By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said yesterday that it made a "terrible" mistake in approving a recent newspaper advertisement that equated a proposed Arizona zoning ordinance with Nazi book-burning.
The full-page advertisement included a 1933 photo of people throwing books on a pyre at Berlin's Opernplatz. It was run as part of a campaign against a Flagstaff ballot proposal that would restrict Wal-Mart from expanding a local store to include a grocery.
The accompanying text read "Should we let government tell us what we can read? Of course not . . . So why should we allow local government to limit where we shop?" The bottom of the advertisement announced that the ad was "Paid for by Protect Flagstaff's Future-Major Funding by Wal-Mart (Bentonville, AR)."
The ad, which ran May 8 in the Arizona Daily Sun, was "reviewed and approved by Wal-Mart, but we did not know what the photo was from. We obviously should have asked more questions," said Daphne Moore, Wal-Mart's director of community affairs. She said the company will also issue a letter of apology to the Arizona Anti-Defamation League.
The ADL, members of Congress and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union criticized the company for the advertisement.
"It's not the imagery itself. It trivializes the Nazis and what they did. And to try to attach that imagery to a municipal election goes beyond distasteful," said Bill Straus, Arizona regional director for the ADL.
Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, has given about $300,000 to Protect Flagstaff's Future to help defeat Proposition 100, a local ordinance that would restrict stores of more than 75,000 square feet that devote more than 8 percent of their floor area to groceries. The proposal is one of a number around the country to regulate the size and design of big-box stores, particularly Wal-Marts. The vote on Proposition 100 is scheduled for Tuesday.
After a decade of near silence in the face of criticism and lawsuits, Wal-Mart is mounting a public relations counteroffensive to regain control of its image. In keeping with the public relations push, Wal-Mart will run a full-page apology in this weekend's Arizona Daily Sun to respond to the negative reaction to the book-burning ad.
Though the ad includes no apparent Nazi insignia or imagery, Straus said it's a well-known image among people "with any kind of knowledge of the Holocaust." It was bought to his attention by a Flagstaff college professor who Straus said was "extremely upset" at its use in a campaign about shopping.
Straus contacted Wal-Mart on Friday, and Moore told him an apology would be issued.
The advertisement also spurred action by Wake Up Wal-Mart, a campaign funded by the UFCW. The group contacted the Anti-Defamation League on Thursday, and wrote a letter to Wal-Mart chief executive H. Lee Scott Jr. urging the company to "immediately end the company's support for this group and its media campaign. You must publicly condemn this group and you should offer a public apology on behalf of Wal-Mart making clear you would never support -- directly or indirectly -- a media campaign that uses Nazi imagery." Wake Up Wal-Mart also contacted members of Congress.
The group that created the advertisement said the ad was one of a series opposing Proposition 100. Other ads included a picture of a child praying and a person with duct tape over her mouth. "We wanted people to think about the freedoms we enjoy in America. The intent was wholly honorable and good," said Chuck Coughlin, president of Highground Inc., a Phoenix consulting company that created the advertisement. "We will not back away from substance of the ads . . . We will apologize for the use of imagery."
"People make mistakes. They move on," he said.
Staff writer Michael Barbaro contributed to this report.