wal-Mart learned their lesson from that and from that point on they have been much more proactive about avoiding anything that those same core customers might find objectionable. One can very effectively argue that those customers are inconsistent in what they find “objectionable” which might explain some of your reader’s frustration over the items Wal-Mart does carry that he/she obviously objects to (guns, ammo and violent movies).

But as for Wal-Mart’s decisions on what to carry or not carry, it is not “censorship” or any sort of value judgment on their part. It is a market decision pure and simple. As for the fact that the cover of Willie’s CD was changed for Wal-Mart’s stores, I’ll bet if we could somehow get to the bottom of that we’d find that this was a “voluntary” decision on the part of the music publisher so that they could get the CD into the Wal-Mart stores. I put “voluntary” in quotes because there was obviously some pressure to make some sort of change. But the publisher had a real choice. They could have refused to make the change and accept the consequence that Wal-Mart would not carry that CD. But even assuming that Wal-Mart applied direct and substantial pressure on the music publisher, Wal-Mart’s actions still cannot be called censorship because the CD (just like the magazines and John Stewart’s book) would have been available at plenty of other stores. Wal-Mart decides what they will carry in their stores and what they won’t. The government (of the people, by the people, and for the people – in theory at least) is what decides what is legal and illegal.

The facts of the situation seem to be that, indeed, the CD producer decided to change the cover of the Willie Nelson album in order to stay within Wal-Mart’s stated guidelines. And you make a good point – this makes the producer as culpable or more so than Wal-Mart.

We need to be clear about our opinion here. Deciding not to sell something isn’t censorship. It may be somewhat disingenuous, if you look at what else is on a retailer’s shelves.

This only becomes culturally dangerous – and we use that word on purpose – if a chain becomes so big, so ubiquitous, that it is the only retailer in certain markets, that is choices shape what is “acceptable” and “unacceptable” in mainstream culture.

On the subject of A&P selling its Canada division to Metro, one MNB user wrote:

A fool and their money will soon be parted. Odd A&P chose to keep the struggling US division and sell off the profitable Canada stores. I don't think the downsizing at A&P is over. Most of their stores perform far below industry averages. A&P has a long history of self-destructing after each reinvention of itself. Not only is the competition expecting them to implode, they are absolutely counting on it.

Addressing the mad cow situation, and the opening of the US border to Canadian cattle, MNB user Jim Farina wrote:

This story should ask the more important question: when will ALL cows be tested for MCD before they go to slaughter? The Ag department has clearly failed to keep MCD out of the US and the existing standards for testing only "downer" cows are a joke.

And the one company that wanted to begin testing all of it's beef, largely because they exported to Japan, was blocked by the Ag department from conducting its own testing. What gives?

The decision not to allow for private testing and certification seems to raise the likelihood that these USDA decisions are being made for political and economic reasons without sufficient scientific underpinning.

In a story yesterday about Apple reportedly considering an iPod that plays video, we noted that the only downside would be that our 40 GB iPod would immediately become obsolete.

MNB user Dan Low had an instant response:

There is an upside to your 40GB iPod being obsolete – I will take your obsolete item off your hands and even pay the shipping costs!

What a deal!

What a guy.

We’ll keep your generous offer in mind.
KC's View: