Here's why you can't buy the News Journal at Wal-Mart
You can't buy the Pensacola News Journal at Wal-Mart anymore.
The store ordered us off their property, told us to come pick up our newspaper racks and clear out.
So we did.
A few people called last week, some even wrote letters to the editor, and wanted to know why they couldn't buy the newspaper at Wal-Mart in the days after Hurricane Dennis.
Some managers at Wal-Mart didn't appreciate a column Mark O'Brien wrote last month about the downside of the cheap prices that Sam Walton's empire has brought to America. We all pay a little less, and sometimes a lot less, at the grocery store and department store because of Mr. Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart.
Mr. Walton developed a brilliant business model that allowed him to undercut the prices of his competitors. He made sure that the blue jeans his store sold were cheaper than the jeans the store down the road sold. And if some store had a two-for-one special on boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, Wal-Mart would have a three-for-one special.
Leave it to old Mark, whose column runs four days a week in this newspaper, to find a downside to this. Actually, it wasn't Mark, but Thomas Friedman, who wrote "The World is Flat," which happens to be a best seller right now.
I don't mean to rub salt in a wound, but here's what Mark wrote:
"I like Wal-Mart prices the same as the next shopper, but there's a downside, too. Many Wal-Mart employees lack the fringe benefits and insurance that makes the difference between existence and a good quality of life. Yet, we customers pay a surcharge from a different pocket — subsidizing health care for Wal-Mart employees who can't afford it."
Mark then described how Friedman's book pointed out that more than 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees are in a Georgia health-care program, which costs the state's taxpayers nearly $10 million a year. Mark also pointed out that a New York Times report found that 31 percent of the patients at a North Carolina hospital were Wal-Mart employees on Medicaid.
Mark's column really wasn't about Mr. Walton's store, but about Pensacola and how we're becoming a Wal-Mart kind of town, "cheap and comfy on the surface, lots of unhappiness and hidden costs underneath."
That was the point Mark was trying to make.
Bob Hart, one of the upper managers for the Wal-Marts in the area, called me and said he didn't like Mark's column, didn't like a lot of Mark's columns.
I told Mr. Hart that I don't particularly like some of Mark's columns either. Like the one he wrote about charter government, which Escambia County had put on the ballot for voters to consider last year. Mark said the charter-government proposal was a mess and that people would be fools to vote for it.
Mark speaks his mind
I plain didn't like that column, especially since the week before I had written something that said charter government was the best idea since sliced bread. I am Mark's boss, you know. He ought to have given me a little more respect than that.
But Mark speaks his mind. And the truth be told, that's what he gets paid to do, even though it kind of hurt me when nearly 70 percent of the voters sided with Mark and rejected charter government.
Mr. Hart, however, said he and his stores couldn't tolerate a newspaper that would print the opinions of someone who was as mean and negative as Mark O'Brien. But, you know, Mark's not nearly as ornery as that left-wing rabble-rouser Molly Ivins, whose column the newspaper also publishes. At any rate, Mr. Hart said he wanted the newspaper to get its racks off his lots. But he also said that if I fired Mark, we could talk about continuing to sell the newspaper at his stores.
Wal-Mart is a company that wraps itself in red, white and blue.
I might understand it if Wal-Mart said I ought to fire Mark because what he said wasn't accurate. But that isn't the case. Mark accurately reported that there are 10,000 children of Wal-Mart employees in a health-care program that is costing Georgia taxpayers nearly $10 million a year.
Shouldn't we talk about that?
When we stop listening to people on the other side of the fence, when we try to silence and even punish people for thinking differently than we do and raising facts and figures we don't like, well, we won't be red, white and blue anymore.
That's why Mark still has a job and you can't buy a Pensacola News Journal at Wal-Mart anymore.