by Ray Keating
April 3, 2022
A corporation getting involved in hot political topics rarely turns out to be a wise choice. Disney executives seem to be getting a lesson on this front recently.
Disney seemed to succumb to pressure from left-wing political activists, including some Disney employees, to weigh in heavily against a piece of legislation in Florida. (That is, the Parental Rights in Education Act, or misleadingly labeled by activists in opposition as the “don’t say gay” bill.) However, leftist groups don’t seem all that pleased with Disney’s tardiness to the issue, while lawmakers in Florida are threatening to turn against one of its top businesses and employers, and people on the Right grumble at the House of Mouse.
In a recent DisneyBizJournal article, I raised questions from an economist perspective – with the help of Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman – about the responsibilities of management in companies to shareholders, that is, to the actual owners of the company, when it comes to corporate social responsibility, which mainly means political issues.
Of course, what often happens in cases like this is that just as suddenly as they appear on the political landscape, they just as suddenly disappear, as another topic earns the spotlight and outrage.
But while in the midst of this current mess, a question was highlighted by a report in the Orange County Register: In effect, what about conservative Disney employees? The Register reported: “An open letter penned by conservative Disney employees asks the company to remain neutral on issues that have politicized the corporate culture, damaged morale and caused some employees to feel their days working at the Mouse House are numbered.”
So, what did this open letter say? Here are several points:
• “As employees of the Walt Disney Company, we believe in the dignity of all people. This is why we do what we do. We write stories. We make costumes. We act in parades. We run cruises. We stream movies. We make magic. We do this because our work contributes to a fountain of wonder that inspires joy, awe, and delight in guests and audiences of all ages. We are proud employees of the Walt Disney Company.”
• “However, over the last few years, one group of cast members has become invisible within the company. The Walt Disney Company has come to be an increasingly uncomfortable place to work for those of us whose political and religious views are not explicitly progressive. We watch quietly as our beliefs come under attack from our own employer, and we frequently see those who share our opinions condemned as villains by our own leadership.”
• “TWDC leadership frequently communicates its commitment to creating an inclusive workplace where cast members feel comfortable sharing their perspectives and being their authentic selves at work. That is not our workplace experience. Over the last few weeks, we have watched as our leadership has expressed their condemnation for laws and policies we support. We have watched as our colleagues, convinced that no one in the company could possibly disagree with them, grow increasingly aggressive in their demands. They insist that TWDC take a strong stance on not only this issue but other legislation and openly advocate for the punishment of employees who disagree with them.”
• “Left-leaning cast members are free to promote their agenda and organize on company time using company resources. They call their fellow employees “bigots” and pressure TWDC to use corporate influence to further their left-wing legislative goals. Meanwhile, those of us who don’t align with this vision keep our heads down and do our work without bringing our personal beliefs into the workplace. We’ve done this without complaint because we don’t want to rock the boat, but the boat is being rocked, and our leadership seems compelled to reward those who are rocking it.”
• “The company we love seems to think we don’t exist or don’t belong here. This politicization of our corporate culture is damaging morale and causing many of us to feel our days with TWDC might be numbered. Furthermore, as this politicization makes its way into our content and public messaging, our more conservative customers will feel similarly unwanted. You can only preach at or vilify your audience for so long before they decide to spend their money elsewhere.”
• “Working for The Walt Disney Company is a dream come true. We love being part of creating the magic that so many people around the world enjoy. Our storytelling is second to none. It resonates with people from all walks of life across the political spectrum. Our parks are the source of joy and inspiration that Walt hoped they would become. Every year, millions of guests escape an increasingly divided world to a place where they can relive fond memories of the past and savor the challenge and promise of the future. They do this alongside thousands of other guests that might not have anything in common with them other than a shared love of Disney.”
• “When Disney takes sides in political debates, they deprive the world of a shared love we all have in common. TWDC is uniquely situated to provide experiences and entertainment that can bridge our national divide and bring us all together.”
• “Disney shouldn’t be a vehicle for one demographic’s political activism. It’s so much bigger and more important than that. More than ever, the world needs things that we can unite around. That’s the most valuable role The Walt Disney Company could play in the world at this time. It’s a role we’ve played for nearly a century, and it would be a shame to throw all of that away in the face of left-wing political pressure. Please don’t let Disney become just another thing we divide over.”
The U.S., unfortunately, is a nation increasingly divided, as politics supplant or overrun other institutions. It’s nice to be able to sit down to entertainment that amounts to great storytelling devoid of the latest political flare up. Disney has long done that, but now many people seem to be wondering if that will be the case going forward.
Ray Keating is the editor, publisher and economist for DisneyBizJournal.com, and author of the Pastor Stephen Grant novels and assorted nonfiction books. Have Ray Keating speak your group, business, school, church, or organization. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views expressed here are his own – after all, no one else should be held responsible for this stuff, right?
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