23. What The Public Didn't Know About FTC v. Sears
Sears, Roebuck and Company was accused of bait-and-switch selling tactics
by the Chicago regional office of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
during the summer of 1974. Sears was accused of systematically engaging
in bait-and-switch selling tactics -- advertising low priced products,
then making them unattractive or unavailable and pushing higher priced
items on the baited customer. Sears emphatically denied the allegations.
Douglas Collins documented the lack of mass media coverage given to
the charges against Sears. Only one of 38 major newspapers gave the
story front page coverage. Only one of the three TV networks even mentioned
the story on its evening news. Then, nearly two years later, in February,
1976, the trial began before an FTC administrative law judge in Chicago.
After 11 days of hearings, Sears abandoned its emphatic denial and sought
to negotiate a consent order. This time, Michael Hirsh, told the story
of how "The Sins of Sears Are Not News in Chicago" in the
Columbia Journalism Review. One might think the story of how the world's
largest retailer used illegal bait-and-switch tactics to deceive its
customers would be a major story for the mass media. After all, 30 percent
of all households in the United States have an account at Sears. However,
Sears is also the nation's third most lavish advertiser. The lack of
public knowledge about Sears' illegal selling tactics qualifies this
story for nomination as one of the "best censored" stories
SOURCES: "How They Covered the Story" by Douglas Collins,
Media and Consumer, September 1974, p 9.
"The Sins of Sears Are Not News in Chicago" by Michael Hirsh,
Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 1976, p 29.