Disney’s Iger takes shots at woke war, DeSantis and Musk

Bob Iger does not seek out fights. 

Walt Disney’s CEO has made clear that he’s not looking to make new enemies or do anything that would limit the company’s potential audience.

The two-time Mouse House boss, however, has never been shy about defending his company against attacks. That’s reflected in its longstanding battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who stripped Walt Disney (DIS) – Get Free Report of its special district that gave the company governance over the land Disney World sits on.

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In that fight, which now includes two lawsuits, Iger has said that DeSantis’s actions are political retaliation for former Disney CEO Bob Chapek speaking out against the right-wing governor’s so-called Don’t Say Gay legislation. The Disney CEO did not pick that fight — DeSantis clearly did in taking over the former Reedy Creek Improvement District — but Iger has strongly fought back.

The Disney boss took a similar tone toward Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla  (TSLA) – Get Free Report and owner of X (formerly Twitter), during his speech at The New York Times Dealbook Summit. Iger was not being confrontational, but he showed that he also wasn’t backing down and would defend Disney’s right to speak out on politics when it makes business sense.

Bob Iger is in his second stint as Disney CEO.

Image source: Shutterstock/TheStreet Illustration

Iger addresses woke charges

Iger sat down with the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin for a 40-minute discussion during the Dealbook Summit event. During the conversation with the Disney CEO Sorkin brought up the pushback the company received over so-called woke characters in its films and the company’s battles with DeSantis. 

“By the time you got back … there was morning outside of Disney World, where there were folks literally with flags, swastika flags, DeSantis flags, anti-gay flags, and guns as families are trying to walk into the park,” Sorkin said. “I’m curious to know how you as a company deal with that and what you feel you can say and can’t say given this remarkably polarizing climate we’re in right now.”

Iger made very clear what Disney’s goals are for its movies and television shows.

“Let me start with content and your comment about woke characters,” Iger answered. “Our primary objective in creating content as a company, save for ABC News, which is to inform, is to entertain.”

The CEO did say he thought some of the company’s creators had lost sight of entertainment as their primary goal.

“Entertain and, if you can infuse it with positive messages that have a good impact on the world, fantastic, but that should not be the objective,” he added.

Iger cited “Black Panther” and “Coco” as two films that maintained a perfect balance of entertainment and fostering acceptance. 

Iger will speak up on right and wrong

“When it comes to taking positions on issues, I have tried over the years — and I’m not calling them politics, sometimes it is what is right and what is wrong. When it comes time to taking positions I have tried really hard to apply a standard that asks ‘is this relevant to the company, to our people, to our shareholders?'”

He provided an example of where he would speak up.

“So, if we take a position on the environment, we care about the health of our planet, it’s because we believe that if the planet is not healthy it will be bad for our business,” he told Sorkin. “People are not going to go to theme parks if they can’t breathe the air.”

Iger specifically addressed Disney’s fight with DeSantis, which occurred when former CEO Bob Chapek took a stand against the governor’s Don’t Say Gay bill.

“The company took that position. The governor got very, very angry at the company when it took that position and decided to punish the company,” he said. “…We felt it (the takeover of the Reedy Creek district) was a direct result of the company having exercised its right to free speech in taking the position against the Don’t Say Gay bill.”

“Punishing us for exercising our right to free speech was anti-American and antibusiness,” Iger added.

The Disney CEO also addressed his company’s decision to stop advertising on X, the former Twitter. 

“I have a lot of respect for Elon … and we know that Elon is larger than life in many respects and that his name is very much tied to the companies he has either founded or he owns,” Iger said. 

“By him taking the position that he took in quite a public manner, we just felt that the association with that position, and with Elon Musk, and X was not necessarily a positive one for us and we decided we would pull our advertising.”

Disney still uses X as a platform to communicate with its audience.

Musk published a Tweet on Nov. 15 that has been widely seen as anti-Semitic as he agreed with a common conspiracy theory against Jews.

The Tesla CEO apologized for agreeing with the tweet. But he also said that companies that don’t want to advertise on the platform shouldn’t. “If somebody’s going to try to blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money, go f*** yourself.”  

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