Time to Take Away Disney's Political Candy

Matt Stoller is a blogger at MyDD.

I looked through the FEC filings this morning, and found some interesting and expected information about Disney's chief, Robert Iger. Though he gives generously to both parties, Robert Iger isn't a wingnut. He's a neoliberal businessman who believes that pro-business moderates from both parties should run the country. I imagine he's probably pro-choice, and he thinks of himself as sympathetic to the Democratic Party, though not what he perceives as the crazy part of the party. This is true of most of the big media moguls, like Sumner Redstone of Viacom. They are Democrats, but they want political favors from Republicans. Of course, these guys need to realize that Iger's going to ruin their nice big media business if he doesn't step up, and step up soon.

I imagine that Iger's in a tough spot. He doesn't hate Clinton, in fact he probably likes him. Iger's probably superangry that Bill Clinton is speaking out against this movie, as Iger thought this movie was mostly accurate. I mean he's the President of Disney, he's busy, he didn't read the 9/11 Commission report (who did?), and both Clinton and Bush made mistakes, right? That's what the movie says, so he was told (if he was told anything at all). Iger probably wasn't paying attention to ABC entertainment, thinking that they had this under control, especially the sensitive details. His subordinates promised a really cool new marketing campaign using the internet and bloggers instead of the traditional expensive Hollywood marketing junkets. This movie was edgy, hip, but serious, a real examination of a somber moment in American history. Right, Mr. Iger?

Given what I know about how big corporations think, I bet the political slant to the movie wasn't strictly intentional on Disney's part. I bet that Disney's ABC division used a set of PR firms and flacks that decided that 9/11 belonged to conservatives, and so hired conservative movement players to produce, market, and distribute this film. They got Tom Kean, so there was adult supervision. What a perfect event setup, to make ABC the place for the country to turn on 9/11. In this fragmented universe, wouldn't it be great to have a time when the country came together, on one place, to really understand this event through the medium of television. And how wonderful if this were on ABC. It would be AN EVENT.

Ha ha ha.

Of course, Mr. Iger was pitched a total fraud by his subordinates, who probably had it pitched to them in turn, with pitches upon pitches until you get to a nest of right-wing marketing people who think of themselves as internet savants, but are actually just kind of stupid and tied in to the dregs of the right-wing blogs. And now Iger probably feels tricked by his subordinates, who have allowed Disney to aid and abet a right-wing propaganda campaign. The higher-ups just didn't notice what was happening because their corporate controls are awful - ABC Entertainment made this piece of shit instead of ABC News.

The fallout from this is bad, but it's going to get worse. Disney has a full-on PR and political disaster on their hands, and they've handled it horribly. With real but oblique threats to their very broadcast licensing schema, ABC has clammed up and gone into full 'counterproductive big company clusterfuck mode', obviously lying to the public about the film still not being completed, and insulting its critics to boot.

That's not smart. Remember, the people doing the lying to the public on Disney/ABC's behalf are the same people who thought that this film would be AN EVENT, or at least ok'd it.

There is a window of time now for Mr. Iger to step up, an 'apologize for Tylenol tampering' moment. He needs to cancel this miniseries, and take personal responsibility for inadequate oversight. He should privately fire the people responsible for this total disaster of a project, and apologize. That's the only way to restore Disney's brand among a large group of very angry people. Be brave, be public, and be honorable. It'll work.

And what will happen if he doesn't? Well, it's not just boycotts. Those are probably going to happen, but that's not what Iger has to worry about, or his corporate brethren. You see, Disney has a number of political objectives, as is obvious from the donor patterns of their corporate executives and their lobbying behavior.

One of them is the egregiously awful broadcast flag. Disney is leading the effort to give Hollywood control over how your TV and TiVo are built and what you can do with programs you watch. This is in the Stevens bill before the Senate. Democrats didn't really have any reason to deny Disney its political candy, since Disney was thought to be responsible with its content, or at least not overtly insane. Their credibility on this front is going quickly, and donations to Chuck Schumer aren't the palliative they once were.

Another is copyright extensions, which Disney has used to keep its perpetual license on characters like Mickey Mouse, who should by now have fallen into the public domain. Democrats didn't really have any reason to think that this was anything but a dispute over intellectual property, with corporations like Disney having motives that are only as pure as Snow White, versus pirates bent on stealing songs and movies by hardworking artists. Now that Disney's credibility is going, lobbyists for Disney are going to find it tougher on Capitol Hill, and lobbyists for the Creative Commons movement are going to find a much easier reception. Iger knows there's a movement bent on routing around his unreasonable and political control of free speech through copyright extremism. He's got a choice on whether he gives that movement a whole lot of real political power.

And thing Disney wants is media consolidation. Disney wants to buy everything, since media is seen as a scale business. It's pretty obvious to Democrats if this movie airs that Disney is not a responsible public steward of the airwaves it controls right now. Why should they be allowed to engulf even more assets? Like Creative Commons, the free media movement is growing rapidly, and it is a real movement that could receive a dollop of political power thanks to Disney's exceptionally and impressively poor judgment.

Mr. Iger has a choice about what to do here. I don't imagine he'll make the right choice, but he might.