Disney, LA Times Media Relations War Escalates

A standoff between the Walt Disney Co. and the Los Angeles Times has escalated into something of a war between the entertainment giant and film critics from media outlets across the nation.

Disney recently barred a Los Angeles Times film critic from pre-screening its movies in retaliation for unfavorable coverage, and many critics and critics associations are showing solidarity by refusing to review or give awards to Disney movies. The feud calls into question Disney’s media relations strategy—rather than defuse an issue it had with one media outlet, it poured fuel on the fire and in the process, the story it disputes has been amplified.

The exchange also begs the question: Would Disney have been emboldened enough to do this to the Los Angeles Times 10 or 20 years ago, when print media outlets had a bigger influence on the public?

It started on Sept. 24, when the Los Angeles Times ran an investigative piece regarding the Walt Disney Co.'s relationship with the city of Anaheim, Calif., specifically looking at the tax breaks and incentives its local theme parks have received. A couple of days later, on Sept. 26, the Los Angeles times published a follow-up piece that characterizing the relationship between the city and the company as unfair to the city’s taxpayers.

This past Friday, in a holiday movie preview article, the Los Angeles Times explained why its guide lacked any Disney movies.

“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.”

When asked for comment by CNN reporter Frank Pallotta, Disney issued a statement saying that it regularly works with news outlets that it doesn't always agree with it, but characterized the Los Angeles Times' reporting as unfair, inaccurate and politically motivated. "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," the company wrote.



Since then, film critics from the Washington Post, the Boston Globe and the A.V. Club have shown solidarity with the Los Angeles Times in vowing not to review Disney films—including those from Disney-owned brands Lucasfilm, Marvel and Pixar—until the ban ended. Several film critics associations have also joined in, including the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics, all of which issued a joint announcement that they are barring Disney films from their awards programs until the blackout ends.

"It is admittedly extraordinary for a critics’ group, let alone four critics’ groups, to take any action that might penalize film artists for decisions beyond their control. But Disney brought forth this action when it chose to punish The Times’ journalists rather than express its disagreement with a business story via ongoing public discussion," the statement read.

The Television Critics Association separately issued a statement in condemnation of the blackout. A spokesperson from the Walt Disney Co. was unavailable for comment.


Update: A few hours after this story was published, Disney dropped its ban. “We’ve had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at The Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns, and as a result, we’ve agreed to restore access to advance screenings for their film critics,” the company said in a statement.


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