When Bob Iger replaced Bob Chapek as CEO of The Walt Disney Company last week, Fox Business Network host Charles Payne tweeted that “Disney went woke, shareholders got broke and now the CEO is out. Bob Iger is coming back to the Mouse House and maybe family fun will be the only priority.”
It was, to some media outlets, as if the negative reaction to Disney’s latest earnings report — which showed mounting losses in Disney’s streaming business and missed the mark on many fronts — had nothing to do with the change at the top. Instead, they reported, it seemed to have quite a bit to do with Chapek’s feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
While members of Disney’s board have made it clear that the earnings report released on Nov. 8 was he final straw for Chapek, and politics has not been mentioned as a reason for his firing, it is worth looking into whether the relationship between Disney and Florida’s Governor — who is widely considered a front-runner for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — will improve now that Disney CEO Bob Iger is back at the helm.
Chapek famously tried to not take a stand when a controversial bill supported by DeSantis was winding its way through the Florida Legislature. The bill — now a Florida State Statute — called the Parental Rights in Education Law prohibits teaching about gender and sexual orientation in kindergarten through 3rd grade. It was dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by its opponents, and companies including Target, Starbucks, Mattel, and Hyatt Hotels vocally opposed the bill’s passage.
But after outcry from employees and others, The Walt Disney Company and Chapek reversed course and issued a statement condemning the bill in March 2022. After DeSantis signed the bill into law, Disney strengthened its opposition, issuing a statement that concluded with: ““We are dedicated to standing up for the rights and safety of LGBTQ+ members of the Disney family, as well as the LGBTQ+ community in Florida and across the country.”
There was public outcry on both sides of this controversy — with many voices shouting that Disney was too “woke,” while others applauded the stand Disney took in opposing the bill.
And then, DeSantis kicked it up a notch. He pushed a bill through the Florida Legislature that will dissolve Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District next year. The district — which was established during the initial development of Disney World — has basically let Disney function as its own county government, giving it huge amounts of control over the imposition of taxes, the adoption of ordinances, handling pest control, contracting for professional services, and more.
Unless something changes, the change in Disney’s status when the Reedy Creek Improvement District is dissolved will lead to millions in expenses for the company, as its permitting and other functions fall back under the purview of Orange and Osceola counties.
So, with Bob Iger back in charge, will the relationship improve between the State of Florida and Disney? Right now, it’s hard to say. But there’s one important detail that those lauding his concern as a way for Disney to become more conservative are missing: Iger also opposed the Parental Rights in Education Act.
I'm with the President on this! If passed, this bill will put vulnerable, young LGBTQ people in jeopardy. https://t.co/fJZBzre4yM
— Robert Iger (@RobertIger) February 25, 2022
In fact, Iger tweeted about his opposition to the bill during the time when Chapek said the company was not going to take a position on it. In an interview aired in March 2022 on CNN, Iger was reminded that he weighed in on issues such climate change and immigration during his first go-round as Disney CEO.
“I had to contend with this a lot, and the filter that I used to determine whether we should or should not weigh in considered a few factors,” Iger said when asked about taking a stance on national issues. “What would its impact have on our employees, on our shareholders and our customers?
“And if any one of those three constituencies had a deep interest in or would be affected by whatever was the matter at hand, then it was something I thought we should consider weighing in on.”
So, while some people may have forgotten about Iger’s stand on the controversial Florida law, it’s safe to assume that DeSantis hasn’t forgotten it. Still, Iger is an experienced CEO, who led Disney through controversies such as this one for 15 years. He is known for diplomacy, and perhaps he will be able to guide the company back to a better relationship with Florida’s Governor and the majority of Florida Lawmakers who backed the Reedy Creek dissolution.
Variety reported last week that an unnamed “Tallahassee insider” said that Chapek’s ouster and Iger’s return “probably helps” Disney’s political position in Florida, but that still remains to be seen.
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Do you think Iger and DeSantis will clash or make nice? Let us know in the comments!