Disney Stops LA Times Movie Preview Access, Citing Anaheim Reporting

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Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland in Anaheim.

Walt Disney Corp. officials, upset at a Los Angeles Times series about their business deals with the city of Anaheim and election spending for the city’s top decision-makers, have banned the newspaper from advance press screenings of its movies.

The move was announced Friday by the Times, which told readers it couldn’t review the new Disney film “Thor: Ragnarok” because Disney “declined to screen the movie for The Times’ critics.” In cutting off the access, the Times said, Disney cited “what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with the city of Anaheim.”

Additionally, Times reporter Glenn Whipp told the Washington Post that for three upcoming movies – the Thor film, Pixar’s “Coco,” and the next Star Wars film – “we’ve been told that we will not be able to review or have any access to the filmmakers or the people who made those movies.”

“Thor Ragnarok” brought in $427 million in box office revenue worldwide over the weekend.

The two-part Times series, published in late September, questioned if Disney was “paying its fair share” in Anaheim. Among the deals it highlighted was the Mickey & Friends parking structure, which the city built for $108 million. Disney pays the city $1 per year to lease the structure, while Disney likely makes tens of millions of dollars each year from the structure by charging at least $20 per day for each car, according to the paper.

Voice of OC was the first to report that during the last two Anaheim elections, in 2014 and 2016, Disney was by far the largest campaign spender in the city, through a complicated web of intermediary groups that make it difficult for voters to see where the money came from.

The Times series highlighted the over $1 million Disney spent in last year’s Anaheim City Council election, including ads attacking candidates who questioned the subsidy deals with Disney.

In response to news of the ban, Disney issued a statement Friday criticizing the Times’ series as biased and unfair.

“We regularly work with news organizations around the world that we don’t always agree with, but in this instance the L.A. Times showed a complete disregard for basic journalistic standards,” Disney officials wrote in their statement.

“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—so much so that the Orange County Register referred to the report as ‘a hit piece’ with a ‘seemingly predetermined narrative.’ We’ve had a long relationship with the L.A. Times, and we hope they will adhere to balanced reporting in the future.”

Disney didn’t explain what it considers inaccurate in the Times’ coverage. Disneyland’s communications director, Suzi Brown, didn’t return phone messages Friday seeking comment.

One of the reporters on the series said Disney’s objections to the Times didn’t challenge the accuracy of their reporting.

“Disney’s complaint was not one of accuracy,” staff writer Daniel Miller told the Washington Post.

“It did not ask for a single correction on this series,” he added. “I think it’s fair to say that Disney strenuously argued for how significant its positive impact on the city of Anaheim has been and we feel that that is reflected in the story.”

The Times’ chief spokeswoman, Hillary Manning, said the paper had nothing further to add beyond its Friday announcement of the ban.

VOC has publishing and advertising agreements with the LA Times and also rents office space from them.

Disney’s subsidy deals in Anaheim have raised questions over the years, and drawn scrutiny of the company’s large spending to elect City Council members, who are the ultimate decision-makers on the subsidy deals.

Disney spent about $1 million last year alone on Anaheim City Council races, with the money routed through 13 different groups, with names like Moving Orange County Forward and Orange County Freedom Fund, before being spent in the election.

Despite the spending, Disney lost the solid majority it long had on the City Council, by a margin of 72 votes.

A Washington Post column over the weekend said Disney’s blacklisting of the Times reflects poorly on Disney CEO Bob Iger, who also oversees major journalism outlets owned by Disney.

“Disney did not accuse the Times of anything illegal or unethical; it just didn’t like the newspaper’s math or its giving voice to city officials who contend that Anaheim has been too accommodating,” wrote columnist Callum Borchers.

“Acting as a watchdog, on guard for taxpayers, is a core function of news outlets such as the Times. Iger, of all people, ought to understand that. He doesn’t have to like being watched, but responding with vengeance is a bad look for someone in his position.”

Beyond Disneyland and its film studios, Disney owns the ABC broadcast network, including ABC News and KABC-TV in Los Angeles, whose ABC 7 Eyewitness News is the most-watched local TV news broadcast in the LA-Orange County region.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Suzi Brown, Disneyland’s communications director. Voice of OC regrets the error.

Nick Gerda covers county government and Santa Ana for Voice of OC. You can contact him at ngerda@voiceofoc.org.

  • jeffrey miller

    The LA Times is a liberal rag that I don’t even allow in my house. Way to go Disney!!

  • verifiedsane

    This should be fun to watch: The Times/Warner giant of FAKE NEWS -VS- the Disney mega-corp of FAKE family values for profit…add in a bunch of corrupt politicians, and you have yourself one heck of a made for TV movie… 🙂

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  • Ed Romero

    Where are we living in Communist Russia or the USA?

