They say that journalism is a calling. Noble as that may seem, part of the job is sitting through advance screenings of films like Thor: Ragnarok to inform readers whether it’s worth their time and money. That mission is particularly important for The Los Angeles Times, given LA’s position at the heart of the entertainment industry. But a multinational corporation is denying the newspaper a chance to complete it out of spite.
The Times alerted readers this morning that its annual holiday movie preview would be incomplete. It appears that Disney, a frequent beneficiary of free publicity in the form of film reviews and other coverage, couldn’t handle the sharper edge of the newspaper’s journalistic sword.
“This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim,” an editor’s note reads. It’s a basic restriction of access, one that’s doubly painful for the Times—and its readers, who are potential Thor viewers—given how many people head to the movies over the holidays.
Disney’s move comes several weeks after the paper published a multi-part investigation into its relationship with Anaheim, home of Disneyland. The proper response from all of us is to read and share the journalism that made Mickey Mouse frown.
A diverse array of entertainment properties and resorts around the world, Disney* is valued at $152 billion. It rakes in profits that would make Scrooge McDuck quack, returning $2.3 billion in dividends to shareholders in the last fiscal year alone. Like other corporations—take Amazon as it searches for a new headquarters, or sports teams building new stadiums—it also argues that it deserves tax breaks, rebates, and other public subsidies in return for its investment. You know: Job creation.
Anaheim has generally felt the need to play ball, according to the Times. Over the past two decades, Disney has muscled its way into deals with local political leaders valued at more than $1 billion by public policy experts interviewed by the Times.
From the paper’s first story,“Is Disney paying its share in Anaheim?”:
Disney has negotiated these pacts with a carrot-and-stick approach — one that has often included the company’s threat of directing its investment dollars elsewhere. The agreements have spurred development of billion-dollar projects, including the California Adventure theme park and the forthcoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area at Disneyland.
The Burbank company masterfully works the political system, sometimes deploying aggressive strategies that belie its carefully cultivated image. Support for various deals benefiting Disney has come from Anaheim City Council members who have received generous campaign contributions through a byzantine network of political action committees funded by the company.
The economic value of this transactional relationship is debatable, as Anaheim itself has languished amid rising poverty and crime. The Times’ follow-up details how local political opposition to Disney is building. The company that markets itself as the root of all childhood happiness is looking increasingly ugly to those with a first-row seat.
The apparent decision to curtail the Times’ access in response is yet another foreboding sign amid a rising tide of anti-press invective. Keep in mind that Disney owns ABC News, an organization whose work depends on corporations and public figures granting it similar access. Also remember that a company run by Bob Iger—a man said to harbor political ambitions who quit President Trump’s business advisory council in protest—is employing Trumpian PR tactics.
Somewhere, Jiminy Cricket is shaking his head.
I’ve reached out to a Disney spokesperson for a fuller explanation of why the Times investigation was unfair, and I’ll update this story with any response.
*Disney formerly owned a stake in the Fusion Media Group as part of a joint venture with Univision.