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Wal-Mart PR Exec in Ad Flap Resigns

Times Staff Writer

A community affairs representative for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has resigned, four weeks after the retail giant was forced to apologize for a newspaper ad that appeared to equate an Arizona zoning proposal with a Nazi book-burning.

Peter Kanelos, whose resignation is effective today, handled public relations in Arizona as well as Southern California. Kanelos was the prominent voice for Wal-Mart during last year’s failed bid to build a Supercenter in Inglewood.

Wal-Mart on Thursday declined to say why Kanelos was leaving, and would not confirm whether he or his San Diego office had approved the advertisement. Wal-Mart spokeswoman Daphne Moore, declining to give specifics, would say only that the retailer approved the ad without realizing the photo’s “historical context.”

Wal-Mart also said it was no longer working with HighGround Inc., the Phoenix company that created the ad.

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“They offered their resignation and we accepted it,” Moore said. HighGround could not be reached for comment.

Wal-Mart Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group in Washington, said the retailer “did the right thing” by accepting Kanelos’ resignation.

“We believe that Kanelos’ resignation signifies some degree of accountability on the company’s part,” spokeswoman Tracy Sefl said.

Kanelos, said in an e-mail that he submitted his resignation two weeks ago and was leaving “on mutually agreeable terms.” The controversy erupted after the publication of an ad in the Arizona Daily Sun on May 6 and 8 that urged readers to reject a city ordinance in Flagstaff designed to limit the development of such big-box stores as Supercenters. Wal-Mart already has one Supercenter in Flagstaff.

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The ad featured a picture that showed Nazi supporters throwing books onto a fire. The text under the photo read: “Should we let government tell us what we can read? Of course not.” The ad continued, “So why should we allow local government to limit where we can shop?”

The group that took out the ad, Protect Flagstaff’s Future, is financed by Wal-Mart.

“There was not an attempt to equate anything about Flagstaff to Nazi Germany,” Moore said Thursday.

The retailer, which has been struggling to buff its image, took out an ad apologizing to Flagstaff residents. It also apologized to the Anti-Defamation League, which had contacted the company after receiving many complaints about the advertisement.

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According to a story in the Daily Sun on May 14, Kanelos declined to comment on the ad, saying he had not seen it. But HighGround President Chuck Coughlin told the newspaper he believed Kanelos had seen it.

The Flagstaff proposal was defeated.

Times wire services were used in compiling this report.


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