By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
There were many inexplicable facetsto the political sham, and shame, that was ABC’s The Path to 9/11 miniseries. But the most bewildering was the whereabouts of George Mitchell, the chairman of ABC’s parent company, The Walt Disney Co. Mitchell has long been known as the ultimate compromise broker. Yet, a Nexis database search shows he’s not mentioned in a single article or news transcript ever since outrage over this concocted-by-conservatives piece of anti-Clinton propaganda erupted among Bubba’s former administration members, Democratic leaders and liberal bloggers (as well as American Airlines) starting September 1. Why wasn’t Mitchell front and center soothing his pals? Or, at the very least, alongside president and CEO Bob Iger, who, left on his own, not only messed up by allowing the discredited b.s. to be broadcast (unlike CBS’s Les Moonves, who yanked that Reagan biopic at the first smell of stink), but then mishandled the media mayhem that resulted.
Mitchell used to be the most politically adept of U.S. senators, first as a backbencher (1980-1988), and then as Senate majority leader (1989-1995). But he really shined after leaving Congress when he served for five years as Bill Clinton’s special adviser on Northern Ireland and brokered the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement. Then, an international commission he headed produced a “Road Map to Peace” that outlined how Israelis and Palestinians might finally coexist. After that, navigating The Path to 9/11 should have been a cakewalk. Instead, for the company, it turned into a minefield.
That Mitchell will be succeeded by John Pepper, the former CEO of Procter & Gamble effective January 1, is no excuse for the Disney chair to go AWOL. For one thing, Mitchell is still pocketing a hefty paycheck. He owns about $1.8 million in Disney stock and, according to the company notice of its annual meeting, receives $500,000 as the annual retainer for being board chairman.
Shareholders need to know exactly how much time Mitchell has actually been spending on Disney business this year, including how much time at Disney headquarters. Not much, I hear. After all, Mitchell recently was chosen to head Major League Baseball’s steroid investigation. Even that move was questionable because of his status as chairman of Disney, which owns ESPN, one of MLB’s broadcasting partners, and was the outlet for a short-lived reality series on Barry Bonds as the alleged steroids user pursued Hank Aaron’s career home-run record. Which begs the questions: Why isn’t Mitchell putting Disney business first?
Then again, Mitchell has been a disappointment on so many levels since arriving at Disney, both as a longtime board member and, since March 2004, as nonexecutive chairman. There’s a long list of problems associated with his Disney tenure, nearly all of them rooted in his Igor-like relationship with the bossman he ultimately replaced, Michael FrankenEisner. That’s also why 24 percent of Disney shareholders withheld votes for Mitchell’s re-election to the board in 2004, a startlingly high number.
In December, Disney’s board requested that Mitchell, who turned 73 last month, postpone his planned retirement and stand for re-election to facilitate an orderly succession process. But the move was controversial; after all, Mitchell in the recent past supported Disney’s corporate governance requiring directors to retire when they reach 72. That was the reason why Roy Disney quit as director in 2003, after learning that he would not be nominated for another term because he’d be too old.
Politically, liberals had every reasonto think this like-minded corporate magnate might work to even the playing field for them inside Disney. But Disney’s ABC radio network and its ABC-owned and -operated radio stations still broadcast conservative talk radio virtually 24/7 because Mitchell has done nothing about it. Nor has he laid down the law with Disney’s chief lobbyist, Preston Padden, Disney’s executive vice president of government relations and one of Washington, D.C.’s most well-connected Republican lobbyists.
Padden is a founding member of a loose-knit group billed as “Entertaining Republicans” that raised $100,000 for the Republican Party in 2004. Since 2005, Padden has been actively coordinating with the National Republican Congressional Committee to raise money for GOP congressional candidates running in the 2006 midterm elections. (In fact, Padden’s boss, Bob Iger, attended one NRCC $500-a-plate breakfast fund-raiser organized with Padden’s help and hosted by House Speaker Dennis Hastert.) Meanwhile, Padden’s new No. 2 is Bill Bailey, former communications adviser to Senator John McCain.
Meanwhile, Padden, who used to lobby on behalf of Rupert Murdoch, was set to use all of his considerable influence in the GOP-controlled Congress and White House on Disney’s behalf when Comcast was interested in gobbling up the Magic Kingdom. Now his biggest issue, besides pushing for antipiracy legislation, is preventing congressional bills that would allow so-called “à la carte” cable pricing (to let consumers pay only for the cable-TV channels they want, thus upending the traditional cable-TV bundle), which could hurt Disney’s ESPN and family channels.
Then again, ABC’s parent company Disney has a history of being close to the Bush administration since 9/11. Let’s not forget that W pleaded just days after the tragedy for Americans “to return to the kind of lives we were leading before [9/11], especially air travel .?.?. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Go down to Disney World in Florida; take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed.” It was as close to a White House commercial for Disney as any corporation could dare hope. Then Bush followed that up weeks later with a PR visit to Orlando, where the Magic Kingdom had suffered a 25 percent drop in ticket sales. And since then, in addition to the usual tax breaks from W’s brother, Jeb, Disney World has benefited from special security measures, including extra protection and a federally declared “no flyover zone.”