November 25, 2012

Hoax Claiming Walmart Heiress Supported Friday Protests Fools USA Today

The third page of an unbylined report with an early Saturday time stamp credited to “USA Today” carried at the Jackson, Mississippi Clarion Ledger (like USAT, a Gannett Company) claimed that “Walmart heiress Alice Walton expressed solidarity with Walmart’s striking workers.”

Putting aside whether or not an action taken by what the company estimated may have been fifty associates is a “strike” or a “temper tantrum,” the claim was not true. USA Today fell for a hoax. Following the jump are several paragraphs from the Clarion Ledger report and an LA Times writeup identifying the hoax. Additionally, I learned that Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Museum was the object of Occupy and union movement protests when it opened a year ago.

First, the USAT verbiage (bolds are mine throughout this post):

On the eve of Thanksgiving, Walmart heiress Alice Walton expressed solidarity with Walmart’s striking workers, closing the Crystal Bridges Museum she founded and heads in Bentonville, Ark., in a show of support.

The 63-year-old philanthropist called on Americans to stay home with their families so that Walmart workers wouldn’t have to report to work in the middle of their Thanksgiving meals.

Walton, in a statement on the museum’s website, said she was “shocked to the point of disbelief” when she learned of the working conditions at the retail store her father founded in 1945.

“As a Walton, I cannot stomach the thought of our employees working for poverty wages, without sufficient health care, on a permanent part-time basis, or under threat of harassment, retaliation, or termination for organizing in their workplace. The workers of Walmart deserve better,” she wrote.

She also decried what she called a “race to profit from cash-strapped deal-seekers to save a buck …”

“This poor treatment of workers and crass commercialization of the holiday stamps ‘Black Friday’ with a whole new meaning: the black mark of shame,” Walton added.

All completely bogus, as explained by David Ng at the LA Times:

The Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., is the victim of an apparent email hoax linking founder and Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton with workers from the big-box retailer.

The email sent Wednesday said the museum would close its doors Friday in sympathy for Wal-Mart workers who are planning demonstrations over the holiday weekend.

A museum spokeswoman said that all information in the release is false. She said the museum is open Friday.

The email hoax Wednesday featured the website crystalbridgesfoundation.com, which does not appear to be affiliated with the museum in any way. The fake message also stated the museum will host “a special temporary exhibition on labor in American art” that will open Saturday. No such exhibition appears on the museum’s schedule.

The identity of the pranksters remains unclear.

The “crystalbridgesfoundation.com” web site Ng referred to is not the site of the hoax. “crystalbridgesfoundation.org” is, and it’s still there. The hoaxsters appear to have gone to a great deal of trouble to copy the real museum’s dozens of web pages, enough to make one wonder if they did the work for free, and if not, who paid for it.

USA Today itself has corrected its story authored by Doug Stanglin and Michael Winter. The existence of the original story at the Clarion Ledger shows that the corrected version has not yet filtered out to all of Gannett’s sister publications which carried it. Perhaps it never will.

The Museum’s actual site (crystalbridges.org) is here.

A year ago, the Occupy movement and OUR Wal-Mart attempted a protest at the museum’s opening which appears to have been as ineffective as the Black Friday effort:

The art world isn’t the only community greeting Wal-Mart heiress Alice Walton’s new Crystal Bridges Museum with skepticism. A group of Wal-Mart employees are planning workshops and educational events in half a dozen cities across the country on Friday to coincide with the opening of the multimillion-dollar, Moshe Safdie-designed institution in Bentonville, Arkansas.

Members of the Organization United for Respect at Wal-Mart (OUR Wal-Mart), an activist group dedicated to improving working conditions for the company’s employees, will team up with branches of the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Saint Louis, Miami, Oakland, and San Francisco to distribute information about the Walton family’s labor practices and policies. “If there’s ever a case of the one percent, it’s the Walton family,” OUR Wal-Mart spokesman Ben Waxman told ARTINFO.

The current and former Wal-Mart associates participating in the demonstrations take issue with the fact that Walton has spent millions of dollars on a museum while her family’s organization, Wal-Mart, recently raised health care premiums and has capped salaries for many of its employees.

A Google News Archive search returns no post-protest news story. But it did return a column by Abigail R. Esman at Forbes, who lit into Ms. Walton’s critics (additional paragraph breaks added by me):

How Alice Walton’s Crystal Bridges Exposes The Foolishness Of Occupy Wall Street

Last week, Alice Walton’s shining new museum, Crystal Bridges, opened to the public in the most unlikely of places: Bentonville, Arkansas, population 36,800. Set on 120 acres amidst 500 dogwood trees, sculpture gardens, and springs, and boasting art works culled from private and public collections around the country that celebrate the American tradition in art, Crystal Bridges is the Wal-Mart heiress’s gift to the town where Wal-Mart first began as Walton’s Five-and-Dime in the 1940s.

Yet despite this love letter, as it were, to her community and to America, there remain those so wedded to the whining of the so-called 99 percent that they remain blinded both to the philanthropy and to the significance of the project.

Never mind that the museum has brought art works by American giants from Benjamin West and Georgia O’Keefe to Mark di Suvero and Joan Mitchell to a region that has, until now, had little opportunity to view the glories of America’s artistic heritage.

Never mind that some of these purchases – costing tens of millions of dollars – hang, not in private homes for the selfish enjoyment of the Walton family, but on public walls for the education and enrichment of the American people.

Never mind that funds used to purchase these treasures (and preserve and build nature trails and parks) for the simple purpose of giving them to Americans could instead have easily been used for, say, bracelets and private planes and mansions.

Never mind that Ms. Walton consciously chose to use local labor and – for the most part — local materials, or that through an additional $20 million gift, provided by the Wal-Mart Family Foundation, entrance to the museum will be free for the foreseeable future.

Never mind that there is no income reward in this for the Walton family – only expense.

Never mind that the museum will employ local workers and bring tourism (read: jobs and commerce) to the town.

All this, for the Occupy crowd, apparently means nothing. What matters to them is simply the fact that Ms Walton has the money to do any of this in the first place – and this, evidently, is an emblem of pure evil.

… Notably, too, corporations like GE, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, and Norther Arkansas Mercedes Benz have provided additional sponsorship …

… In other words, Ms. Walton has done everything absolutely right. She has done for little Bentonville what one would want every one of her socio-economic comrades to do: used her wealth to create job opportunities, enhance education, and support the arts (at a time when Washington is cutting back).

Which is why I cannot comprehend why Occupy, which has yet, after nearly three months, to establish any kind of real platform (other than holding two sessions of yoga and meditation a day), has any gripes.

Because it’s there, it’s visible, and they were hoping to get attention, Ms. Esman.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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