  • chubbers

    I never have seen those piece of crap cartoon movies from Disney, nor do I ever go to Disneyland because it is my lone protest on a financial bully.
    Thank you Disney for banning the critique of your junk because it speak volumes that you are merely a parasite on the backs of our children who cannot vote yet.

  • LFOldTimer

    This is a perfect example of how media is silenced in America. Disney is not the only company that pulls this crap. Other mega-corporate interests do it and so does government.

    Do you ever notice how all the local reporters only ask softball questions at the county or state press conferences? The ones who ask hardball questions are never invited back.

    A reporter who is blackballed from corporate events or government functions is useless to his employer. A public safety reporter who the cops refuse to work with is useless. So the reporters toe the line to access information and gain admission to special events.

    You really think we have ‘Freedom of the Press’ in America????

    HAH!

    The jokes on you!!!!

    • justanon

      HAH, what BS from the guy who’s ALWAYS crying “fake news” whenever the NEWS is bad for trump.

      What Disney is doing is what trump advocates … censorship of any bad press.

      But, in the up-is-down world of the trumpsters, delegitimizing and smearing the press is really supporting “freedom of the press”, unbelievable how DUMB these folks are.

      “Do you ever notice how all the local reporters only ask softball questions at the county or state government press conferences? The ones who ask hardball questions are never invited back.”

      Is that why trump ONLY goes on Fox ‘news’, lol?

      No wonder trump “loves the uneducated” they FALL for anything!

      “Draining the swamp” is just a happy slogan to fool the gullible rubes while trump and the republicans in Congress sell the country out beneath them.

      Just the latest from the swamp:

      “But the disclosure couldn’t have come at a better time. Incredibly, America is embarking on a tax rewrite that could benefit many of the same people and entities exposed in the Paradise Papers. Properly understood, what congressional Republicans and the White House are trying to do borders on obscene. They effectively plan to reward congenital tax evaders—not only with lower taxes, but with additional tools to keep their wealth out of reach.”

      https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/qv3wxb/the-paradise-papers-make-the-republican-tax-plan-look-insane

      • LFOldTimer

        Why do you keep following me around wherever I go like a lost puppy dog? Don’t you have the brains to comment on the blog topics w. your own opinion rather than piggybacking on whatever I say? Go buzz off.

        “What Disney is doing is what trump advocates … censorship of any bad press.”

        Now that is one funny comment considering that every time Trump farts out of tune it makes headlines!!! LoL.

        • justanon

          I can’t help it if we frequent some of the same sites, I must admit though that the sheer HYPOCRISY of your comments always draws my attention.

          The truth is if trump wasn’t always tweeting out crazy sh*t he wouldn’t get such bad press. He brings it on himself by being a reckless and incredibly incompetent, lying, ignoramus who on an almost daily basis proves he’s UNFIT for his office.

          • LFOldTimer

            If the swamp dwellers and their henchmen like Mueller and the media followed the other Presidents and their staffs as closely as they’ve followed Trump 75% of them would’ve been indicted.

            It’s obvious to even a simple moron that they’ve put Trump, his family and his staff under a magnifying glass to destroy his Presidency since he’s the anti-establishment POTUS who threatens to drain the swamp and put those who profit from corruption at risk.

            Obviously you’re a big fan of the Deep State and business as usual.

          • justanon

            Sorry, the Clinton’s WERE investigated more thoroughly than probably anyone in history, if the Republicans had been able to indict they would’ve.

            Please explain how trump, who’s cabinet is made up of billionaires, corporate CEO’s and Goldman Sachs execs is “anti-establishment”?

            If you believe that BS you’re dumber than a brick.

          • LFOldTimer

            HAH. The Clinton’s weren’t investigated. It was all whitewashed. If a member of the military committed the national security crimes with a home server like Hillary did he’d go to Leavenworth for 25 years.

            “An early draft of former FBI Director James Comey’s statement closing out the Hillary Clinton email case accused the former secretary of State of having been “grossly negligent” in handling classified information, newly reported memos to Congress show.”

            http://thehill.com/homenews/senate/358982-early-comey-memo-accused-clinton-of-gross-negligence-on-emails

            “Grossly Negligent” would have resulted in prison time. Comey was extorted and forced to change it. Gee, remember when Bill Clinton met with AG Loretta Lynch in an airplane in 115 degree heat to discuss golf and the grandkids ONLY 6 DAYS BEFORE COMEY CHANGED HIS STORY FROM “GROSSLY NEGLIGENT” to “EXTREMELY CARELESS”????

            Your denial is classic for a typical snowflake who supports the Deep State.

          • justanon

            The Clinton’s had a SPECIAL PROSECUTOR too, remember Ken Starr??? Went on for years.

