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Disney CEO Bob Iger Defends Participation on Donald Trump Panel

Variety logo Variety 3/8/2017 James Rainey
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UPDATED: Disney CEO Bob Iger defended his presence on President Donald Trump’s financial advisory panel during the company’s annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday, saying he believed there would be many occasions when he would bring “adversarial” positions to the group that advises the new administration.

Iger made his comments when he was pressed by several speakers at the meeting in Denver to drop off the Trump panel of financial leaders.

“I think there is an opportunity for me to express views that I think … are of value to the company and its shareholders,” Iger said. He added that he expected to take positions “adversarial to the view of the administration” on a number of issues, including immigration, adding “it’s not an endorsement of the new administration.”

Speakers at the meeting in Denver said they were presenting petitions with more than 500,000 signatures, calling for Iger to step down from the panel. A few of the speakers said that Disney would suffer economic repercussions from customers who would boycott the company’s films, theme parks, and other business, as a result of his work on the Trump panel.

Iger, who missed the first meeting of the Trump panel while he was attending a Disney board meeting, said he thought the most powerful messages his company could send were through the films and television programs it presented to the world. He pointed to last year’s animated film “Zootopia” as promoting the idea of inclusiveness. He said that other Disney productions — like the ABC sitcom “Blackish” and the “Star Wars” film “Rogue One” — also made a case for the value of diversity.

“That’s where we think we can make the biggest impact on the planet,” Iger said. The Disney CEO said the values expressed in such movies extend to his personal representation of the company, including at forums like the one Trump has convened with business leaders. “I can assure you the values I speak of are expressed whenever I get the chance,” he insisted.

The Disney boss seemed to signal that another issue on which he might disagree with Trump was climate change, which the new president once called a “hoax.” Iger said in the talk with shareholders,”We think the changes we are already seeing in the climate today are real, and in many ways they are a result of man’s impact on the world. … These issues are very real and things we need to take very seriously.”

More than one speaker told Iger they thought that his mere presence on the Trump panel would appear to some as an endorsement of the president’s policies, which were described as racist and anti-immigrant — including his limitations on travel from six Muslim-majority nations. Uber CEO Travis Kalanick to dropped off the Trump panel last month following a threatened boycott.

But one speaker agreed with Iger that he could do more good by remaining on Trump’s panel. “I think being a voice in the room is important,” said a man who identified himself as Dwight Morgan. “I want to thank you for being our voice in the room with the president.”

Iger took a blast from the political right as well. Justin Danhof of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research said Disney networks ABC and ESPN had been proven to “cater to liberal cultural elites” and asked when the practice would stop.

Iger, who spent years at ABC before moving to the corporate parent, rejected that accusation, saying that all of the press provided a “vital check and balance” on those in power and that ABC News, in particular, had worked “very, very hard to present the news in a fair way.”

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