Almost Everyone in the Disney/LA Times Feud Was Wrong…But Result Was Mostly Right
A huge dustup broke out between media giant Disney and news media outlets which review films over Disney’s initial decision to ban The Los Angeles Times from previewing their movies. This was in retaliation for a piece the newspaper ran which was critical of the sweetheart arrangement Disney has with the city of Anaheim, where Disneyland is located. Now, after many major media outlets rallied to their defense and pledged solidarity, Disney has caved in order to end the controversy.
I find myself in the unique position of having a special loathing for nearly everyone involved in this story. My first documentary film was highly critical of Disney/ABC for censoring a mini-series about 9/11. As a former Los Angeles radio talk show host, I spent years attacking the very liberal LA Times. Now, as a father of two young girls and the husband of a huge Disney fan, I spend several thousand dollars a year paying what I perceive as a “tax” to the Gods of Disneyland.
Doing my best to set these biases aside, it is still really difficult for me to see anyone in this battle who was worthy of being rooting for. Frankly, just about everyone was wrong in nearly every way.
The original Times story was, in my opinion, indeed unfair because it was founded in the very liberal premise that capitalism and tax breaks somehow create a raw deal for society. Yes, Disney has an extraordinary deal with Anaheim, but there is no evidence that there is anything illegal or unethical about their agreements, to which they are clearly adhering.
More importantly, having stayed in multiple Anaheim hotels and eaten at multiple city restaurants while on our many trips to Disneyland, I can tell you that the residents there should be bowing in thanks to Disney every single morning while wearing mouse ears. Without Disneyland, Anaheim would simply not exist. Nearly the entire city is either directly or indirectly employed by the theme park and yes, when we stay in a local hotel, we pay an enormous tax to Anaheim.
However, Disney’s reaction to the Times piece was juvenile and dumb, especially for a company which owns a giant news media outlets of its own, ABC News. While certainly not “censorship,” as some critics of their overreaction have called it, what they did was certainly very hostile to the entire concept of journalism and extremely hypocritical. It was also colossally stupid to start a skirmish that they were apparently unwilling to finish off, especially one which I think they could have won.
Then there was the issue of other media outlets rushing to the defense of The Los Angeles Times in solidarity against this act of aggression. They were all pledging to not review Disney movies until they are public (which hinted that these media outlets were promising to engage in something closer to “censorship” than Disney had actually done), or until Disney lifted its ban on The Los Angeles Times.
While I applaud, in concept, the idea of many media outlets forming an alliance to combat an attack on one of them in order to protect an important principle, they were VERY lucky to have emerged victorious here. Had Disney decided to stick out the fight (they clearly decided that this battle just wasn’t worth the potential downside risk) I think the media boycott of early reviews of their movies would have failed.
There was certainly a time, not that long ago really, when a movie company would have been badly damaged by the majority of major reviewers refusing to preview their movies. However, it seems like those days are now gone, probably forever.
First, all it would have taken is for a couple of traffic-hungry media outlets to buck the boycott and Disney would have suffered very little, if any damage. After all, we now live in a Google-driven world. When customers search for a review of a movie, they really don’t care very much which outlet it is that they read. Also, while opening weekend is still very paramount, what the participating media outlets were effectively doing was promising to give Disney movies an artificial boost of publicity for the second weekend that they are in theaters.
The reality is that in this era of Internet-generated fragmentation, individual media members, especially movie reviewers, have lost almost all of their power. The only time when even the outlets themselves still have real influence is when they ban together, but in this case that was done on an extremely selective basis. For instance, would they have all instantly done the same if The Orlando Sentinel had a similar situation with Disney World? I have my doubts.
Ironically, this is one of those circumstances where everyone screwed up and yet, in the end the right result was somehow still reached. Almost like a classic Disney movie.
John Ziegler hosts a weekly podcast focusing on news media issues and is documentary filmmaker. You can follow him on Twitter at @ZigManFreud or email him at email@example.com.
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.