January 11, 2018

Cynical Journalists Downplay Walmart’s Tax Cut-Driven Bonuses, Pay Raises, Perks

It takes an especially miserable person to find a reason to complain when more than a million individuals and families are suddenly better off than they were before. Now make that two million in the wake of Walmart’s Thursday announcement that it is granting bonuses of up to $1,000 to every employee, raising its base wage to $11 an hour, enhancing its paid-leave benefits, and providing a new adoption-assistance benefit. It’s early but the media whining has seemingly increased.

The Associated Press, the nation’s primary gatekeeping news source, began by downplaying what Walmart itself has said gave it the ability to carry out the just-mentioned positive actions. It’s right there at the top of its corporate newsroom page today (it’s also in the third paragraph of the company’s press release):

WalmartNewsroomHomePgBonuses01112018

Nevertheless, as seen below AP’s first two breaking news announcements ignored the tax law’s role completely (first alert is here; second has since been revised):

APwalmartBreakingAlert1on01112018

APwalmartBreakingAlert2on01112018

The longer, updated version of AP’s coverage as of shortly after 2 p.m. Eastern Time (story is subject to additional revisions) wrapped with the following all-too-typical paragraph (bolds are mine throughout this post):

One-time payouts are far less valuable to employees than permanent pay raises. About a dozen banks have said they will raise their minimum wages. A handful of mostly small companies have announced pay increases for most of their workforces. And a few have said they will raise their contributions to their employees’ retirement plans.

Gratuitous digs denigrating one-time payouts have become legion in the press. Separately, the above references to “a handful” and “a few” above are particularly galling, and meant to downplay genuinely good news. Additionally, as I emphasized in a previous NewsBusters post, not every employer handing out tax cut-driven bonuses, pay raises and other perks has publicly announced its actions.

AP also could and should have devoted a sentence to tax-cut news which will affect additional millions, namely utility company announcements, of which there have been at least a half-dozen thus far, that the new law will enable them, pending regulatory approval, to lower their rates.

Cynicism in other establishment press coverage of Walmart’s moves hasn’t been difficult to find.

Here’s Sarah Halzack at Bloomberg News, who seems to think that she could just step in and make key decisions at the multibillion-dollar multinational retailer:

Walmart’s Wage Hike Is Smart Even Without Tax Cuts

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. is using the windfall the GOP just gave Corporate America to score a public-relations coup, with a strategic move that would have been smart even without a tax cut.

Adam K. Raymond at New Yorker Magazine was particularly harsh, and took an inadvertent casualty:

… (The announcement is) an indication that the lowest earners in the country are finally starting to see some benefit from the almost decade-long economic recovery. (That’s because the first 7-1/2 years of that “recovery” under President Barack Obama was the worst on record since World War II. — Ed.)

… WalMart CEO Doug McMillon credited the recently passed tax bill for allowing the company to make the changes. “Tax reform gives us the opportunity to be more competitive globally and to accelerate plans for the U.S.,” he said in a statement.

It’s unclear how much of that is spin.

By tying the raises to the tax bill, Walmart is looking for a PR win. But the workers whose paychecks just got bigger, if only marginally, won’t care about Walmart’s PR ploy. They’ll just glad to finally be seeing a piece of the booming economy everyone’s talking about.

At USA Today, Nathan Bomey’s supposedly straight-news piece on Walmart’s moves also got cynical:

Economists have argued that one-time bonuses, while significant for workers living paycheck-to-paycheck, are not as meaningful as permanent wage increases. Critics of tax reform have said companies are dishing out bonuses for the sake of good publicity and to curry favor with the White House.

“Wal-Mart would have had to go to at least $11 in many markets in order to retain reliable employees,” said University of Michigan business professor Erik Gordon. “The tax cut made it easier for the company to swallow.”

… Charles Fishman, author of The Wal-Mart Effect, said … that Walmart needed to “up its game to keep its employees and get new employees.”

Maybe, but the company didn’t have to pass out the bonuses to do that.

The citation in Walmart press release that the tax law makes it “more competitive globally and to accelerate plans for the U.S.” would appear to foreshadow stronger economic growth and to partially vindicate the primary motivation behind the Trump-GOP effort. Don’t expect the press to make that connection.

Why can’t these journalists just be happy for the recipients of unexpected bonuses, pay increases, new benefits, and utility-rate decreases?

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