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Was The Now Former Mercury Public Affairs Associate ‘Thrown Under the Bus’?

Once it was revealed that an associate at Mercury Public Affairs, a firm that reps Walmart, had posed as a USC student to attend a closed press conference hosted by Warehouse Workers United, she was swiftly sacked.

Commenters on our story expressed skepticism over the firm’s claim that Harnett didn’t first consult with her managers before taking action.  Today, Gawker wonders whether “Harnett was being scapegoated.” And Gawker links to others on Twitter (we found a few more as well) who have expressed a fair amount of doubt that a junior staffer would take such a great risk on her own.

To recap,Walmart is trying to open a new store in Los Angeles’ Chinatown. Mercury is helping with that effort. A WWU rep told Gawker that Harnett went to the closed press conference, signed in to the media list under a false name, and conducted an interview with a warehouse worker. She then came back on a separate day and handed out business cards, saying she worked with the retailer.

According to a statement we received yesterday from Becky Warren, MD with the firm, the former staffer, Stephanie Harnett, acted on her own.

“The action taken by Ms. Harnett was in no way approved, authorized, or directed by Walmart or Mercury. Stephanie is a junior member of our team who made an immature decision,” the statement reads, in part.

We contacted Warren over at Mercury today to further address the suspicions. In an email, she told us, “Our statement is 100% accurate.  It was unacceptable and an action we would never, under any circumstances, authorize.”

We’ll close by simply saying that everyone — from the head of the PR agency, to the client, to the interns — has a responsibility to act with honesty and integrity.

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