PI Original Josh Kalven Thursday June 17th, 2010, 3:27pm

Why Is Daley Complaining About Walmart Coverage?

Mayor Daley has admitted that he no longer reads local news coverage.  Maybe if he broke his boycott and actually looked at the reporting that's been done this year, he'd see that Walmart proponents are well-represented in almost every news report while community-level critics are rarely quoted.

In his New Yorker profile earlier this year, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley disclosed that he no longer reads the local newspaper coverage of city politics and government. "I don't take their guff, and they don't like that," he told reporter Evan Osnos.  The picture accompanying the article proved the point; it showed Daley eating lunch at Manny's, perusing the pages of, you guessed it, USA Today.

The fact that Daley boycotts the local press doesn't keep him from assuming their coverage is biased against him, however.  In fact, he appears to seize on any and all opportunities to blame the media for his adminstration's troubles -- even accusing them of driving Oprah out of town!  Yesterday, Daley was back at it, this time railing against local reporters for their treatment of Walmart's effort to build additional stores in Chicago.  Here are his comments, as reported by the Chicago News Cooperative:

“If suburban areas have it, why can’t we have it in the black and Hispanic communities?” the mayor told reporters during a news conference in his office. “You never question it in the suburban areas? Why don’t you question it? Ask the same questions as hard as you ask me. You don’t. You accept it there because most of you live in the suburbs, right? Most of you live in the suburbs, so you don’t question that. But you will question it here in the city of Chicago. ‘Never question it where I live.’ Can I ask you a question? Why? Why is that?”

In response, Chicagoist's Kevin Robinson hit the nail on the head, noting that the local print outlets aren't exactly the tip of the spear in the fight to require Walmart to pay its workers a living wage:

All of those publications have covered Wal-Mart's foray into Chicago tepidly, painting the "debate" in neutral tones.

Last fall, the Grassroots Collaborative (a coalition that includes the founding sponsor of this site, SEIU Illinois) analyzed the media coverage of the 2006 big box living wage debate and found little for Daley to be upset about:

The most frequent frames to characterize the Living Wage debate focused on its potential negative effects. Other common frames discussed the ordinance as a political power-play between city and labor leaders. These frames would leave readers with the impression that the living wage was an idea manufactured and pushed exclusively by union leaders, unsupported by or unimportant to ordinary working people and met with unified predictions of economic doom from the business community and city officials.

This trend hasn't changed much in 2010.  Both the Tribune and the Sun-Times editorial boards (to our chagrin) have editorialized in favor of Walmart's expansion in recent months.  Meanwhile, our quick review of the print and broadcast coverage since the beginning of the year identified 34 reports on the Walmart story. (We limited our search to the Tribune, Sun-Times, Crain's, CBS 2, NBC 5, ABC 7, Fox Chicago, and WGN.)  The large majority were news updates featuring quotes from aldermen, Walmart representatives, and Chicago Federation of Labor leaders.  These are the "neutral" reports that Robinson referenced in his blog post. 

Rarely have the outlets gone out of their way to highlight specific activists on either side of this fight.  For instance, the Sun-Times devoted a January 17 article to Daley's "big squeeze" on the issue.  They also focused an April 15 piece on the latest version of the living wage ordinance, as introduced by Ald. Fredrenna Lyle. 

On May 11, CBS 2 quoted a former Walmart employee describing the low starting wages and tried unsuccessfully to get a response from the mega-retailer's spokesperson. 

On April 12, Fox Chicago highlighted survey results indicating that city's only Walmart had hurt surrounding businesses in the Austin neighborhood.  On April 16, they aired a one-on-one interview with Ald. Anthony Beale (9th Ward), who supports the construction of additional stores in Chicago. 

Finally, the Tribune highlighted Walmart's effort to increase the food selection in their Austin store on May 7 and profiled a group of pro-Walmart black ministers on April 11.

Reading through all this coverage, it would be easy to assume that the CFL is the only real opponent of the Walmart expansion -- a perception that would seem to favor Daley.  Indeed, only one of these reports (the May 11 Tribune piece) quoted anyone involved with the broad-based Good Jobs Chicago coalition, which is made up of 19 local unions, community groups, and congregations.

To conclude, Daley has the editorial boards on his side.  The views of his fellow Walmart proponents are well-represented in almost every news report that surfaces.  Meanwhile, community-level critics of the proposed expansion are rarely quoted.  So ... what is he complaining about again?


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