News Articles

7/23/97 Disney ‘stonewalling’ brings women’s group into boycott

WASHINGTON (BP)–The Disney Company fumbled a supposed attempt to reach out to Southern Baptists and others, in the process pulling a 500,000-member women’s organization into the boycott of the entertainment giant and causing other groups to consider such action.
John Cooke, Disney’s executive vice president of corporate affairs, pulled out of a meeting he had scheduled July 23 in Washington with pro-family organizations critical of the company’s productions and policies. It was the second time Cooke had withdrawn from such a meeting, participants said. The Disney representative who replaced Cooke listened to concerns but offered no plan or commitment to deal with them, participants said.
Afterward, Concerned Women for America announced it is joining the boycott as a result of Disney’s stonewalling. CWA, the country’s largest pro-family women’s organization with more than half a million members, rarely participates in boycotts, staff members said.
At the same news conference, Focus on the Family and Family Research Council — both with policies of not boycotting — said they will consider a reversal in this case.
It is “very likely” Focus’ support of the boycott will increase and “very possible” it will join the boycott, spokesman Mark Maddox said. In addition, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based King for America Inc. civil rights organization said it will seek to bring other civil rights groups into the effort.
CWA joins the Southern Baptist Convention and other denominations that have voted to boycott Disney because of policies and productions described as promoting homosexuality and other forms of immorality. When messengers passed a resolution in June urging Southern Baptists to “refrain from patronizing” Disney, they joined the Assemblies of God, Presbyterian Church in America and other denominational groups in a boycott.
On July 21, Cooke called to say he would not be able to attend the meeting, said Art Rocker, president of King for America. Cooke sent a letter to the other participants. In a July 22 letter to Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Richard Land, Cooke said he would be unable to attend because he had been asked to introduce Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a meeting in Los Angeles. Land already was in Washington for the meeting when he received the letter via fax.
Richard Bates, head of Disney’s Washington office, replaced Cooke at the meeting.
“I am very disturbed that Mr. Cooke was not here to meet with us,” Land said at the post-meeting news conference held in a mist outside the hotel where the meeting was held. “I came to this meeting from Nashville, Tenn., with the understanding that we were going to hear some proposals from Mr. Cooke in his decision-making authority at Disney … .
“Now folks, I’ve been dissed before. I know when I’ve been dissed, and I’m going to make sure that Southern Baptists know they’ve been dissed.”
Tom Deegan, a corporate spokesman for Disney, said in a telephone interview from California there “was never any understanding on our part that we were to bring” a proposal to the meeting.
“Our intention today was to meet and listen and to dialogue with people who have expressed their anger with us,” Deegan said.
American Family Association President Donald Wildmon, which first called for a Disney boycott in 1995, said after the news conference:
“The meeting was just Disney’s way of saying, ‘Get lost. We’re not interested. We don’t care.’ I mean you couldn’t have said it with any more force than that. ‘You’re unimportant. You’re small. You’re a minority. You’re insignificant.'”
Land told reporters, “The next time we meet with Disney, it will be at Disney’s invitation and it will be when their attention has been focused by the grassroots boycott that’s going to take place, which is just beginning. And we will be there to listen to decision-making authorities giving us their plan for how they intend to move their corporation back to a wholesome, family friendly entertainment conglomerate. Until then, I don’t think there are going to be any more meetings.
“Disney needs to understand that this boycott has just gotten started. There is an avalanche traveling downhill at break-neck speed consisting of millions of Southern Baptists who are going to withhold their pocketbook from Disney. Disney will be in our prayers; it will not be in our pocketbooks until there is a major shift in corporate policy.”
The boycott will take about three years to reach full effect, Wildmon predicted.
Alveda King, chairman of King for America and the niece of late civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., said at the news conference the groups want Disney to have its subsidiaries “integrate those same values” the parent company has been known for.
“That’s not very hard to do,” said King, who met with Cooke the same week the SBC adopted its resolution. “Disney knows how to be a parent, and Disney knows how to promote family values. That needs to go throughout the whole organization. Right now that’s not happening.
“We still believe that Disney has the opportunity to make those changes. However, the momentum of a movement once started cannot be easily stopped, perhaps never stopped. So we want Disney to know how furious we are and yet how concerned we are.”
Recalling the title song to the “Mickey Mouse Club” TV show, Rocker told reporters, “As we sung last night and I’ll sing again, ‘M-I-C, we’ll see you soon Mike Eisner; K-E-Y, because you’re anti-family.” Eisner is Disney’s chief executive officer.
Although CWA rarely participates in boycotts, “we’ve had to come to the conclusion that the Disney corporation is a cultural polluter,” said Jim Woodall, the organization’s CEO. “What used to be the Magic Kingdom has become the Tragic Kingdom.”
Clark Hollingsworth, executive vice president of Coral Ridge Ministries, called Disney and its subsidiaries a “modern-day Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde story.” He urged Disney to “address the Mr. Hyde part.”
Wildmon told reporters he wanted to thank Eisner “because he’s been able to do something within a matter of months that I haven’t been able to do in a matter of 20 years, and that is he has awakened a sleeping giant. He has aroused apathetic people who are sitting in their pews. … The boycott has gotten off to the quickest start, gained quicker momentum and more support than any other boycott … we’ve ever tried in 20 years.”