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Wal-Mart vs. the Blogosphere

Fallout from the retailer's "astroturf" blog scandal may end up hitting PR firm Edelman the hardest

Last week, Wal-Mart (WMT) took a hit when bloggers on the Internet attacked the behemoth's effort to burnish its image via its own bloggers, who were receiving compensation from the retailer for their efforts. The episode may turn out to be an even bigger public relations disaster for Edelman, the retailer's PR firm. It culminated on Oct. 16, with a mea culpa from CEO Richard Edelman on his blog.

It all started last month, when a folksy blog called Wal-Marting Across America was set up. The site featured the musings of a couple known only as Jim and Laura as they drove cross country in an RV, and included regular interviews with Wal-Mart workers, who were dependably happy about the company and their working conditions. BusinessWeek.com wrote the first exposé about the blog. The story shot down speculation that Jim and Laura weren't real people, identifying the woman as Laura St. Claire, a freelance writer and an employee at the U.S. Treasury department. But it also disclosed that Wal-Mart was paying plenty for the couple's support, including money for renting the RV, gas, and fees for writing the blog (see BusinessWeek.com, 10/9/06, "Wal-Mart's Jim and Laura: The Real Story").