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Is Wal-Mart the Villain It's Been Painted in a New Film?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume" from Nov. 15, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

BRIT HUME, HOST: There is a new movie out Tuesday called, "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," to which no less an icon than Senator Ted Kennedy lent his prestige here in Washington. The film in part shows what Wal-Mart allegedly did to such Main Street enterprises as H&H Hardware of Middlefield, Ohio. Here is a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Started in a little, one-room building that had a full basement. We did all the plumbing in the basement, but the upstairs retail area was very small. We were there for a year and a half to two years. Then we moved on to a larger store in a shopping center, and spent several years there, and proceeded in 1992 to build this facility here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HUME: Pretty powerful stuff. A fine family business shut down by Wal-Mart’s arrival.

Byron York of National Review has been looking into the film. Byron, what did you find out?

BYRON YORK, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, the story of H&H Hardware didn’t actually happen precisely as it is depicted in the picture. The store did close, but it closed three months before Wal-Mart actually opened its doors. And I talked to Don Hunter, the man you saw in the film there, who founded H&H in 1962, and he said that the coming of Wal-Mart had nothing to do with the decision to close the store.

HUME: Where is Middlefield, by the way? I know it’s in Ohio.

YORK: It’s a small rural town in Amish country, in Ohio. And other people I talked to said H&H had been troubled for several years. There was an economic downturn in Ohio. It suffered from that. In addition, there were some management — poor decisions made by management. And for those reasons, it went out of business.

HUME: And then three months later Wal-Mart finally opened?

YORK: And then three months later, Wal-Mart opened its doors, yes.

HUME: And the guy says — the guy says to you that Wal-Mart is coming and the anticipation of its opening affect...?

YORK: He said very specifically, and I quote him in an upcoming article, there was no connection.

He doesn’t like Wal-Mart. He says a number of very negative things about Wal-Mart, and he believes it does destroy businesses around the country. But he says in his case, there was no connection.

HUME: Now, obviously, the film goes on at some length. We just showed a small slice of it. What are the other allegations in the film?

YORK: Well, some of the allegations are that Wal-Mart has actually — drives down wages in the areas in which stores open up. They cited a number of studies that were funded in part by labor unions.

HUME: What is the deal between Wal-Mart and labor unions?

YORK: Well, there is a bitter fight going on, especially after Wal-Mart moved into the grocery store business. It began fighting with United Food and Commercial Workers Union, so there is a lot of fighting back and forth. Robert Greenwald, by the way, the director of this film, says that no union money was used to make the film, although there are a number of union groups that are promoting the film.

Anyway, there is a real disagreement about the effect of Wal-Mart on wages, and the disagreement is among those who say it forces down wages in areas where it moves in, and those who say that by contributing lower prices, even if wages do go down, the net purchasing power of people actually goes up. There is some difference of opinion to that that is not presented in the picture. It’s a rather one-sided depiction.

HUME: So I should mention, by the way, in the interests of full disclosure, that Robert Greenwald was the director of an earlier so-called documentary called "Outfoxed," which was a sharp critique of FOX News.

YORK: It was.

HUME: I haven’t actually seen the film, but I’ve heard some things about it. But we don’t need to go into that at the moment.

How does this Wal-Mart film fit into this emergence of Wal-Mart as a political issue and the efforts that Wal-Mart is now making to fight back?

YORK: You know, it has become a very big issue in the last few years. Right after the election, Moveon.org, the Internet activist group, had a kind of a poll of its members saying, what are the big issues we should pursue? Now, here again, this is November, December 2004, and the winners were electoral reform, media reform and Wal-Mart. I mean, this has become a very, very big issue on the left, and it has been taken up by some of the unions.

And Wal-Mart has fought back very, very energetically. They have set up what they call a war room about this movie to fight this latest wave.

HUME: And the war room is located where?

YORK: Well, they have hired consultants all over the place, including New York, but of course, Wal-Mart is headquartered in Bentonville, Arkansas.

HUME: I assume this is all — they all talk with each other...

YORK: Oh, yes. And you know, part of this is because Wal-Mart is just so big. For example, there is a part in the movie that criticizes Wal-Mart for allegedly not offering enough security to its customers in the parking lots, and said there are more attacks on customers in parking lots than there are at other stores.

A spokesmen for Wal-Mart told me that the company has 100 million customer visits in the United States every week. Now, some people visit obviously more than once, but that’s a third of the United States population. That’s far, far more than any other company, and yes, indeed, there have been more instances of crime in those parking lots than some smaller companies.

HUME: Byron York, always informative. Got to have you back. Thanks very much.

YORK: Good to be here.

Watch "Special Report With Brit Hume" weeknights at 6 p.m. EDT.

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