The news and the Wal-Mart death

David Carr is bang on assigning a share of blame for the Wal-Mart Black Friday death under the feet of a shopping mob to news media. I will disagree in degree about business vs. editorial responsibility. He sees the creation of Black Friday – and that horrible coinage itself – as a cynical business conspiracy to pump advertising. I wouldn’t disagree except that I’m never a conspiracy theorist, especially inside newspapers, which only conspire against themselves. I think there is also an editorial responsibility – importantly in local TV news, too – to do the same damned story everybody else is doing and everybody else did last year. Black Friday walk-up stories are in no way whatsoever informative; they are not news. They fill time and space. We thought they were just pap. But as Carr points out, their unthinking inanity can also be dangerous.

  • The black Friday stories just echo the overall mindset that consumerism is the a) function of citizens and b) the foundation of capitalism.

    Even faced with continual stories about resource shortages and regional wars caused by population pressure and grabs for what resources exist, the only thing economists and public policy planners can come up with is suggestions on how to get spending growing again. Ideas about improving efficiency and going “green” are just means of delaying the day when the well runs dry, not permanent solutions.

    Of course the media is complicit in promoting consumerism, even without any explicit tie-in to advertisers, there is no room for alternative ideas. At one time there were people representing socialist, communist or anarchist views as well as the large variety of utopians that emerged in the 19th Century (Henry George is a good example). Their ideas may have been impractical, but they broadened the range of ideas which were in the public space.

    There is hardly any of this going on now. Regulation and conservation are just adjustments to the present global market system, not replacements for it. The few people who are willing to discuss alternatives are ignored or ridiculed.

    I suggest reading some of the works of ecological economist Herman Daly (who?). He has been writing about living on a finite planet for 40+ years without having much tangible effect.

    There are alternatives to consumerism as currently practiced, we just need to consider them.

  • Davo

    People are crazy in general yes. But I also think Wal-Mart has the worse organization skills ever. For example, I always stand in line to buy the new video game systems, and did so for Playstation 3 in Nov. 2006. We showed up at 4:00 a.m. in the Wal-Mart parking lot and the systems wouldn’t go on sale until Midnight of that day. People kept coming, and the crowd got bigger. The 24 hour Wal-Mart, wouldn’t let anyone get in line for the Playstation 3 until 7 a.m. What did everyone do? We’ll… we formed a line to get in line of course. The crowd kept getting bigger. I would say at around 6:40ish, a manager came out and explained the situation.

    “We will have 10 systems for sale.”

    That’s not a surprise, when systems come out, a store like Wal-Mart, Target, Shopko, etc, get on average 8-12 of the systems, depending on the city. He then explained they have 10 chairs lined up next to the flag pole, and, at 7 a.m. we could “get in line by sitting in one of the ten chairs.” The crowd kept getting bigger. I’d say we are now at least 100 plus people. We all knew how stupid this was. 100 plus people were standing in a line outside, line that was the length of the store, and perpendicular to the 10 chairs near the flag pole. The person closes to the chairs was probably 30 feet from them. (Just FYI, if the would’ve allowed a line to form from the beginning, none of this would have happened)

    Everyone knew we had to run for a chair. Half the people there knew they wouldn’t be able to run for a chair based on how far they were from the set of chairs or how fast they could run. But the other half knew they had a chance.

    Okay, but I’m straying from my point. Wal-Mart is by far the most organzingly challenged corporation ever. New systems come out every so many years. They should know to let people just start the line, a first come first service basis, hand out number or draw numbers. This was 24 hour Wal-Mart, and the year before when the Xbox 360 came out, they let people sit in line, INSIDE, at the electronics department. What was wrong with that?! No one got hurt.

    So, at 6:58 a.m. the stores manager said, “No pushing, no shoving, no fighting. We have the cameras on and if any of you cause any trouble, we will know and you will not be given your Playstation 3.” There was one cop there to maintain order. 7:00 a.m. we got the command… “Okay, get in line.”

    Everyone ran. I was among them. I didn’t think people would fall or get shoved. I was only thinking to get a seat. And being a pretty agile guy, I didn’t think I would get knocked down or pushed. I say this because no one planned on hurting anyone. Everyone was really excited and anxious, but if you asked any individual if they planned on hurting someone, I believe no one would say yes. It was a simple race to the chairs.

    So anyways, 100 people converging to a single point certainly caused a problem. One person was stopped suddenly when his face met that flag pole I had mentioned that was by the chairs. The whole 100 people converging (at a sprinting pace) to a single point is what caused the pain. People fell, people behind us couldn’t see that people had fallen, but the momentum kept pushing us forward. If you stopped, you would fall, so just keep your feet moving. I didn’t want to hurt anyone, but I found myself stepping over people as well. I definitely didn’t see this as a life and death situation, as I’m sure those people at the Wal-Mart in Long Island thought the same thing. But people were getting hurt. For the most part, everyone was okay. That one kid was pushed into the flag pole, probably with incredible force. I just remember the aftermath; people moaning as they slowly stood up from a tangled mess of bodies. The one kid, in his early twenties, his eyes tearing up, and blood on his red face from his meeting with the flag pole.

