Who wants to analyze the Disney vs. the LA Times Rorschach test?

November 3, 2017, 8:20 PM · I really didn't want to write this post, because the "insider" in Theme Park Insider ought to mean the inner workings of theme parks — not the publishing business. But this story about Disneyland and the Los Angeles Times has been blowing up all around me all day, so I figured I probably ought to come on here and say something.

Why does this matter? Ultimately, to the average theme park fan, it probably doesn't. Any story about big business and journalism media these days inevitably becomes a Rorschach test, onto which readers can project whatever thoughts and beliefs they already held about the people and institutions involved.

That said, the details, this time, are this: Disney didn't like what the LA Times wrote in a two-part series last September about its various deals with the City of Anaheim. So Disney barred the Times' movie reviewers from advance screenings of its films, including this week's Thor: Ragnarok.

If this sounds familiar, it's because Disney pulled the same thing on the Times last year — barring a Times reporter from the premiere of the Frozen musical at Disney California Adventure after he'd quoted an executive of a big Chinese firm who'd smack-talked Shanghai Disneyland.

So, here's my take, in three parts:

1) Disney has every right as a private (*okay, to be more precise, publicly-traded but not 'public as in government' owned) company to decide whom to talk with and which outlets to invite to media events and screenings. The Times can buy a ticket to review stuff if Disney doesn't let it have a free advance look. (Heck, I've done that plenty of times when Disney and other companies have either ignored me or frozen me out in the past.)

2) Disney had valid reasons to be upset with things in both instances of the Times' coverage. I've already explained why the Times' series on Disney and Anaheim was under-reported and lack vital context. The 2016 piece about Shanghai Disneyland gave significant play to anti-Disney comments from Wanda Group's Wang Jianlin, who talked big game but a year later tucked tail and ran, bailing out of the Chinese theme park business.

3) Points 1 and 2 don't matter, because what in the world was Disney thinking that the Times — and its readers — would do in response to these snubs?

Today's snub just gave the Times and every news organization that covered the attempted media blackout an excuse to link the September two-part series, exposing it to thousands, if not millions, of additional readers who would not have given those stories a thought had Disney done nothing to retaliate.

Keeping LA Times reviewers from seeing the latest Thor movie in advance won't do a thing to hurt readership at the Times, either. No one is buying the LA Times just for the movie reviews. In fact, the people who pay closest attention to the Times' Hollywood coverage are industry insiders who are collectively rolling their eyes at Disney today after what the company pulled. Disney is more likely to hurt its own movies' Oscar, SAG Award, and Golden Globe campaigns by trying to bully the LA Times' movie staff than it is to hurt the Times itself.

People who make decisions by looking to the past always lose to those who look instead to the future to guide their choices. It's not about whether someone has done you right or wrong in the past. It's about doing whatever will play out the best for you in the future. That's stone cold effective leadership.

I can't believe that anyone at Disney gamed out this decision before making it. There's just no upside for Disney is banning LA Times reporters from movie screenings and theme park premieres. There was no reason to get upset about Wang Jianlin's smack talk. Time took care of him. And time would have taken care of the September series on its own, too. The only way that those stories were going to get any additional attention was if Disney did something like this to draw attention to them.


Anyway, yeah, I probably should mention that I write a weekly column about theme parks for the Orange County Register, which competes with the Times and which slammed the Times' September reports about Disneyland. But before that, I worked for the Times, where among other duties I worked as the website editor for the Times' movie and Hollywood coverage. And in between, I edited a journalism review for the University of Southern California, where I wrote frequently about conflicts such as this. (Just to illustrate how everything is tied together in this town, the current dean of USC's journalism school is Willow Bay — Disney CEO Bob Iger's wife. FWIW, I was long gone by the time she arrived.)

Like I said, it's all a Rorschach test. See in this whatever you'd like.

Replies (18)

November 3, 2017 at 8:33 PM · Disney should have taken the higher ground and either ignored the LA Times problem or pulled them in close by saying that they didn't have all of the information and offered Disney's position on the story.

