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In Defense of Marshall Manson (and Why the NYT Attack on Wal-Mart Is Absurd)

The New York Times continued hammering away at Wal-Mart today in an above-the-fold story in its Business section. Coming under fire was HUMAN EVENTS contributor Marshall Manson, who works for Edelman, the PR firm hired by Wal-Mart for shaping its message.

The Times seeks to portray Marshall as a right-wing hack whose work for Edelman is questionable because he provides nuggets of good news to bloggers who have a favorable view of Wal-Mart anyway.

Here’s an excerpt:

In the messages, Wal-Mart promotes positive news about itself, like the high number of job applications it received at a new store in Illinois, and criticizes opponents, noting for example that a rival, Target, raised "zero" money for the Salvation Army in 2005, because it banned red-kettle collectors from stores.

The author of the e-mail messages is a blogger named Marshall Manson, a senior account supervisor at Edelman who writes for conservative Web sites like Human Events Online, which advocates limited government, and Confirm Them, which has pushed for the confirmation of President Bush’s judicial nominees.

Before I launched into my defense of Marshall, I’d first like to thank the Times for linking to humanevents.com. The bump in traffic was an unexpected surprise.

Now to the matter at hand. Marshall and I first met in early 2004 when he worked for the Center for Individual Freedom and I was a reporter at CNSNews.com. At the time, I had been following the Democrats’ obstructionist tactics against President Bush’s judicial nominees. Marshall, who cares passionately about the issue, was a great resource.

He still is today. That’s why last summer when HUMAN EVENTS launched The Right Angle, a new blog featuring a handful of rising stars, Marshall was one of the first people I asked to contribute. He agreed, writing, to date, 16 insightful stories to the blog.

Shortly after joining Edelman last fall, he alerted me that Wal-Mart would be his client and he wouldn’t be writing about the company. (Not once—even before he took the job with Edelman—has he authored a story about Wal-Mart.)

I reasoned that as long as he wasn’t writing about the clients he was representing—be it Wal-Mart or any other company Edelman represents—there was no reason to prevent him from contributing.

And so it has continued—albeit more sporadically than I would like. But I’m not paying Marshall, so I can only expect so much.

I don’t know how his bosses at Edelman reacted to today’s story—well, actually I do know how Edelman VP Mike Krempasky reacted, because it came up at today’s Politics Online Conference—but I would just say this: Marshall needs a raise!

The Times hopes to embarrass Marshall by reprinting 28 pages of e-mails he exchanged with Rob Port of SayAnythingBlog.com. But the e-mail exchange isn’t embarrassing at all. It shows Marshall doing exactly what he’s paid to do: pitch his client to media outlets. Marshall’s e-mails are more professional and honest than any release I’ve seen in a long, long time. He even invites Port to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., but makes clear up front that it’s up to Port to pay for all expenses. No free giveaways at Wal-Mart.

So what’s the Times’ problem? Marshall wasn’t taking the traditional route, and therefore, that’s news to the Gray Lady. Marshall found bloggers who had written favorable articles about Wal-Mart, and, as he did with Port, contacted them with nuggets of good news.

Last time I checked, reporters for the New York Times operate in much the same fashion. Don’t begin to tell me that the Times’ reporters aren’t getting tips every day from PR people—with the possible exception of Edelman. Why would the folks there waste their time when the Gray Lady has shown a pattern of attacking Wal-Mart?

Should bloggers have disclosed they got this information from Marshall? That all depends if you consider bloggers to be journalists. I don’t. In my mind, bloggers have a lower standard, and therefore, live by a different set of rules.

What are those rules? We’re still in the process of figuring that out. That’s what makes Edelman’s work all the more interesting.

Keep it up, Marshall. And would you please invite me to Bentonville? If Glenn Reynolds (aka Instapundit) doesn’t want to go—“Bentonville, Arkansas,” he said, “is not my idea of a fun destination”—then I’ll take his place.

UPDATE — 10:13 p.m.: I neglected to mention the blog On Tap, featuring NRA News’ Cam Edwards and National Review’s Jim Geraghty (of TKS), which has carried some excellent material about this story.

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Written By

Mr. Bluey, a contributing editor to Human Events, is director of the Center for Media & Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation. He maintains a blog at RobertBluey.com.

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