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 of 1976.

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.