Disney just looks small and petty acting this way...

November 3, 2017 at 8:56 PM · Both sides look ridiculous, really. If Disney did what you claim as retaliation for the article, they look bad. The Times crying about it also looks bad. Good to know the grown ups are making all the decisions here.
November 3, 2017 at 9:15 PM · Disney is showing how it’s done. Punish the press. It’s not like the press is really that moral. It runs its own news organizations with ABC and ESPN. That’s how Weinstein gotten away with it.
November 3, 2017 at 10:55 PM · Robert I thought your analysis of the LA Times article was excellent.

In full disclosure I have worked at both DLR and WDW, and in my opinion even though yes historically the companies have been able to play politics to get what they want, that's not always a bad thing. I think Disney is a huge reason that Florida does not have an income tax. In 2016 113 million tourists visited Florida and spent over $100 billion. Orange County (in both FL and CA) rake in huge amount revenues from Disney being in town. While yes much of it is spent on marketing you have to remember that helps create more jobs. It also has funded the Amway Center, Dr Phillips Center, and new Citrus Bowl, when many other cities have funded these kind of projects with straight up taxpayer dollars.

In my opinion based off decades of studying this closely, historically it is better when industries have an "in" with the government than unions. Look at Orlando compared to Detroit. If you are working a $10 job at WDW or DLR when you're 30 you have no one to blame but yourself.

November 4, 2017 at 1:49 AM · If "Escape from Tomorrow" went without comment from Disney (as awful of a movie as it was), why not a Times review?

You pick your fights, and this seemed like the wrong fight to pick.

November 4, 2017 at 6:10 AM · Very, very childish.
November 4, 2017 at 9:17 AM · Journalism, wrong or right, should never be called out for telling their view. Invite them and prove them wrong. Calling them out and blocking them give them more prove they are right.

It'strange to see that on the Official Universal Studios Orlando blog every negative comment is kept on there (look at the new Fast and Furious ride rection). But at the Disney Blog you actually have to fart glittering rainbows to not get blocked from posting a thoughtful critical reaction. Disney should invest in Russia, they'll love how journalism is handled there...

November 4, 2017 at 10:24 AM · Disney seems to have forgotten the most important rule of dealing with a bully/troll: ignore them. If you act like the hurtful things they're saying aren't affecting you in any negative way, they'll eventually just leave you alone. Otherwise they'll continue picking on you and the situation will only escalate from there. Disney used this method quite effectively when Escape From Tomorrow came out (as one previous commenter already mentioned) but now they seem to have completely forgotten about it.
November 4, 2017 at 10:36 AM · I would argue that Detroit's problems lie more with the U.S auto industry's long-standing practice of planned obsolescence coming back to bite it in the rear end than the strength of the industry's labor unions. A business can use its market power to gain political influence but if it fails to deliver for its customers, even that political power can't help it prosper. That's a lesson for Disney and any other business that exerts an outsized influence on its host community.
November 4, 2017 at 1:23 PM · I was surprised that Disney reacted that way to Wang's comments, it was obvious that he was just blowing off without really knowing what he was talking about. A pack of wolves will overtake a tiger, that's like saying that a pack of Six Flags will overtake Disney.

He had some technologically advanced rides, like ripoffs of Toy Story Mania and Soarin', a pack of wolves, yeah right.

November 4, 2017 at 3:57 PM · The only thing I can think of making sense here (cause I truly believe Disney's play here is silly) is that they want to bring attention to the Times piece in order to have their side of the story heard. Even if this is the case though, they've done a hatchet job of it and its backfired.
November 4, 2017 at 5:57 PM · Just more proof this Disney regime has jumped the shark. It's high time for these money grubbing rats to get the hell out.
November 5, 2017 at 7:56 PM · LOL. Long term, we'll see who survives, Disney or LA Times.
November 6, 2017 at 10:55 AM · It was pointless for Disney to do this. This would have blown over on it's own and it was pretty clear the Times article did not strike a balance.
November 6, 2017 at 10:00 PM · The stupidest thing about all of this is how a lengthy Times article - more than 50% of it is about Disney's influence on the Anaheim City Council - is being treated by Disney apologists like it was a million-word diatribe about that stupid garage. Just because Anaheim does benefit somewhat from deals it makes with Disney doesn't mean it's making the BEST deal for everyone involved, which is ACTUALLY what the article was about. The people of Anaheim clearly did not feel they were as important as Disney, which is why several Disney-financed politicians did not win seats. But, hey, screw the people of Anaheim! What right do they have to be angry about their City Council, right?

