How Wal-Mart got a Latino ovation

July 30, 2009

WBEZ has been receiving calls this week from Bentonville, Arkansas. They started Monday, when we reported some comments by a Wal-Mart executive invited to speak about health-care reform at a Latino civil-rights convention in Chicago. That executive, Dr. John Agwunobi, spoke for the retail giant when he answered this question from the moderator: "What about health-care coverage for undocumented immigrants?" His response: "We believe strongly that everyone should have access to affordable health insurance. Everyone." Wal-Mart called me. They called my editor, Julia McEvoy. They spoke with WBEZ's managing editor, Sally Eisele. Wal-Mart's media relations director, Greg Rossiter, and corporate affairs manager, Phillip Keene, insisted I miscast Agwunobi's point. They said he was talking about affordability, not extending coverage to illegal aliens. Keene asked us to remove the story from our Web site. We did not remove it. Instead we reported about Wal-Mart disavowing Agwunobi's comments. Agwunobi's audience, some 250 people, burst into applause not because of the word "affordable," a point Agwunobi had made numerous times that afternoon. They were applauding the part about "everyone." And that's just what Agwunobi intended. He even repeated it: "Everyone." But don't take my word for it. Listen to this unedited version of the discussion. The first voice is a panelist responding to the previous question (for a bit of context). The second voice belongs to the moderator, Univision's Teresa Rodrƒ­guez. The third voice is Agwunobi's. After him, other panelists echo the Wal-Mart call for coverage to include undocumented immigrants. cityroom_20090729_cmitchell_203915_Exte.mp3