    All I’m saying is that all this could be avoided. People like deals, they like low prices and they like getting up early for them. Who cares? But fricken Wal-Mart needs to use some fricken common sense. I think that Wal-Mart should be held responsible for the death of that young man. No one else. People there didn’t know what was going on; they just wanted to get their holiday presents. Wal-Mart knew what was going to happen, or they should’ve known by now!

    What makes me disgusted with Wal-Mart even more is they completely lied and denied the whole event concerning the Playstation 3’s, even with a police report that contradicted them:

    Mike Dooley, the store’s manager, said in a phone interview Thursday morning that there was no race and that the chairs were put outside for the convenience of the shoppers, some of whom he said had been standing outside for a long time. Later in the day he declined to comment further about the incident, and an assistant manager at the store referred questions to Wal-Mart’s corporate relations department. –from Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

    To read about the PS3 incident in Wisconsin, follow this link:

    That’s all I wanted to share. I blame Wal-Mart. They had the most power to prevent this.

  • holmie

    If greed is what partly contributed to the credit crunch and all its
    knock-down effects on the global economy, it unquestionably drove the
    behavior of this mob to trample over another person in mad pusuit of
    bargains at the expense of both their humanity and decency. When
    hundreds of shoppers are blinded by consumerism to the point they
    literally tear the doors down at walmart at 5am, we witness another
    blowback effect of the current economy, the willingness to let
    bargains beat morality to the checkout counter.”

    blue light special ” under the front door?

    An American living abroad.

  • I think blaming anyone but the people and (probably) store management is false. I am all for blaming the media with their sensational tendacnies over simple reporting any day of the week but this isn’t one of those circumstances

    Thousands and thousands of stores, with millions of people involved managed to open on black friday just fine without any major incidents but this one thing makes it all wrong and bad?

    I have been participating in BF for a few years now and never seen any problems. The main reason is a) the line standers are mostly calm and collected with reasonable expectations of getting the best deals (ie know its really hard) and b) the store managers and employees do excellent jobs of crowd control and managing those deal expectations.

    There are many ways they do that. Some do hot drinks and music. Others just have a decent security and employee presence and so forth. Most, at least near do, go with something even simpler – with coupons. Pretty much from the beginning a good manager knows what “doorbuster” deals people are in line for and hand out coupons before the store opens. You have the coupon, get in line at X location and pic up your “prize” and buy it. Net result is those in line know before the deal is sold out before the store even opens so not as inclined to rush in as “first come, first serve” is no longer an issue on their must have items.

    Another thing, real simple, is to NOT open the store until the crowd gets in a line and controls itself. The manager didn’t have to open the store at 5am seeing how out of control things were. Last, let people in small chunks. The line I waited in on Friday wrapped around the building. The store didn’t open until the people up front stepped 10 feet away from the door. When they did (pretty darn quickly), they only let in about 50 at a time. Once those fifty cleared the doorways and the initial lobby area, thet next 50 or so where let in. Real freaking simple and no problems were had.

    My overall point is the tragic incident is half the fault of a crowd (only in New York it seems) that behaved in a way that is simply unacceptable and inexcusable and half the fault of a Wal-Mart management team that doesn’t strike me is terribly bright and apparently needed corporate to tell them exactly what to do since they didn’t have the ability to make independent decisions (which probably makes them the “perfect” managers in corporate eyes) on how to best handle such a crowd. The press had nothing to do with it.

  • Mike Manitoba

    Why is the market not at all complicit in this tragedy?

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  • It is tragic that many commenter’s do not see this the way it should be seen. Walmart should have taken enough precautions to prevent this. I was in CA this Black Friday and you should have seen the frenzy outside Fry’s. But, Fry’s has tons of employees and over 20 police officials manning the crowds and traffic to make sure that there are no such incidents.

    No one shopper can be held responsible for this trampling as it is crowd effect and people behind pushing the ones in the front. It IS and HAS to be Walmart’s responsibility. In order to keep costs low, it cuts corners on employee benefits, compensation, security etc. It has to pay.

  • lynn

    What a shame!! I agree that Walmart should prevent this ” uncontrollable crowd”…. How can walmart employees control reckless crowds??? umm?? i strongly agree with the new law come in play called “Doorbuster Law”…because its manslaugter !!! Think abt it folks what if it was yur child in the front of the door or brother? i would press charges on the folks that killed him no excuse for people to bust the door down… thats breaking and entering even b4 the Walmart employees open the door, those so called “salvages” are Un American!!! I hope the police finds the culpret who did this to this poor man… Justice will prevail… the culprit should turn themselves in and pay respect to this man.. be charged for breaking and forced entry and manslaugter…

  • DI


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  • The comments are interesting, but seem to miss Jeff’s point – which is to assess media responsibility, if any, for what happened. I think it’s an offshoot of what Jeff calls “editorial responsibility” or lack of same – a willingness to do, by rote, the same stories done year after year after year. They could be written once and just re-run for all the good they do – but they fill columns, or the horrific time vacuum that is 24-hour “news.” And, occasionally, something like the Wal-Mart fiasco will happen, as lazy reporters assure us that if we don’t get up at 3 AM, we’ll never see such bargains again.

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