            You trumpsters want to believe that Hillary is guilty, but why don’t the Republicans who have ALL the power pursue her??? Because they KNOW that it was all a bunch of ginned up BS for YOU RUBES.

            The corruption and REAL crimes are from trump, who for years has gotten away with sh*t, but now as POTUS can’t.

            Deal with it, your guy is CORRUPT, he was mostly stupid, but that’s how most crooks get caught.

            Good times for us Dems though … pass the popcorn!

          • LFOldTimer

            I linked a legitimate article from a solid source that Comey downgraded his assessment of Hillary’s national security violations from “GROSSLY NEGLIGENT” to “EXTREMELY CARELESS”, the difference being no prosecution or jail time, a mere 6 days after Bill the Lecher secretly met with AG Loretta Lynch on the Phoenix tarmac in 115 degree heat to talk about golf and the grandkids (ha ha) AND YOU OFFERED NO RESPONSE.

            That says it all. You have zero credibility.

            With that, I end this discussion. You’re a waste of time.

          • justanon

            You want to focus on your minor BS but, IGNORE the MOUNTAIN of evidence piling up against trump, YOU have ZERO credibility.

          • verifiedsane

            ANOTHER IGNORE

          • verifiedsane

            IGNORED AS USUAL

          • verifiedsane

            IGNORED AGAIN

          • verifiedsane

            IGNORED

      • verifiedsane

        IGNORED 🙂

    • jeffrey miller

      …”how media is silenced in America”; yeah, right!

  • kburgoyne

    This was certainly a bad PR move for Disney, and I think in the long run they’re going to realize that. Even CEOs sometimes make irrational decisions. Disney executives are going to, at some point, realize penalizing a paper’s movie reviewers is so detached from the core debate that everyone sees it as a lashing out.

    Disney definitely has significantly more sensitivity to their “image” than does just about any other company. So they’re going to end up reviewing this most likely irrational move in light of that.

    Perhaps Disney should write a very reasoned and well-presented op-ed for the Times to publish.
    The Times would certainly be obliged to publish it. Otherwise the shoe would shift to the Time’s foot.

    On the Times side, if things like this didn’t happen periodically then the press wouldn’t have the opportunity to demonstrate a willingness to stand in defense of the First Amendment. If the Times isn’t sometimes willing to endure things like this (and this particular “adversity” is pretty trivial) in defense of their reporting, then their reporting goes unchallenged and needn’t develop a backbone. It is healthy for the press to regularly get challenged. It maintains an ongoing incentive toward responsible journalism.

    Ultimately if our country didn’t have legalized bribery of politicians there would be little debate in regard to Disney. Get bribery out of politics and then nobody can easily claim any elected official is doing the will of a special interest like Disney, and it becomes hard to claim a special interest like Disney is corrupting an elected official. The debate of subsidies to Disney would then stop at questioning the (presumably) uncorrupted arguments presented by the elected officials without concerns over whether those officials are simply adhering to the terms of political bribery.

    • David Zenger

      “Disney definitely has significantly more sensitivity to their “image” than does just about any other company.”

      True, no doubt. So they ought to reconsider meddling in local politics.

  • LagunaTri

    Shouldn’t the Times be looking into the City’s poor negotiatiating skills? It’s not like Disney’s going anywhere. Why blame Disney? Who should have had the upper hand for that parking structure deal? The City was foolish in not taking a percentage of parking fee increases as well as any excess after the bond debt service was satisfied.

    • David Zenger

      The core issue here is whether Disney has been abiding by the 1996 deal, and whether anybody at the City has been making sure they were. The more recent giveaways were just political. Adherence to the 1996 agreement is technical and can be ascertained by an audit.

      The city employees and the former majority have given every indication that they were working for Disney instead of the public.

    • Robert

      You don’t get it. Who approves the contract in the end? The bought and paid for council.

    • Cynthia Ward

      Ah yes, the 1996 agreements. When asked if Disney was paying its “fair share” Disney should have been able to point to the 1996 agreements and say yes, we are meeting all of our obligations, per the contracts. But they didn’t say that, did they? There is some reason to believe Disney might NOT be in full compliance with the agreements, because the deal for Mickey and Friends was NOT just $1 a year, it also included 345,000 parking spaces (annually) on a surface lot (most recently Toy Story) and 75% of the revenue from those spaces to be used for the Convention Center in a shared parking agreement. That should generate about $3MM a year, yet staff told Council this spring that we have collected about $3MM in the ENTIRE 20 years of the agreement. I have also seen the audits, and seen the emails complaining that cars appear to have been turned away from the spaces we were owed before we met the max. There is a HUGE breakdown in the understanding of the agreements, which staff does not want to read because they are too lengthy and involved. That is not me being snitty, the person who was Audit Manager at the time said it. Seriously. Yes, that person has since been promoted. Of course.

