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In Defense of Mike Rowe: Stop Saying He Represents Wal-Mart

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By now, many people have seen this Wal-Mart commercial narrated by “Dirty Jobs” host Mike Rowe. The backlash on Rowe has been huge on social media and he has since been making the media rounds to defend the ad — not Wal-Mart, but the ad.

If television viewers tuned in to CNN on Thursday, February 20, besides not getting much in terms of actual news, they may have noticed a Piers Morgan promo which aired almost every commercial break about the interview Morgan will have with Rowe. The promo’s narrator says Morgan will ask Rowe how he can still stand up for the little guy when he represents one of America’s largest corporations.

First, Mike Rowe does not represent Wal-Mart. He does not work for the company’s PR department, or legal department, or any department for that matter. It is intentionally misleading to say Rowe represents Wal-Mart when all he did was narrate a 60-second television spot. We would not say Stephen Colbert represents Wonderful Pistachios or Laurence Fishburne represents Kia or any celebrity who does a commercial represents the product being advertised. If a Kia-manufactured car got recalled, no one at CNN would call Fisburne for comment (I say that, but I could be wrong), so why ask Rowe to defend Wal-Mart?

Second, the commercial is about an effort to build the manufacturing labor force in the United States. These blue-collar jobs would be filled by what many would refer to as the “little guy.” Not only that, but Wal-Mart offers millions of job opportunities which require minimal skills and no college degree, thus helping out the little guy in a slow-to-recover economy. While many disagree with some of the company’s policies, Rowe is not the company’s spokesperson and he is not paid to represent it.

“Wal-Mart’s initiative on American manufacturing and my foundation’s focus share a lot of real estate,” Rowe said on CNN’s New Day. “In 2008, I started a foundation that basically said, ‘Work is a beautiful thing.’ Now, there’s a campaign by the largest retailer on the planet saying, ‘work is a beautiful thing.'”

The foundation Rowe is talking about, the MikeRoweWORKS Foundation, launched on Labor Day 2008 and is “concerned with promoting hard work and supporting the skilled trades in a variety of areas.” The foundation encourages young people to pursue an education at a trade school or apprenticeship program to learn a specific skill set, especially if these students are not going to pursue higher education at a 4-year university or college.

There is a simple, yet sometimes hard truth to swallow: not every kid is going to go to college or will not stay in college because it just doesn’t suit them or they do not have the financial means to pursue a 4-year degree. The U.S. has pushed programs like No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top without thinking that these programs, especially No Child Left Behind, may preclude some students from getting ahead because they are not encouraged to take the route that is right for them.

Rowe understands this and he understands that affording college does not only mean paying for tuition and classes while a student is in college, but also the enormous debt they will have to pay once they get out of college. Right now, while the labor market is not very friendly to many people, it is especially not a place for recent graduates.

There are millions of jobs out there that do not require a college degree, but they do require a specific type of skill so there is a need for vocational schools and training programs to get Americans back to work. One of the biggest problems, as Mike Rowe noted in his interview with New Day, is the cultural mindset is that if a person does not pursue and obtain a 4-year degree, that person will be a failure and that simply is not true.

Creating jobs in America, especially manufacturing jobs that help the “little guy,” is not a partisan issue. It is something most people want. So, why is the focus being put on Mike Rowe and not his message? His interviews have been some of the best I have seen on CNN because he speaks so well on the need to close the skills gap in the United States, and yet the media continues to focus on the social media backlash on Rowe for doing the Wal-Mart spot.

Photo Credit: Mike Rowe / Facebook

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