Yes, the parking structure WAS necessary for many reasons. The City making $1 off of it and eventually just handing it over to Disney WAS NOT necessary. Anyone that says otherwise is fooling themselves. Anaheim could've asked for a tiny percentage of revenue and TDA still would've had great big dollar signs in their eyes. Anaheim could have kept ownership of the land forever, or at least added a clause where the agreement would be revisited in 40 years. They could have created a quid pro quo agreement, something like "Disney can keep all revenue from the garage so long as they don't create some cheap, craptastic park that visitors will hate. If they do create such a park and can't bother to improve the park to the point where it actually meets ridiculous attendance projections, then Anaheim will receive such-and-such percentage of the parking fees until the new park meets those projections." They could've gotten ELEVEN YEARS worth of fees for that clause! Or Disney might've actually decided to spend some of the money they were receiving from Anaheim's generous Welfare System for Gigantic Companies and DCA could've stopped being so pathetic long before 2012 rolled around.

Anaheim muffed that one - not to mention MANY other Disney deals - and the people of Anaheim are paying for it. THAT'S what the article was actually about. And Disney's mad about it because they know it's TRUE.

November 7, 2017 at 11:12 AM ·,

Don't take this out of context as the response is not meant to elicit an emotion nor is it an attack. Could you be specific as to "the people of Anaheim are paying for it" how?

Public officials which were elected by "the public" entered into these agreements. Officials in every municipality make poor decisions however for some reason, Disney seems to foster a microcosm of resentment. Many companies continue to operate with significant benefits and yet do so without the eye of public scrutiny.

This is just an excerpt from the Orange County register Aug 13, 2017:

""Since the Great Recession, Anaheim has not imposed any new taxes or fees on residents to maintain services. In fact, we’re expanding police services, parks and community centers, thanks in large part to revenue from the Anaheim Resort.

By contrast, cities across Orange County have increased local sales taxes, while others have implemented fees on utility, cable and trash bills — just to maintain existing city services."" OCR KM

There is also this tax credit dated December 16th 2010 from Anaheim's own Mayor Tom Tait:

""City of Anaheim Receives Enterprise Zone Designation"
"In a move to increase business development and to assist in the creation of jobs, the City of Anaheim today was granted the highly desirable Enterprise Zone designation by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD)."

"Firms can earn $37,440 or more in state tax credits for each qualified employee hired.;
; Corporations can earn sales tax credits on purchases of $20 million per year of qualified; machinery and machinery parts.
; Up-front expensing of certain depreciable property.;
;Lenders to Zone businesses may receive a net interest deduction.;
;Unused tax credits can be applied to future tax years, stretching out the benefit of the initial investment.;
;Enterprise Zone companies can earn preference points on state contracts.;
;Up to 100% Net Operating Loss (NOL) carry-forward. NOL may be carried forward 15 years;" Source: "http://soaranaheim.com"

So you see, the point I am trying to make is that not all things were considered. I have even more Non-Disney examples of tax breaks that Anaheim businesses received however, I am trying to make a an argument here. Disney made a significant investment and in turn, those investments have staved off inflation of specific municipal services within Anaheim and will continue to.

You can't just say "Let's kick the casinos out of Vegas because we could'a got alot more out of the deal".

November 7, 2017 at 11:13 AM · BTW: Who's the "they" ["Disney apologists"]
November 10, 2017 at 5:27 AM · Casinos don't get tax credits from Las Vegas. Casinos pay their own way. Why can't Disney?

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