Vice twists quotes to tell entirely false story

January 9, 2023

By Tim Worstall

Vice selectively quotes so much here that it entirely overturns, inverts, the meaning of the underlying story. The argument is about shoplifting and the effect it has on stores. Walgreens says that it was bad, is getting better. Vice takes this to mean it never mattered. To do this it misquotes to the extent of perpetrating a lie.

This is poor journalism.

The background is that this is a hugely political argument in progressive circles. In California Proposition 47 dropped shoplifting of less than $950 worth of goods to a misdemeanor. There has since been a reported increase in shoplifting. Of course, to a certain political type such a change in the law could not lead to such a change in behavior. We’ve also had stories about racism – black hair care products attached to security tags for example (of behind locked glass partitions). But black hair care products, given their greater complexity, tend to be more expensive – just the things that will have tags if shoplifting is rising.

So there’s a political imperative to try to show that concerns over shoplifting are overdone. At which point, Vice writes:

‘We Cried Too Much’: Walgreens CFO Says Retail Theft Maybe Isn’t the Crisis It Portrayed

No, that’s misleadingly selective quotation.

This, that follows, is flat-out wrong:

“In 2021, the San Francisco Chronicle revealed that Walgreens’s claims were unfounded, as the city’s Police Department had only a total of 23 shoplifting incidents since 2018.”

No. Its own source, the SF Chronicle, does not say that.

It says: “One of the stores set to close, on Ocean Avenue, had only seven reported shoplifting incidents this year and a total of 23 since 2018, the data showed.” That’s the number for one store and one store only, that 23. That same source tells of 319 reports in just five (yes, only five) Walgreens stores over those years. 319 is very different from 23, no? And again, that’s for just five Walgreens stores, not the entire report from the city police department.

Vice goes on:

“Kehoe said that shrinkage, which refers to the inventory losses that companies account for due to factors such as theft, product damage, and vendor fraud, is now down to 2.5 percent from 3.5 percent last year.

“The executive admitted that the private security companies that were hired to address retail thefts have been “largely ineffective” and said the company could dial back those measures. “We’ve put in incremental security in the stores in the first quarter. Actually, probably we put in too much. We might step back a little bit from that,” he said on the call.

“Kehoe’s admission comes after the company claimed that organized retail crime was greatly affecting its business, a line that helped stoke a nationwide moral panic over a supposed wave of shoplifting.”

We should note that 3.5% does greatly affect the business. Because (chart 3 here) 3.5% is about the net profit margin they expect to make in the good times. Losing all your profit to retail theft is a problem.

But far worse than that is that they’ve so selectively quoted as to invert the meaning of what was said. From the actual earnings call transcript, the CFO, James Kehoe:

“Yes. I think the shrink is built in the forecast. We’re probably — maybe we cried too much last year when we were hitting numbers that were 3.5% of sales. We’re down in the lower 2s, call it, the mid 2.5%, 2.6% kind of range now. And we’re stabilized. So — but we’ve spent a fair amount, and that could be one of the disconnects in SG&A. We’ve put in incremental security in the stores in the first quarter. Actually, probably we put in too much and we might step back a little bit from that. But what we’re seeing is we’re putting in more law enforcement as opposed to security companies. The security companies are proven to be largely ineffective. So we’re investing more SG&A to drive the lower shrink.”

That’s very, very, different. Vice gives us the impression that Kehoe was saying it was all a mistake. What Kehoe actually says is that it was a big problem but they’re largely solving it. And they’re solving it by having more police – entirely the opposite of the impression given.

Apologies for the extensive quotes there but that’s what’s necessary to show what Vice is doing. Being very, very selective and thereby misinforming, it’s actually disinformation. By chopping and changing the phrases they completely reverse the story.

Vice ranks at No. 98 in the list of U.S. news and media publishers. It gains 29 million visits a month from that position. The magazine also has a distribution of 900,000 copies and the TV channel reaches 60 million American households on cable. It’s an influential media outlet.

The problem here is that retail theft, shoplifting, is a political issue. Meaning that the politically minded will shape stories about retail theft according to their political views. Which is exactly what Vice does here. It misquotes so badly as to entirely invert the story it is telling. This is gross disinformation, lying basically. Walgreens has not said that retail theft was not a problem — entirely the opposite. It says it was, that it is largely solved and that it solved it by using more police. Exactly the opposite of the woke and progressive story then.


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