After just announcing his contract extension, Disney CEO Bob Iger sat down with CNBC this morning to discuss his decision and the future of the company.
He was prompted about the ongoing feud with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, including the Presidential candidate’s suggestion that Disney is “sexualizing” its content and becoming too “woke.”
Iger mentioned that the company was not concerned about complications in Florida for the long-term, and in general, was focused on Disney’s plans and mostly optimistic hopes beyond short-term complications.
Regarding ongoing legal battles with DeSantis, he once again defended the company’s first amendment right to free speech, while also admitting the situation may not have been handled as well as it could’ve been at the time. Iger was also adamant that The Walt Disney Company has no interest in participating in a “culture war” with anyone. Regarding “sexual” children’s content, he responded bluntly:
The notion that Disney is in any way sexualizing children is quite frankly preposterous.
A History of the Disney-DeSantis Feud
The Florida Governor and Walt Disney Company initially clashed over the corporation’s opposition to a much-debated and controversial Florida law regarding classroom instruction and discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, alongside various other recent state laws and proposals in a similar vein.
Bob Chapek was Chief Executive Officer at the time and initially remained silent and passive on the issue — until massive internal criticisms from Cast Members, the LGBTQ+ community, and controversy over Disney’s practice of making hefty political contributions to campaigns and individuals allegedly against their own stated human principles came into focus.
In an apparent act of retribution over Chapek’s expression of dissent, the Governor moved forward with various verbal and legal assaults on Disney, including the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and eventual transfer of power directly under his control. DeSantis argues he is attacking an incredibly vague perception of something he calls “woke politics,” allegedly invading the state — frequently stating his intention to put the people of Florida first through these actions and the newly-formed CFTOD board:
Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long. It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.
Every member of this governing body has been a handpicked ally of the Governor thus far, including a Christian nationalist and lawyer who donated $50,000 to the DeSantis gubernatorial campaign, among others. In May, an administrator for the district (Glen Gilzean) was also appointed, with a significantly increased $400,000 salary directly related to ongoing DeSantis-led legal fights regarding Disney and several other issues around the state. The legal expenditures made by the Governor are being funded by Florida taxpayers.
Critics worry the role and its new incumbent could be weaponized for further orchestrated attacks, fines, and intentionally disruptive impediments on Walt Disney World, and that Gilzean himself is essentially receiving compensation to be aligned with the Governor’s whims. Daniel Langley, special general council for the district, alternatively describes the Administrator as “another tool in the toolbox for enforcement.”
Currently, Gilzean is the Chair of Florida’s Commission on Ethics, a position Governor DeSantis appointed him to. The Commission “renders legally binding advisory opinions interpreting the ethics laws and implements the State’s financial disclosure laws.” Recently, it rejected a complaint from the MAGA Inc. Super PAC backing Donald Trump, which claimed DeSantis was violating campaign finance laws and running a “shadow” campaign for President (via AP News).
After heated exchanges and dramatic actions taken by the Governor alleged to be intentionally harmful punishments, The Walt Disney Company sued him and his newly handpicked board not long after Bob Iger’s return as CEO, citing a “targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” The plaintiff argues that this chronology of events “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
The Walt Disney Company is suing for “declaratory and injunctive relief.” Injunctive relief forces a party to act in a certain way or prevents them from doing various things. An “injunction” is sometimes known as a restraining order.
Disney regrets that it has come to this, but having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.
DeSantis insists he will double down on efforts to punish the resort through methods both in the Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. Notably, he promised to raise hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property, and suggested the idea of building a prison on space directly beside Disney land. Additionally, a bill was passed mandating state inspections of the resort’s monorails.
There’s a lot of little back-and-forths going on now with the state taking control, but rest assured, you know, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s more to come in that regard.
CEO Bob Iger Extends Contract
Bob Iger, who originally returned as CEO for two years only, has extended his contract to run through December 2026.
This is not the first time Iger has been reluctant to step away from the role. Iger’s CEO contract was extended multiple times until he officially announced he would retire in 2020. In early 2020, the board of directors named chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, Bob Chapek, as his replacement.
Due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Iger retained many CEO duties as he stayed on as chairman of the board. He officially retired on December 31, 2021. Chapek was rumored to be “Iger’s greatest regret” as a CEO successor, and their conflicts during Iger’s tenure as Chairman of the Board while Chapek took the reins were widely reported.
Not even a full year later, on November 20, 2022, the board of directors fired Bob Chapek and brought Iger back as CEO. He signed a contract to stay on as CEO for two years. He and the board say they are committed to finding a replacement CEO. The new CEO could come from within the company or could be someone like Tom Staggs or Kevin Mayer, who were previously passed over for the position and left Disney.
The contract extension indicates that a suitable replacement has not been found.