Stolberg "Surprised" By Unsurprising Event: Wal-Mart Pushing Liberal Agenda

Sheryl Gay Stolberg also failed to quote anyone opposed to a Wal-Mart/labor union alliance pushing a requirement that companies provide health insurance to their workers.

Thepaper's White House correspondent Sheryl Gay Stolberg filed a business story for Wednesday's edition, "Wal-Mart Says It Backs A Mandate on Insurance," about Wal-Mart teaming up with a large labor union to call for a requirement that companies provide health insurance to their workers.

The Times has long been hostile to Wal-Mart -the "stingy," "retailing behemoth" Wal-Mart -but Stolberg held off on the criticism in this story, showingthe company pushingtheliberal position of expanding federal government involvement in health care.

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer, joined hands with a major labor union Tuesday to endorse the idea of requiring large companies to provide health insurance to their workers, a move that gives a boost to President Obama as he is pushing for health legislation on Capitol Hill.

"Not every business can make the same contribution, but everyone must make some contribution," Wal-Mart's chief executive, Michael T. Duke, wrote in a letter to White House and Congressional officials, adding that he favored "an employer mandate which is fair and broad in its coverage."

The letter was issued jointly with Andrew W. Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which represents two million workers, many of them in the health care industry, and John D. Podesta, who ran Mr. Obama's transition to the presidency and leads the Center for American Progress, a Democratic policy organization here.

Stolberg threw out a misleading figure about the number of uninsured:

The employer mandate is central to Mr. Obama's plan for expanding health coverage to the nation's 46 million uninsured, but many companies, including Wal-Mart, have long resisted the idea. But as health legislation moves through Congress, representatives of industry are becoming increasingly convinced that they must join forces with the administration to have a seat at the negotiating table.

Stolberg couldn't resist a parting shot against the retailing giant's "reputation as being stingy with benefits." (A reputation fostered by the paper's historically hostile coverage.)

Still, Wal-Mart's action is surprising for a company that has often fought with unions and has had a reputation as being stingy with benefits. As Mr. Podesta said, "The big news is they're for an employer mandate, which is significant."

How "surprising" is it that Wal-Mart would team up with a union to push a liberal agenda? Not very. After all, it teamed up with the same union (SEIU) two years ago to call for universal health care, as this February 2007 Times story showed.

Besides having a short memory, Stolberg erred in not talking to any opposing voices. The Wall Street Journal managed to find two, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Retail Federation:

The National Retail Federation, the industry's main lobby, said it was "flabbergasted" by Wal-Mart's move. "We have been one of the foremost opponents to employer mandate," said Neil Trautwein, vice president with the Washington-based trade group. "We are surprised and disappointed by Wal-Mart's choice to embrace an employer mandate in exchange for a promise of cost savings." Mr. Trautwein said an employer mandate is "the single most destructive thing you could do to the health-care system shy of a single-payer system," under which the government handles health-care administration. The mandate "would quite possibly cut off the economic recovery we all desperately need," he said. The group believes forcing companies to provide insurance will raise costs for its members.