News Articles

ABC kills unfavorable story on parent company Disney

WASHINGTON (BP)–ABC News has killed an investigative report about allegations against its parent company, The Disney Company, according to an Oct. 14 article in The Washington Post.
The story, The Post reported, was to have been on ABC’s television newsmagazine “20/20” with reporting by Brian Ross, the show’s chief investigative correspondent. It would have been the result of an exclusive contract, according to The Post, with the publisher of a new book charging Disney with, among other things, involvement in soft-core pornography and hiring and safety problems at Walt Disney World, its Florida theme park.
ABC signed a three-month contract in June that called for the network to receive an advance copy of “Disney: The Mouse Betrayed” by Peter and Rochelle Schweizer, The Post reported. The book’s allegations include that Disney World does not perform security checks to prevent the hiring of sex offenders, according to the article. Copies of sheriff’s reports on alleged pedophiles are in the book, The Post reported.
ABC provided written assurances to the Schweizers its corporate ownership would not interfere with the report, and Regnery Publishing held up publication of the book to satisfy ABC’s schedule, according to The Post.
ABC spokeswoman Eileen Murphy denied to The Post the network refused to criticize its parent company. “The fact that this particular story involved Disney was not the reason it did not make air,” she told The Post. The draft submitted “did not work,” and such a decision is “an inevitable part of the editorial process,” she said.
ABC officials did not discuss with Disney concerns about the story, a source told The Post.
Calls by Baptist Press to ABC and Disney for comment were not returned before deadline on Oct. 14.
The article is another eyesore for the Disney empire, which in recent years has come under increasing scrutiny for its products and corporate policies after decades of holding the position of America’s family entertainment leader. The Southern Baptist Convention and others have advocated a boycott of the corporation.
Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Convention and co-author of a book on Disney, said the incident underscores “why a free press is absolutely essential to a free society.”
“Clearly ABC is literally owned and operated by Disney, and it doesn’t take more than a grain of imagination to read between the lines and understand that ABC executives ‘spiked’ a story very unfavorable to the big enchilada, who ultimately signs their paychecks,” Land said.
“Fortunately, because of a free press, the book which was to be the basis for the story was published, and people are free to read it, and The Washington Post is free to report on ABC’s apparent failure to practice freedom of the press for some of its employees, and other networks are free to tell the story that ABC either won’t or can’t.
“It will be interesting to see how the media community reacts to ABC’s apparent failure of integrity or nerve. It’s one thing to prattle on about freedom of the press. It’s another thing to practice it, even when it reflects less than positively on the big boss in the corner office.”
Richard Vigilante, vice president of Regnery, told The Post his company is discussing with CBS’ “60 Minutes” a report based on the book. Disney spokesman Tom Deegan called the book a “compilation of half-truths, innuendoes, claims and charges made by every enemy we ever seem to have aroused,” according to The Post.
The Southern Baptist Convention adopted in 1997 a resolution encouraging the members of its churches to boycott the entertainment giant for promoting “immoral ideologies and practices.” Other organizations supporting the boycott, which was initiated by the American Family Association in 1995, include the Assemblies of God, Focus on the Family and Concerned Women for America.
The Washington Post report provides “another example of Disney trying to censor the kind of company they are, so that the public will not learn the kind of company they are,” said Donald Wildmon, AFA’s founder and president. “The more people learn about Disney, the more they learn that what we’ve been saying about Disney for about three years now is absolutely true.”
Boycott backers cite pro-homosexual films and books produced by Disney subsidiaries, as well as Disney’s provision of health benefits for the partners of its homosexual employees and the “gay days” held at Disney theme parks, as some of the reasons for their action.
According to The Post, ABC News President David Westin shouted at Ross and the segment’s producer, Rhonda Schwartz, after reviewing the script, asking them whether they were “crazy.” Other top ABC officials agreed with Westin the piece was flawed, sources told The Post. Ross and Schwartz submitted a taped report, according to the paper. Sources told Post reporter Howard Kurtz tensions exist between management and Ross, who pushed for the story’s broadcast.
Although ABC’s Murphy told The Post a version might be broadcast, a second draft was rejected as well, the paper reported. Peter Schweizer and sources at ABC believe the story is dead, according to The Post.
It is the second time in a week a Washington newspaper has printed an unflattering piece on Disney. On Oct. 7, The Washington Times reported Disney had been working against legislation to protect children from pornography on the Internet’s World Wide Web. Citing congressional sources, The Times reported Disney feared the bill would prevent it from marketing some of its movies on-line.
In a written statement, Disney said it supported the bill but had “been working with members of Congress to improve the language.”
A staffer in the office of Sen. Dan Coats, R.-Ind., chief sponsor of the Child Online Protection Act, told Baptist Press it had been represented to the senator’s office that Disney was seeking modifications that would have created a sizable loophole in the bill.
Disney distributes R-rated movies through some of its subsidiaries, including Miramax Films, Hollywood Pictures and Touchstone Pictures.