A PR professional posed as a reporter to infiltrate a labor group that opposes a Walmart store in Los Angeles. It appears her actions have led to her being let go.
On June 6, Stephanie Harnett
identified herself as USC student “Zoe Mitchell” to attend a
closed press conference held by Warehouse Workers United (WWU), a group
that advocates on behalf of Walmart warehouse. A WWU representative described the situation to Gawker
“[Harnett] talked to a warehouse worker for 20 minutes and she tape recorded the interview and asked lots of detailed questions about the bad conditions in which he worked. Warehouse worker said she was shaking the whole time...”
On Wednesday, June 13, she reportedly attended another WWU press conference, except this time she handed out business cards with her actual identity: senior associate with Mercury Public Affairs, a firm that is working with Walmart on the launch of a new store in L.A.'s Chinatown area.
WWU posted the details of the story, along with a picture of Harnett and her fake credentials, on its blog
Becky Warren, a managing director at Mercury Public Affairs, said in an emailed statement:
“The action taken by Ms. Harnett was in no way approved, authorized, or
directed by Walmart or Mercury. Stephanie is a junior member of our team
who made an immature decision. She showed very poor judgment and
Mercury takes full responsibility. We are taking the necessary
disciplinary actions. This is an isolated incident that has never
happened before and will not happen again.”
Warren told PR Daily
that Harnett “is no longer with our company.”
Mercury has offices in New York, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, as well as other U.S. cities, according to the firm’s website
Walmart has faced stiff opposition from labor groups in its efforts to open the new store in L.A.
In a statement emailed to PR Daily
, Steven V. Restivo, senior director of community affairs at Walmart, said:
“These actions were unacceptable, misleading and wrong. Our culture of integrity is a constant at Walmart and by not properly identifying herself, this individual’s behavior was contrary to our values and the way we do business. We insist that all our vendors conduct themselves in a way that is transparent and honest and we will reinforce that expectation to ensure this type of activity is not repeated.”