CNN business contributor Andy Serwer reported on a curious policy change at Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) stores: they’re giving first-time shoplifters a break for inexpensive merchandise. The story was not meant to be publicly announced and could cause an up-tick in shoplifting at the stores. Yet Serwer left out that The New York Times broke the story after being handed internal documents from an anti-Wal-Mart group funded by labor unions.
“If you are caught in a Wal-Mart stealing less than $25 of merchandise and it’s your first time, you get a pass,” Serwer reported in a “Minding Your Business” update on the July 13 “American Morning.”
Serwer added that the policy change came as a result of “police around the country” complaining about too many shoplifting calls arising from the old “zero tolerance” policy.
“Kind of odd to announce it, though,” co-host Soledad O’Brien interrupted.
“They’re not announcing it,” replied Serwer, adding that “The New York Times got these documents, this internal document, and actually in this story the police are suggesting” that “people may start to stick more things in their pocket” now that they know about the policy.
What the Fortune magazine editor left out was that Times writer Michael Barbaro’s  July 13 story resulted from documents handed to him by an anti-Wal-Mart group funded by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
“The changes in Wal-Mart’s theft policy are described in 30 pages of documents that were provided to The New York Times by WakeUpWalMart.com, a group backed by unions that have tried to organize Wal-Mart workers in the United States,” Barbaro acknowledged in his story.
WakeUp Wal-Mart’s earliest reference to the policy change came in a July 13 blog post on its Web site, which excerpted the Barbaro story without comment. In other words, the activist group waited to go public with its comments on the policy until after the Times broke the story.
Such a cozy relationship between the media in general and the Times’s Barbaro in particular is hardly surprising.
On May 31 , the Business & Media Institute (BMI) found that Washington Post business reporter “Amy Joyce used only one comment from a Wal-Mart spokeswoman – just 80 words out of the 1,400” in her profile on WakeUp Wal-Mart.
What’s more, the two outside “labor experts” Joyce consulted were also pro-union, including Nelson N. Lichtenstein, editor of “Wal-Mart: Template for 21st Century Capitalism?” An Oct. 30, 2003, article in the Houston Press recorded that Lichtenstein argues “Wal-Mart’s strategy of low wages and high turnover creates a culture of anti-unionism.”