After running Daniel Miller's long, excellent features about the many ways in which Disney has manipulated the local politics of Anaheim (home of Disneyland) to extract huge subsidies from the cash-strapped city, the company retaliated by barring its film critic from future press screenings of its films, a move that the company confirmed, calling the coverage "unfair."
Miller's feature described how Disney's PAC in Anaheim made campaign contributions to local election candidates that "dwarfed the money raised by the candidates it opposed." Local government in Anaheim has made a number of seemingly inexplicable decisions that offered millions in direct subsidy to Disney: for example, the city spent $108.2m to build Disneyland's new parking garage (where visitors pay between $20 and $35/day to park), and charges the company $1/year to lease it. The garage was financed with bonds that will pay out $1.1B in interest, and when they are paid off, the company will own the garage.
Disney was also given a 45-year tax holiday from the city's entertainment tax, and a $267m tax-rebate in return for building a luxury hotel on the Disneyland property.
Disney is the city's largest employer, accounting for 19% of the local jobs. Disneyland generates between 20% and 25% of the $3.3B that the company's themepark division generates annually. Disney paid out $2.3B in dividends in 2016.
Anaheim's recent city council elections produced a majority of Disney-skeptical candidates on the council, which will certainly undermine the company's ability to extract cash from the city.
Disney CEO Bob Iger is said to have ordered the retaliatory measure against the LA Times, and is also thought to be considering a 2020 presidential bid, which augurs poorly for his approach to the free press.
More disheartening than Disney's withholding of advance movie screenings — which, on its own, is not the end of the world — is the thought that this kind of strong-arm tactic is indicative of how Iger would deal with the news media, were he to enter politics. Iger plans to step down from Disney in 2019 and has repeatedly declined (in the interviews he did grant) to rule out a White House bid in 2020.
A candidate with a television-radio degree from Ithaca, who has overseen major journalistic operations at the helm of Disney, might be expected to hold the fourth estate in considerably higher regard than, say, the current occupant of the Oval Office. But blacklisting a news outlet because of critical coverage is exactly what President Trump did when he was a candidate.
How one election changed Disneyland's relationship with its hometown
[Daniel Miller/LA Times]
Is Disney paying its share in Anaheim?
[Daniel Miller/LA Times]
Bob Iger's blacklisting of the Los Angeles Times is a bad look and a bad omen
[Callum Borchers/Washington Post]