As Ron DeSantis has made attacks on The Walt Disney Co. a feature of his presidential campaign, CEO Bob Iger responded to one of the Florida governor’s accusations made on the campaign trail: That the company was in favor of the “sexualization of our children.”
“We are a pre-eminent entertainer in the world, and we are proud of our track record there. The notion that Disney is in any way sexualizing our children quite frankly is preposterous and inaccurate,” Iger told CNBC’s David Faber in an interview from Sun Valley, ID.
DeSantis has focused his attacks on Disney’s opposition to a parental rights bill — dubbed “don’t say gay” by detractors — that has led to a stand off and a federal court lawsuit. He’s also accused Disney of being a “woke corporation” and, per The New York Times, said that the company has “really embraced the idea of getting the sexualized content in the programming for the young kids.”
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While Iger told Faber that “the last thing that I want for the company is for the company to be drawn in to any culture wars,” DeSantis is likely to continue his attacks, which burnish his image as he runs to the right of Republican front runner Donald Trump. A DeSantis SuperPAC also has picked up on the attacks in TV ads.
In the CNBC interview, Faber pressed Iger on an incident that happened in June, when there was a Neo-Nazi demonstration outside of Walt Disney World.
“It was horrifying, quite frankly, and it’s concerning to me that anyone would encourage a level of intolerance or even hate that frankly could even become dangerous action. It could be turned into some dangerous act of some sort,” Iger said. “So it is concerning to me.”
Disney sued DeSantis in April, claiming that the governor’s move to strip the company of control over a special district that covers its Florida theme parks was an act of retaliation for its opposition to the “don’t say gay” bill. Also named as defendants in the lawsuit are the board members that DeSantis selected to oversee the special district, replacing those aligned with the company.
“We are concerned that he has decided to retaliate against the company for a position the company took on pending legislation in that state,” Iger said. “And frankly, the company was within its right, even though I’m not sure it was handled very well, it was within its right to speak out on an issue, a constitutionally protected right to free speech, and to retaliate against the company in a way that could be harmful to the business was not something we could sit back and tolerate.”
The five-member board of the special district filed its own counter-suit against Disney in state court.
Iger has attacked DeSantis’s moves as being “anti-business and anti-Florida,” and in May the company announced that it was canceling plans to move part of its workforce from California to the Sunshine State. As they has in years past, the company’s theme parks embraced Pride Month, despite escalating attacks from the right on the LGBTQ+ celebrations. Under then CEO Bob Chapek, Disney last year initially declined to more directly weigh in on the debate over the Florida “don’t say gay” bill, but reversed itself after employees revolted. Chapek then spoke out against the bill for targeting the LGBTQ+ community, while the company vowed to support organizations seeking to repeal the new law or challenge it in court. DeSantis then set his sights on the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the Disney-controlled government entity set up in the late 1960s as its Florida property was being developed.
Iger returned to the company in November, after Chapek was ousted. On Wednesday, the company announced that Iger’s contract would be extended through 2026.
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