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Schulman:"From Sorcerer to Schmo." S-C-H-M-O. An article in The New York Observerthat was presented to you on direct.
Eisner (his voice barely above a whisper): I recall that, yes.
Schulman:So there was a lot of reporting in the press about how Mr. Ovitz was faring or not faring on the job, wasn’t there?
Eisner:There was some, for sure.
Schulman: And you were receiving advice from public relations to take steps to remedy that public image. And was part of that public relations effort to appear on Larry King?
Eisner: It was.
They hate me. They really hate me.
As Dreyer wrote to Eisner in response to my article: "We have an image problem regarding M.O. and his relationship with you, execs and his role in [the Walt Disney Company]. Unless we address this, the problem will only continue to grow . . . It may be time to kiss the babies, smile for the cameras and make nice. Time to remake the image and go on the stump. Time for a political campaign for Disney in general and MSO [Michael S. Ovitz] in particular.
"The campaign needs to be internal as well as external. Like it or not, our colleagues, using well-cultivated media relationships, hide behind the cloak of anonymity and talk about the corporate gossip, real or imagined slights, conversations they have heard or witnessed, conclusions they have drawn about who is competing with whom, confusion as to who is responsible for what, speculation about who is running the show. All of this shows up in the media."
Dreyer presented an image of a company under siege, the truth be damned. "There may be some curative effect in firing someone as an example — if I can discover that someone is a source. There would be better results were there an effort to win people over — results that would show up in the media coverage . . . Externally we need to do some media interviews, meet off the record with editorial boards, have off-the-record lunches with key editors and reporters, give speeches in front of groups, and we need to shoot some pix of the two of you together."
In court, Eisner characterized the Larry King interview as "awkward," since at the time what he and Ovitz were going through was "like a divorce." I remember it vividly. Watching their performance, I was both amused and appalled. Because it was a sham, totally fake, absolutely false. They stepped on each other’s lines. They could have used some better jokes. Ovitz had a bad case of flop sweat: The rivulets of perspiration running down his upper lip, forehead and temples made him look like Albert Brooks as the hapless anchor in Broadcast News. More accustomed to interviewing has-been actors like Burt Reynolds and bonkers billionaires like Ross Perot, King uncharacteristically was like a pit bull with fresh meat in his maw on the subject of whether the two men were getting along. He wouldn’t let it go. At first, sitting stiffly side-by-side in chairs and facing the camera from Orlando, the two executives blamed "competitive Hollywood gossip-mongering" and "the water cooler" for the talk of trouble between them.
But then the pair displayed the exact sort of behavior which Hollywood and Wall Street had been describing to me for weeks. Eisner didn’t miss an opportunity to reduce Ovitz from prince to peon. The chairman even corrected King’s assumption that Ovitz was already a major Disney stockholder: "Not yet. He has to earn it." Ovitz responded with a forced smile. Ovitz on-camera spoke twice as much as his boss, who had a hard time getting a word in edgewise. Asked to comment on the bad publicity he’d been receiving from me, Ovitz sighed, "You never really expect it, but you live with it." Just like you never really expect to win an Eisner, but more reporters should aspire to it. Unlike journalists, the days of shareholders being the bitches and buttboys of corporate managers are over after this trial.
E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.