Bob Iger got a G-rated Q+A
I have to say I feel a bit guilty about the way I behaved at the Bob Iger Q & A. My behavior was inappropriate and in no way becoming of a Park student. In case you don’t remember, I was the one sitting towards the back drinking a cup of coffee with nothing to say. I want to apologize for failing to critically engage a representative of a corporation that stands for everything I’ve been taught to challenge within the media. We missed a unique opportunity for some very constructive intellectual conflict, and I fear it will be years of complaining about “big media” with people who already agree with us before us anti-establishment Park students get another opportunity like the Iger Q & A to actually engage in a debate with such a powerful industry leader.
The Bob Iger Q & A has to be the first time I’ve heard the Disney corporation discussed in a positive light inside the Park building. In my Mass Media course freshman year, Disney was held up as the prime example of cultural imperialism. The only Disney character I’ve ever seen on screen in the Park auditorium was featured in an animation released by fair use advocates, Negativland. The piece featured illegal clips of the Little Mermaid over a frightening phone call from a raging Disney lawyer. In recent weeks, I’ve discussed media bias at Disney in reference to a made-for-TV movie about 9/11 released by ABC that has widely been criticized as inaccurately putting the blame for 9/11 on the Clinton Administration. All of this was lost on us somehow when Mr. Iger walked in to the Park Auditorium.
I’ve heard some students argue that would Mr. Iger can’t be held responsible for Disney’s past behavior, because he’s only been CEO for a year, however, Mr. Iger has been part of Disney’s senior management team since 1996. From 2000 up to his appointment as CEO in 2005, Iger was the No. 2 man at Disney, serving as President and Chief Operating Officer. It would be a major blow to corporate responsibility to give senior management a free ride and assume that only CEO’s are responsible for their corporation’s behavior.
It’s also important for us to question whether Iger plans to behave differently than his predecessor now that he is CEO. Former directors Stanley Gold and Roy E. Disney who led the shareholder campaign that got Iger’s predecessor Michael Eisner removed have criticized Eisner’s intimate role in Iger’s selction. Iger was handpicked by Eisner to be his sucessor, and Gold and Disney filed a lawsuit intended to prevent Iger from taking his place. Gold and Disney questioned the legitimacy of his selection and claimed that only one external candidate was interviewed and that Eisner was allowed to be present at the interview. Obviously their campaign was unsuccesful, but it raises serious concerns that Iger mightwill prove to be no different than Eisner.
I am glad that Mr. Iger was invited to speak, and I think we should all be grateful for his generous donation. Any solutions to problems within the media industry will have to be found through negotiation between conflicting interests, and this was a perfect opportunity to move forward in that process. In my opinion, we failed to seize that opportunity; I heard one critical question throughout the entire Q & A, and it was not even media-related. Those of us who are concerned about Disney’s stance on intellectual freedom and media concentration, deregulation, and bias needed to confront him respectfully and the impression I got from Iger’s visit was that we failed to make a substantial statement about how we feel. My fear is that by failing to critically engage Mr. Iger, we allowed his visit to send an unintended message to students: in the face of money and power, be polite and check your convictions at the door.