29 Mar 2018 Disney’s Mickey Mouse Attempt To Silence Critics At Its Shareholder Meeting Backfires
Disney CEO Bob Iger’s preferred presidential candidate in 2016, Hillary Clinton, suffered a humiliating defeat to Donald Trump despite obvious support from the mainstream media.
Perhaps the most egregious example of media bias was when then-CNN analyst Donna Brazile effectively helped stage a debate during the primaries when she leaked questions to the Clinton campaign.
At its 2018 shareholder meeting, Walt Disney Co. (DIS) staff tried a similar tactic and were left similarly humiliated.
Disney’s “Black Panther” may go down as the top-grossing film of 2018, but the House of Mouse’s best performance was the show it put on for Iger at its annual meeting. And they did it live!
Instead of a business-as-usual shareholder meeting, the entertainment giant tried to stage a hero-worship session of their boss.
Standard protocol for shareholder meetings allows investors to address CEOs in an open question-and-answer session following formal business votes and corporate presentations. At Disney’s March 8 shareholder meeting, standard protocol exited stage left.
First, Disney would only let individuals sitting in a few designated rows ask questions. Then, in an obvious effort to ensure they would be complimentary, members of a Disney fan club were allowed early access to the auditorium. When the remaining shareholders entered, the fans occupied nearly all of the designated seats for questions.
One by one, fan club members were ushered to the microphone to praise Iger. Offering more comments than questions, these devotees wondered aloud how Iger found time in his day to create all the wonder he does, thanked him for helping them find love, and asked him about his workout routine and incredible stamina.
After a half-dozen or so psalms of Iger, one could be forgiven for thinking this was a panel discussion about the life of Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa.
As the director of the nation’s pre-eminent conservative investor activist organization, I have attended more than 100 shareholder meetings over the last five years. I have never witnessed such a brazen scheme to silence shareholders. It was such an audacious abuse of the system that Disney almost deserves credit for so openly offending its investors.
Unfortunately for the Disney executives who orchestrated the charade, I didn’t play along.
Once the ruse was clear, I joined other investors in lodging complaints with nearby Disney staff. Those complaints fell on deaf ears, but a curious thing happened.
The planted Disney fans started to realize they were being used by the very company they adore. Many apologized to the investors, making it clear they didn’t know they were part of any setup.
When Iger indicated the question-and-answer session was wrapping up – without taking a single real question – a fan club member graciously offered me his spot at the microphone.
At that point, Iger (the most powerful man in Hollywood, according to The Hollywood Reporter) reluctantly took my question.
I asked him if he agreed with his company’s on-air talent such as ESPN’s Jemele Hill, who labeled President Trump and his supporters white supremacists. I asked him if he agreed with ABC’s Joy Behar, who vociferously mocked Vice President Mike Pence by suggesting aspects of the Christian faith are akin to mental illness.
After Iger testily answered my serious question, he ended the meeting.
Iger said he took exception to what Behar said, and his answer revealed for the first time that she had called and privately apologized to the vice president. That revelation increased calls for her to publicly apologize for her offensive on-air comments. Five days later, she did just that.
Shareholders have a public forum to question CEOs only once a year – and that’s at the annual investor meeting. My exchange with Iger showed the power a simple question can have.
Behar’s apology to the tens of millions of Christians she offended would likely never have occurred if I hadn’t openly questioned Iger. That Disney tried to block genuine questions like mine shows tremendous corporate cowardice.
At the meeting, Disney investors showed their collective displeasure with Iger’s performance by voting against his compensation package — a rare rebuke, according to the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps anticipating that vote, Disney staffers may have tried to shield Iger from criticism. It doesn’t excuse their behavior.
It’s unclear whether Iger was in on the scam. But it occurred under his watch, and he needs to answer for it. Perhaps he should follow Behar’s reluctant lead and issue a public apology.