A closed-door, month-long row between Walt Disney Studios and The Los Angeles Times became public when the newspaper told readers why there was no “Thor: Ragnarock” review Nov. 3. “’Thor: Ragnarok,’ which opens wide today, will not be reviewed in today’s paper,” read a note from the editors in the Calendar section. “Walt Disney Co. studios declined to screen the movie for The Times’ critics, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with the city of Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.”
Disney’s entities also include networks ABC, A+E and ESPN. LA Times reporter Glenn Whipp told IndieWire, “Our TV writers have had their access stripped from the Disney TV sites for a while now,” saying it stemmed back to early October.
In late September, Times reporter Daniel Miller published a two-part series (here and here) on the financial subsidies and incentives Anaheim provides to Disney, its largest employer, taxpayer, and charitable contributor. For example, Anaheim leases a parking garage with more than 10,000 spaces to the company for just $1 per year. A third story, coauthored by Miller, Priya Krishnakumar, and Ben Poston, ran under the headline, “Disney spent heavily to sway an election in Anaheim — did it pay off?” The answer appeared to be no: Diagrams in the article illustrate that when the City Council grew from five to seven seats in the 2016 election, the pro-Disney majority was upended.
“We pursued this story because we feel that this is a public policy issue,” Miller told IndieWire. He spent months investigating, but said, “Disney declined to make executives available for interviews.” Miller tweeted today that Disney “never asked for a correction.”
Sources within the Times told IndieWire that Disney instead retaliated by instituting a company-wide ban against the newspaper. Reporters first noticed they weren’t receiving invitations to cover screenings and junkets. One Times employee called a Disney film publicist to inquire, and was told that the working relationship between The Times and Disney had been “put on pause.”
When the employee asked for further information, the publicist said only that the pause would go on indefinitely.
Disney’s action is a clear indication of how @RobertIger feels about journalism and a free press.
— Glenn Whipp (@GlennWhipp) November 3, 2017
The action apparently extends to Disney holdings like Lucasfilm and Marvel, the studio releasing “Thor: Ragnarok.” Variety reports that the film earned $14.5 million November 2, and is expected to collect $100 million-$118 million at the box office this weekend. Times film critic Justin Chang attended a public Thursday night screening and published his review online Friday afternoon (IndieWire gave it a B grade).
The following statement appeared on The Times website today, and will be printed as part of Sunday’s Holiday Movie Sneaks:
The annual Holiday Movie Sneaks section published by the Los Angeles Times typically includes features on movies from all major studios, reflecting the diversity of films Hollywood offers during the holidays, one of the busiest box-office periods of the year. 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. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.
Per Deadline, Disney was the most-profitable studio of 2016, netting $3 billion at the domestic box office.
The Empire Strikes Back, and I ain’t talking bout the Times there.
— Robert Brian L. West (@BigBWest) November 3, 2017
In responses to The Times allegations, Disney released a statement that criticized the newspaper’s Anaheim stories without denying that a ban had been instituted:
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. 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.
Deadline pointed out that were no studio ads for ‘Thor: Ragnarok’ in today’s print editions of the Los Angeles Times, but nor were there any in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. The Times can’t afford to lose advertising revenue — Poynter reported former publisher Davan Maharaj tempted senior staff members with buyouts in June; two months later, Maharaj and three editors were fired in what Variety dubbed a “masthead massacre [that] capped a month of newsroom turmoil.”
Twitter was overwhelmingly supportive of the Times, including U.S. Representative Norma Torres, who serves California’s 35th congressional district:
— Rep. Norma Torres (@NormaJTorres) November 3, 2017
— Danielle Solzman (@DanielleSATM) November 3, 2017
— fierman (@fierman) November 3, 2017
This makes me so mad. And especially because Disney is a media company. What a joke. https://t.co/M9EvAREOig
— Charles Ornstein (@charlesornstein) November 3, 2017
Save for the few who dismissed the media as entitled:
Didn’t realize you only review stuff when they give you special access and it’s free with perks.
— Eric M. Davis 🐾 (@EricMDavisFL) November 3, 2017
Some Twitter users even pointed out that since July, Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger’s wife, Willow Bay, is the dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.