ABC's Westin Won't Drop Wal-Mart


ABC News president David Westin responded with a blunt "No" after 21 members of Congress Tuesday called on him to drop Wal-Mart Stores Inc. as a sponsor for Good Morning America segment "Only in America."

The lawmakers complained that letting Wal-Mart sponsor a segment featuring inspiring stories about patriotic and hardworking America was hypocritical, given what they say is the low-price retailer's track record of paying poor wages and driving out "mom and pop" competitors.

Westin, in a letter to the group, urged them to take their complaints to Wal-Mart and leave ABC out of the fight. "It would be inappropriate that ABC News should be used to act as your intermediary for this purpose," he wrote.

Westin pointed out that ABC News has aired several reports examining criticisms of Wal-Mart's business practices, including GMA itself, in which host Charles Gibson interviewed Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott and asked him to defend the litany of allegations against the company, including refusal to pay overtime, hiring of illegal immigrants, sex discrimination and over-reliance on imports produced by low-wage labor. "Both our reporting in the 'Only In America' series and our independent reporting on Wal-Mart speaks for itself."

Westin added that "it is simply inconceivable" that GMA viewers would conclude, as the lawmakers suggested, that Wal-Mart products were made in America simply because Wal-Mart sponsored the segment.

The lawmakers calling for ABC to drop Wal-Mart's sponsorship included Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who led a fight to block a Wal-Mart store in his Queens district, as well as Reps. Bill Pascrell, D-N.J, Frank Pallone, D-N.J., Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y.

In their appeal to ABC, they called Wal-Mart's GMA spots "a hypocritical attempt to sell and market an image that is based on falsehoods. "Wal-Mart's association with the segment might give viewers the impression that the company supports American products and workers."

The lawmakers' appeal to ABC was also backed by the United Food and Commercial Workers union, which represents supermarket, food processing and meatpacking workers. The union is opposing non-union Wal-Mart's effort to expand its grocery business.

“This is just another attempt by the UFCW to criticize Wal-Mart by spreading misinformation,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Dan Fogleman. He pointed out that the company purchased $137.5 billion worth of goods in fiscal 2004 from U.S. companies. That's more than than the total purchases of any individual U.S. company other than ExxonMobil, GM and Ford.