The Austin Chronicle

The Hightower Report

By Jim Hightower, September 3, 2004, News


Wal-Mart has a problem. People all across America and the world are learning that it's a beast of a corporation that – among other things – pays poverty wages, faces widespread allegations of sexual discrimination, routinely exploits sweatshop labor, bullies its own suppliers, muscles local competitors out of business, and tries to buy its way into cities that don't want it.

So, with its reputation sinking and sales sagging, Wal-Mart is finally taking action! Not to reform itself, of course – but to try to put a thick coat of PR polish over its brutish tactics. A few months ago, it launched a multimillion-dollar advertising blitz to paint itself as the Mother Teresa of global corporations.

And now, Wal-Mart has made the ultimate reach for media respectability – it has become a sponsor of NPR. Yes, for some $30 million in corporate funds, it gets to present itself on public radio as a paragon of virtue in a series of underwriting ads. For example, in one, an NPR announcer solemnly intones that Wal-Mart is "bringing communities job opportunities, goods and services, and support for neighborhood programs."

Also, to curry media favor, Wal-Mart has suddenly become a benefactor of journalistic studies, putting up half-a-million bucks for journalism scholarships at 10 universities. These Wal-Mart "scholars" will be the future reporters covering the company (or choosing not to cover it), so the corporate benefit of this "philanthropy" is obvious. But why would the universities go along with such an obvious cash-for-favoritism ploy – especially since Wal-Mart is notorious for censorship, literally banning certain publications from its stores?

Because money talks louder than principles. After all, said the head of journalism at Arizona State: Wal-Mart is "not the American Nazi Party."

Well, at least we learn that journalism has some standards! Apparently, any sleazeball outfit better than the Nazis is OK.


Excellent news, Americans: a new way to lie!

In a nation that's gone from the simple childhood fibs of "my dog ate my homework" to the far more nefarious lies of a White House that has sent hundreds of people to die in Iraq on the false claims that Saddam Hussein was about to hit us with weapons of mass destruction ... now we have new technology to extend the culture of lying to anyone with a cell phone.

Yes, cell phones not only allow you to make calls, keep track of your kid's whereabouts, and even take photographs, but also to join cells of cell phone liars who'll help you cheat on your spouse, skip work, or ... you name it.

Take the "alibi and excuse club," a network of some 3,400 subscribers – unknown to one another – who're willing to lie for you, in exchange for your lying for them when they're in a pinch. Say you want to slip away for a weekend with a lover. What to tell your spouse? No problem. Just send out a message to the "alibi and excuse" group, and you're likely to get a volunteer who'll call your spouse, posing as one of your bosses and explaining that you've been dispatched on an emergency sales mission to New York or Paris or Kalamazoo. You pay a fee to join the club, and you're also under some general obligation to return the favor when other members put out the call for a credible lie.

Jumping on an entrepreneurial opportunity, others have found ways to add value to the lying phone schemes. For $2.99, for example, you can equip your cell phone to play the sounds of a rasping cough to simulate a lung infection – while you're sitting on the beach sipping a cool one! You can also get honking horns and a screaming ambulance to simulate a traffic jam, thus explaining why you can't get home – while you're actually chilling at a bar and watching the game.

Of course, there could be glitches – such as if your spouse joins the same alibi club and inadvertently takes your call for help in creating a lie so you can have an affair. Ouch.

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