Walmart seeks distance from T-shirt threatening journalists

A vendor’s malicious graphic tee ended up on the chain’s website. A journalist advocacy group protested, and it was quickly pulled. For some, the error is inexcusable, the damage irreparable.

It’s not just what you make; what you sell can land you in hot water, too.

Walmart, the giant discount retailer, is trying to distance its brand from an incendiary third-party T-shirt that promotes violence toward journalists.

The T-shirt first appeared during the 2016 presidential campaign, inspired by Republican candidate Donald Trump’s animosity toward members of the media and mainstream news outlets generally. The apparel item was widely condemned at the time, yet it has resurfaced on Walmart’s online marketplace, much to the company’s chagrin.

Bloomberg reported:

Walmart has pulled a T-shirt offered by an outside seller from its online store after a journalist advocacy group told the retailer it found the shirt threatening.

The shirt, listed on Walmart.com through third-party seller Teespring, said: “Rope. Tree. Journalist. SOME ASSEMBLY REQUIRED.”

“This item was sold by a third-party seller on our marketplace and clearly violates our policy,” Walmart said. “We removed it as soon as it was brought to our attention, and are conducting a thorough review of the seller’s assortment.”

The product is the offering of Teespring, which denies responsibility for the design. The company lets customers design shirts, which has led to prior controversies.

Bloomberg continued:

Teespring, which allows people to post shirt designs, confirmed that the shirt has been pulled and said it is working to prevent such content from slipping through its filters.

“As soon as we were alerted to this content promoting violence against journalists we removed the content, added this content to our automated scanning systems, and kicked off a human sweep of the site to find and remove any similar content,” the company said.

In August, Teespring had removed a “rainbow swastika” T-shirt from its own site and said it would increase oversight of its product line.

Walmart moved quickly to address the concerns voiced by the advocacy group Radio Television Digital News Association.

Bloomberg finished:

The Radio Television Digital News Association said Walmart notified it about five hours after its complaint that the shirt was being removed.

“We are grateful for Walmart’s swift action, but dismayed that it, and anyone else selling the shirt, would offer such an offensive and inflammatory product,” the group’s executive director, Dan Shelley said.

The T-shirt seems to have been available for quite some time, prompting outrage and disgust.

Walmart’s position that it was blindsided by this crisis will be a difficult sell to some customers, given that variations of the T-shirt have been around since 2006 or earlier. The wording of the shirt was traced by the Daily Beast to a similar design from almost a decade ago.

As automation removes human judgment from the merchandise approval process, retailers risk letting offensive materials slip past the robot filters. Today’s consumers demand accountability.

1. Be fast.

Walmart removed the shirt five hours after receiving the complaint from the journalist advocacy group. The speed enabled the retailer to convey its firm stance on the issue, helping to emphasize the company’s values.

2. Cite your established standards.

In its statement, Walmart noted that the T-shirt violates its policy, showing that the error was a systemic failure and not a result of faulty corporate values. Organizations can prepare for crises by drafting a policy or code of ethics that can be cited when publicly asserting a brand’s values.

3. Outline proactive steps being taken.

In your crisis response, specify how you will address immediate concerns and prevent similar mistakes in the future. Walmart said a human search of its online marketplace was rooting out offensive apparel, and the Teespring item was encoded into automatic scanners for identification.

What do you think of Walmart’s response, PR Daily readers?

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