      Beyond the indications that Disney might not be fully compliant, Disney also seems to feel entitled to benefits beyond what was agreed to in the 1996 DA and FA. They completely over-reached in the Eastern Esplanade project, redesigning the bridge from where it was entitled and instead moving to a mid-block location impacting nearby neighbors, (that is AFTER being denied the chance to put it on the property of another hotelier taken by eminent domain disguised as the ARC streetcar) and moving their security stations (and the highest likelihood of security incident) to just under the bedroom windows of the nearby hotels. Oh yeah, and shutting the patrons off from accessing Harbor Blvd from the bridge and vice versa, impacting the Harbor Blvd merchants who have all acted in good faith up to this point. First we heard staff tell the Planning Commission Disney could do this “by right” and there was nothing to really approve beyond a rubber stamp. Not true. Gee, it is amazing what happens when one READS the docs and conducts due diligence. Then when Disney got held to the same standard as anyone else operating outside the already generous boundaries of the Specific Plan they were granted for developing the area, they took their ball and went home across Harbor Blvd, with some snotty remarks on the way across the street. They clearly had the idea they were entitled to more, more, more.

      When cornered by the LA Times, Disney and their satellite minions gave bizarre reasons for their “fair” share by stating they are the biggest employer, largest taxpayer, etc. but those “facts” do not show evidence of Disney’s paying their fair share, they simply give the reasoning for why Disney thinks they are entitled to more than what was outlined in the prior agreements.

      So here is the breakdown in the relationship, and it is startlingly easy, and yet unlikely to be resolved because of pride and ego; We have unstated expectations by Disney and their sycophants that they are entitled to more than the agreements outline, because they are the biggest and the best and therefore somehow deserving. Big problem, because they are acting as if they ave been harmed by a City that says, “No, you have enough and you cannot grab more than we agreed to.”

      The other crisis is another unstated expectation; we expect reasonable due diligence to be conducted by our City staff, including primary record review of evidence of compliance with contracts beyond simply accepting the word of interested parties that say, “yeah we did that.” But while we in the cheap seats assume that is obvious, because it has not been made policy and because our elected leaders and a series of rent-to-own City Managers have let the incomplete due diligence become the accepted norm, staff has shifted their review to nothing beyond getting the numbers to where their elected overlords want them to be, and digging deeper need not be done. Until those at the top of the food chain demand that this appropriate review of documents becomes the new normal, we will keep seeing the public (like us) at the microphone saying, hey, your staff report says XX and I have this stack of docs that says YZ can someone please ask staff about this disparity? And while we think we are simply asking for clarity, those with an interest in the outcome hear “attack” and get all defensive, “this person is politically motivated and misinformed, staff tell everyone how misinformed they are” and we NEVER get to the bottom of the information that was mis-communicated. This breeds bad feelings between the public and elected leaders, the public and some staff, elected leaders against each other, and the business entities in the middle against all of the above.

      It seems obvious to us outside of the fishbowl of City Hall to simply create policies that say due diligence shall consist of XYZ, and that contracts will be reviewed periodically for compliance actually checking the facts, and nobody is getting more than they agreed to unless they put up more benefit to offset the new deal. How hard is that? And yet…it is many miles from reality.

      Not that I have given this any thought at all, really.

  • RyanCantor

    “Disney didn’t explain what it considers inaccurate in the Times’ coverage. Disneyland’s communications director, Suzy Brown, didn’t return phone messages Friday seeking comment.”

    Of course not. When has a crying 2-year-old ever explained the rationality for throwing a tantrum?

    This is embarrassing behavior from one of the world’s largest companies. Shareholders ought to be livid that the company is turning down free advertisement for its products over a snit fit.

  • David Zenger

    The solution is so simple.

    The City Council just has to hire a totally independent CPA to audit the 1996 deal with Disney to see who is getting what and whether the agreement is being adhered to by by anybody.

    All I’ve ever heard from the pro-Disney crowd is feel-good atmospherics about how wonderful everything is in the Magic Kingdom. Disney ought to welcome such an audit since it will undoubtedly vindicate all of its upstanding behavior.

    The move against the the Times is just childish and petulant. Not a good example for all those impressionable tykes whose parents save up all year for a trip to Anaheim.

    • RyanCantor

      Agreed.

      Audit that deal, then sue to collect. And sue hard.

    • This is what happens when a city moves from, “City with a Great Theme Park Attraction” to company town status. Between Irvine and Anaheim, it’s hard to decide which one is more highly controlled by their corporate masters.

    • Rose Tingle

      We teach our children to say NO to drugs, how about politicians learning to say NO to campaign “donations”?