Manufactured Malfeasance

Let me set the stage:

Apparently, Eric Trump tweeted that it is inappropriate for ABC News White House Correspondent (and my fellow South Dakotan) Jonathan Karl to criticize Donald Trump’s use of the name “Pocahontas” as a derogatory term because ABC’s parent company, Disney, once made a movie about the historical Pocahontas.

Sonny-boy, leave the Disney-bashing to the experts:

“The [ABC] news division as a whole was reliably profitable [in the ’90s when Disney bought the ABC network].  But it [the news division] often balked at the idea of promoting other Disney ventures, persisted in making unflattering references to Disney (an investigative piece on sweatshops that mentioned Disney products especially infuriated Eisner), and, in general, was sanctimonious, in Eisner’s view.  Its ability to appeal directly to the public by invoking its mission of public service journalism–a higher, nobler purpose than making money–also meant that it was difficult, if not impossible, for Eisner to control the New York-based news division from Burbank.” (James B. Stewart, DisneyWar, page 410)

After acquiring the ABC network in the mid 1990s, Michael Eisner and Bob Iger tried to make a deal with David Letterman to bring his late-night talk show to ABC, planning to give him the timeslot otherwise occupied by Ted Koppel and Nightline.  When that deal fell through, “Iger [negotiated] a more radical approach to the news division: spinning it off into a new company that would merge ABC news with CNN […] ridding Eisner of an increasingly unwanted stepchild from the ABC acquisition.” (page 412)

A couple of points I want to make about this:

First of all, though the ABC news division seems to have largely overcome their scruples on the matter in recent years, it is not the job of a news organization to promote its parent company’s other ventures, nor is it the job of journalists to make their employers look good or, conversely, to prevent their employers from looking bad.  

Second, Stewart’s inference that Eisner wanted to exert control over a division protected by the First Amendment is pretty disturbing, especially in light of the current hostile political environment toward journalists and journalism.  In other words, I would argue that the seeds that Eisner sowed twenty-some years ago are just now coming to fruition in ways that even he might not have anticipated.

Third, notice how Eisner’s response to the news division doing a piece about Disney products being made in sweatshops was to become “infuriated” and plot to get rid of the news division, instead of the decent response, which would have been to stop manufacturing Disney products in sweatshops.  I think the technical term for that is “shooting the messenger.”

Fourth, these two related anecdotes establish a pattern of behavior when it comes to the way that Michael Eisner, and his successor Bob Iger, choose to deal with those individuals or entities with an inconvenient amount of integrity that makes them resistant to being controlled: either they try to replace them, as they did to Ted Koppel in the first anecdote, or they try to sell them, as in the second anecdote.

Now, I don’t know how involved Bob Iger himself was in Steve’s unwarranted dismissal–whether it was a little, a lot, or not at all–but there are parallels that can reasonably be drawn between Eisner and Iger trying to replace Ted Koppel and Disney/Muppet Studios replacing Steve.

It’s frustrating to me when people try to manufacture controversy or malfeasance with regard to Disney when their actual misdeeds are putrefying just below the surface.  You don’t even have to dig deep to find them. 

It’s not that hard, Eric.  Next time, try cracking open a book first.




2 thoughts on “Manufactured Malfeasance

    • I don’t get the “Stranger Things” reference, but otherwise, I know what you mean. It’s been upside down for at least a year–although, as I argued above, I think the seeds of discord and discontent had been sown a lot earlier than that.

      The good news is, the world can be turned back around. The bad news is, sometimes it takes a revolution to do that. The other good news is that revolutions don’t always have to be violent (I know that ours was, but they don’t have to be).


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