Wal-Mart quickly apologized this week for a newspaper ad it not only approved, but helped to pay for in Flagstaff, Arizona, that carried Nazi imagery when describing Wal-Mart opponents. The poor taste of the ad came in the middle of a campaign on Proposition 100, a citizen-sponsored initiative on the ballot that would limit the size of retail stores to 125,000 s.f. — which is more than twice the size of a football field. The offensive newspaper ad ran in the Arizona Daily Sun featured a photo of a book-burning in Nazi-era Germany. (The newspaper didn’t seem to notice the details of the ad either.) Daphne Moore, director of community affairs for Wal-Mart, immediately started backpedaling when the ad drew heat. “It was a terrible mistake and one that we sincerely regret,” Moore said. In the ad, people are throwing books into a large fire, and the picture contains the image of a swastika. Below the photo, the text read: “Should we let government tell us what we can read? Of course not. So why should we allow local government to limit where we can shop.” The ad was paid for by a group called Protect Flagstaff’s Future, that is almost entirely funded by Wal-Mart. The giant retailer did not apologize for its outrageous spending in the Flagstaff campaign, estimated already to be at $300,000 or more. Wal-Mart equivocated somewhat in its apology, however, adding that “Whoever the individual who approved it was, was not aware of the historical context of the picture.” Wal-Mart apologized only after receiving complaints from the Arizona Anti-Defamation League. Ironically, the name of the Phoenix, Arizona company that designed the ad is HighGround, Inc., which unfortunately took the political low ground on this ad and got caught.
In approving this ad, Wal-Mart clearly did not sweat the details. Besides the Hitlerian imagery, the ad is also inaccurate. Flagstaff citizens are not trying to limit where people can shop — just limit how big stores will be. Wal-Mart today builds supercenters smaller than 125,000 s.f. So the Flagstaff vote will not stop Wal-Mart from building, but it will limit the scale of what gets built. I warned citizens fighting Wal-Mart in Flagstaff that Wal-Mart would spend big to win this vote on the ballot. These days, Wal-Mart is willing to spend a quarter to half a million dollars on one ballot question. That is more offensive, perhaps, than the Nazi symbolism, because it is a more subtle way of controlling public opinion through corporate spending. These ballot questions have become Wal-Mart’s manifestation of corporate democracy: whomever spends the most money, wins. Voters in Flagstaff should remember who bought this ad, and who approved it. For local contacts in the Flagstaff battle, contact [email protected]