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On Monday of this week, I published a diary on Daily Kos about Walmart's new ad campaign. Then, Kory Lundberg, a member of Walmart's "communications team" responded with a comment. Because it's unusual for a corporation to respond to a blogger, I couldn't resist this opportunity for dialog. So here's my response:

Dear Kory,

Thanks for your comment, and for the opportunity to dialog with Walmart. Forgive me for presuming this, but for some reason I'm picturing you as a young man, which has me lapsing into the role of my day job, where I'm lucky enough to be a college professor.

But let me be clear: I'm not trying to pull rank. If I say some things a college professor might say, this is not to imply that ours is not a dialog among equals, because every dialog is a dialog among equals, including those between professor and student. As Paolo Freire says, "While to say the true word is a privilege, saying the true word is not the privilege of just one man [or woman] but of all men [and women]."

In that spirit, let me offer a couple of suggestions about argumentation:

1. We want to avoid ad hominem arguments. These are attacks directed against our debate opponent's character, instead of against his or her arguments. For example, when you describe me as having an "agenda" that I should be "honest about"  and as "disingenuous," you are saying that I am a guileful fellow who knowingly says things that are untrue in order to serve his hidden motives -- in short, a deliberate liar. (BTW, no offense taken -- I've been called worse. But I must confess to being baffled: what is my hidden agenda?)

We avoid ad hominems for two reasons:

a) They're mean, and thus they bring heat, not light to a dialog. We're in a search for the truth here; that is important work, and attacking one another personally will not get us there.

b) They're logically fallacious. Asserting (often without evidence) that our opponent is a scalawag does not address his arguments, which may be perfectly valid even if he is a scalawag.

2. Another tactic we may want to avoid is the "straw man." It's sometimes tempting to attack a weak argument that our opponent didn't make (the straw man) rather than attacking the stronger argument that our opponent did make.

 For example, you say, quite rightly, that "just because Mr. Exoo doesn't like what the [former] president [Clinton] says doesn't mean he didn't say it."  The problem is, I never alleged that Bill Clinton didn't say it -- in fact, quite the opposite: I offered an explanation of why the former president might have said what he did, i.e., the Clintons' longstanding financial and personal relationship with Walmart, and I offered statistical evidence that what he said is incorrect.

Likewise, when you say that "when he talks about the Walmart customer, he provides nothing but his opinion."  In fact, the link we provide in that section takes you to Advertising Age's demographic profile of the Walmart customer, as evidence of our assertion that the plurality of them are poor, Southern and elderly -- and that such customers were hidden from view in WM's campaign -- treated as the poor relations asked to hide in the back room when company comes.

Finally, you say that providing context to a Walmart assertion that is only half the story is "a little bit silly," and is no evidence of falsity. In reply, let me leave you with a comment from Aldous Huxley, in which he has captured much of the strategy of a public relations campaign such as "The Real Walmart": "The greatest triumphs of propaganda have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still silence about truth."

In the passage you found silly, we made the point that a half-truth -- "quarterly bonuses!" -- is being used to mask a more important truth: Walmart is a company whose six heirs control as much wealth as forty percent of the American population -- that's 125.56 million people; and yet many of its employees must get food stamps to feed their families.

And since you've given me this wonderful opportunity for dialog, I'm going to seize the chance to ask you, Kory: Is that a fact that shocks the conscience?

Fides et Veritas (the motto of my college, it means "Faith and Truth")

Calvin Fred Exoo

Originally posted to Calvin F Exoo on Wed Aug 21, 2013 at 10:34 AM PDT.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions and South Dakota Kos.

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