Proving that blog comments can be just as invaluable as they are insipid, Chicagoist scribe Kevin Robertson unearthed a potentially nefarious Wal-Mart plot in his hometown. After a certain commenter by the name of “Chatham” began regularly taking issue with Wal-Mart opponents on various Robertson posts about the brand’s attempt to enter the Chicago retail market, the author decided to take a closer look at who this character was.
Robertson traced the URL attached to Chatham’s comments back to a community group called “Our Community, Our Choice”, which seemed to sincerely support a Wal-Mart opening in the area. On the bottom of their site, the group states that it’s “proudly supported by the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce”, which Wal-Mart happens to be a member of. Robertson also traced the IP address on Chatham’s comments back to Serafin and Associates, a Chicago consulting firm that Wal-Mart retained to manage its Chicago PR.
After doing a little digging and getting nowhere with Wal-Mart flack, Robertson finally interviewed Chicagoland’s Government Relations Director Michael Mini. While admitting that Serafin was involved in strategy sessions and that “Our Community, Our Choice” was “part of our advocacy effort to gain support”, Mini was basically struggling for words when asked if he knew Serafin’s IP address was being used to comment on blogs. In fact, the guy couldn’t even give a straight answer as to whether or not he was actually from Chicago.
“While Wal-Mart certainly has the right make its case to Chicago, the way they’ve gone about this – creating a fake community group that purports to represent a community’s residents and interests – is sneaky and underhanded. If what they have to offer Chicago is such a great deal, why did they need to go through the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce to set up a bogus grassroots group?”
This is all technically speculation since Wal-Mart hasn’t come forth to cop to any such travshamockery, but should we be so shocked if it is 100% true?