Associate at lobbying firm tapped to bring Walmart store to downtown Los Angeles reportedly posed as student reporter at news conference held by labor group opposing the store; Wal-Mart says action was not authorized by company
June 18, 2012
– An associate at a lobbying firm tapped to bring a Walmart store to downtown Los Angeles has left the firm after she posed as a reporter at a news conference held by a labor group that opposed the big-box store.
City Ethics Commission records show Stephanie Harnett worked for Mercury Public Affairs, which received $60,000 from Walmart to lobby for a Wal-Mart store to be built in Chinatown, the Los Angeles Times said in its Friday edition (lat.ms/KLzwYh).
The project provoked opposition from labor groups, which complain about unfair conditions at the retailer.
Last week, one of those groups, Warehouse Workers United, held a news conference and Harnett signed a media sheet saying she was a student at the University of Southern California named "Zoe Mitchell."
Union Spokeswoman Elizabeth Brennan said Harnett interviewed a warehouse worker using an audio recorder for 20 minutes without saying she was working for Wal-Mart.
"She told him she was a journalism student at USC and that she was a storyteller from the heart," Brennan said.
Brennan said she saw Harnett again at another news conference, and an activist pointed out that she was actually a lobbyist.
Mercury released a statement saying Harnett's actions were "in no way approved, authorized, or directed by Wal-Mart or Mercury."
"Stephanie is a junior member of our team who made an immature decision," Becky Warren, managing director for Mercury, said in the statement. "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 would not confirm to the Times whether Harnett was fired or resigned, saying only she is "no longer with our firm."
Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo said what Harnett did was "unacceptable, misleading and wrong."
"Our culture of integrity is a constant at Wal-Mart, and by not properly identifying herself, this individual's behavior was contrary to our values and the way we do business," Restivo told the Times.
Harnett did not respond to an email seeking comment from the Times, and a phone message left by The Associated Press at a listing in her name was not immediately returned.
The incident was first reported by the website Gawker.
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