SEATTLE — America’s political polarization seems to have has finally gotten on Costco Wholesale’s nerves.
Its usually media-shy chief executive, Craig Jelinek, on Wednesday defended the company after critics accused it of pulling from its shelves a conservative book for not aligning with the well-known liberal views of Costco’s top brass. The book in question is “America: Imagine A World Without Her,” by Dinesh D’Souza.
The book, Jelinek explained, was selling poorly: After being introduced in 249 Costco locations in early June, it had only sold 3,753 copies as of the first few days of July. Jelinek added that the book is being brought back into the stores now that conservatives’ outcry has led to skyrocketing sales.
Controversy is not a new thing for the retailing giant. Last year, it drew some religious people’s fury for mistakenly including the Bible in the fiction section at one of its warehouses.
But the latest furor, which has exploded over social media and reached its apex Tuesday as talk show host Rush Limbaugh lambasted Costco’s leadership for its Democratic tendencies, evidently touched a fiber.
Jelinek issued a statement calling the brouhaha “completely unwarranted.”
“Costco is not a bookstore,” Jelinek said. “We can’t carry every title that our members are interested in reading.”
The statement said that although reports called Costco’s move to pull the book “politically motivated, perhaps due to the political views of certain members of senior management, nothing could be further from the truth.”
Costco’s founders and many executives and directors have openly backed Democrats. Also, the company’s relatively generous wages have made it a showcase of the Obama administration’s calls to reduce inequality, and a darling among liberals.
But at the same time, Dr. Ben Carson, a strong Obama adversary and, to many Republicans, a potential presidential candidate, sits on Costco’s board.
About 80 percent of the company’s warehouses carry Carson’s book, “One Nation,” according to chief financial officer Richard Galanti, and Carson held a signing at a Costco in Naples, Fla. That book has been on the New York Times’ best-seller list for combined print and e-book nonfiction for six weeks.
Limbaugh and other critics also saw a possible conspiracy in the fact that a documentary based on the book opened roughly at about the time of the pull-out. That, said Jelinek, is “unequivocally not true. The book was brought in to Costco to sell. It didn’t sell well. In retrospect, we probably should have waited for the movie to be released to see what sales impact it would have.”
But now that controversy has made the book famous, Costco wants it. On Wednesday it was no. 6 in Amazon’s Kindle Store.
“Given yesterday’s dramatic sales increase in the book ... perhaps due in part to the surrounding controversy ... we have chosen to bring back the book,” Jelinek said.