Disney’s Grown Up: Disney vs LA Times

It’s no secret that I love Disney. I watch their movies and TV shows all the time, go to the Disneyland Resort at least once a year, and, 9 times out of 10, I’m proud to admit that I’m obsessed with the franchise. Today is the rare 1 out of 10 when I’m less-than-proud of the Mouse and Uncle Walt. The cause? Disney’s approach to its dispute with LA Times.

According to an article from CNNMoney, the issue started when LA Times published a two-part investigative report by Daniel Miller about Disney’s business ties with Anaheim, home to the Disneyland Resort. In the report, Miller accuses Disney of a “carrot-and-stick” approach to secure “subsidies, incentives, rebates and protections from future taxes in Anaheim”. MSN states that Miller quotes and cites local politicians on the matter, including Anaheim’s mayor, Tom Tait.

Disney claims the report is biased and driven by a political agenda, referring to an opinion piece from the Orange County Register which calls the LA Times report “a hit piece” with a “seemingly predetermined narrative.”

CNN received a statement from Disney which states, “Despite our sharing numerous indisputable facts with the reporter, several editors, and the publisher over many months, the Times moved forward with a biased and inaccurate series, wholly driven by a political agenda.”

In response to this disregard for journalistic standards, Disney banned LA Times film critics from advanced screenings of their films. Needless to say, that did not go over well, with several reporters declaring a protest of Disney advanced screenings in solidarity with LA Times.

Fortunately, Disney announced earlier today that it has lifted the ban after discussions with LA Times leaders. However, we still have an important matter to discuss: did Disney do the wrong thing when it banned LA Times film critics from advanced screenings?

I still want to work there.

Image retrieved from Disneyland Resort website.

I first need to say that I am not discussing the actual LA Times report in detail. That is an entirely different can of worms in and of itself, one which I can’t thoroughly cover here. (Although I do question the journalistic methods used and the conclusions drawn.) Instead, I want to focus on Disney’s response as a social and business decision.

Personally, I think this was not Disney’s best decision of late. I spotted so many holes in this approach that it’s no wonder this ship sank. Let’s take a look at a few:

  1. Violation of freedom of the press. This issue is clearly the one which the public has honed in on. Biased reporting or not, Disney tried to punish LA Times for publishing a report that the company didn’t like. That is a form of censorship. I’m guessing most people saw the backlash coming a mile away. In today’s political climate, the issues of freedom of speech and freedom of the press are incredibly touchy subjects. It’s a fire which big corporations like Disney shouldn’t start unless they want a drop in profits.
  2. Negative attention for Disney. Let’s face it, Disney comes out looking like the bad guy here. The “little guy,” i.e. Daniel Miller and LA Times, tried to expose what they claim is a truth which the public should know. Disney, in turn, cut them from the inner circle of advanced movie screenings. A Robin Hood and King John image comes to mind here where, instead of money, Robin Hood–a.k.a. Daniel Miller and LA Times–appears to steal the “truth” from Disney and give it to the “truth-starved” masses. (I must emphasize that I have no clue who’s telling the truth in this situation and I’m reserving judgment until I learn more, although what I’ve heard doesn’t make LA Times look any better than Disney. However, Disney’s reaction certainly paints this narrative.) Most attention given to Disney in this scenario is negative, not exactly something such a large company wants or needs. Some people are pointing out Disney’s tax and employment contributions to Anaheim as well as all the work Disney has done for the city, but the general attention has been overwhelmingly negative.
  3. Positive attention for LA Times. Not only does LA Times look like some sort of folk hero, they also get attention as a victim. They printed a story and they get punished for doing their job. A little hard not to empathize with them. Also, in order to understand the scandal, more people are going to be reading the original report. Not really the reaction Disney was hoping for.
  4. Loss of publicity for films. These advanced screenings are to get word-of-mouth kicked up for movie releases. The fewer newspapers which publish reviews about a movie, the more likely that movie is going to struggle due to lack of exposure. Even before the protests Disney wasn’t doing itself a favor. Sure, Thor: Ragnorak and Disney’s other films get plenty of exposure through TV ads and movie trailers, but a good review can make or break someone’s decision to see that movie. LA Times has a huge reach; when coupled with the growing number of journalists who chose to support the newspaper, it could’ve done some damage. And the film critics didn’t even have anything to do with that report!
  5. That guilty look. Most importantly, this reaction makes Disney look as though they have something to hide. If you have “indisputable facts,” why not present them through another paper or media outlet? I’m sure that, before this whole debacle, any news outlet would’ve given an arm and a leg to have the chance to publish Disney’s side of the story. It would’ve been like catnip to readers. Nothing like printing an opposing story to get a leg up on the competition. However, Disney chose to censor LA Times instead. I love the company and I want to hear their side in regards to their practices with Anaheim but that reaction doesn’t scream “innocent.”

Does all of this make me any less likely to watch Disney movies or visit the parks? No. Do I think Disney has provided a lot of jobs and services to Anaheim? Yes. Do I think that Disney has cheated Anaheim in its business practices? The jury is still out. Do I think that Disney reacted inappropriately? Yes. I am mostly on the same page as Jake Tapper:

I still have a high opinion of Disney and, therefore, hold them to a higher standard than most companies. I’m not saying that LA Times was right to publish this report. Frankly, the report sounds very biased and should have at least gone to the effort of including Disney’s side of the story. Regardless, Disney should know better than to react this way.

If nothing else, Disney should know how horribly such reactions backfire. It’s not a good business practice and, especially right now, not a good social practice. I think Disney had many other options that could have turned out much better for them. Instead, they chose the one that pretty much guaranteed that everyone will read the article they disagree with. I just hope that Disney finds a way to release their side soon so that we can all form a balanced, informed opinion on the matter.


Designed by Stephanie Hoogstad circa 2011

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