Thor: Ragnarok is the latest Disney blockbuster, shattering records in its opening weekend and getting impressive reviews. But you’d never know much about it from the pages of the Los Angeles Times. The reason? Disney has engaged in a blackout of the Times over its coverage of the company’s relationship with the City of Anaheim.
The notoriously sensitive media giant cut off the Times‘ access in response to the newspaper’s coverage of Disney’s business ties with the city of Anaheim. The article published this fall examined the public policy debate around whether Disney, which has received subsidies, incentives, rebates and protections from future taxes on its Disneyland theme park, is paying its fair share.
Shortly after the article appeared, Disney stopped returning reporters’ calls.
The Times went public with the dispute — the latest expression of long-running tensions between the media company and the newspaper, which covers Disney closely and critically as one the region’s biggest employers — its Calendar section today. The newspaper published a statement explaining to readers why the section was devoid of a review for the much-anticipated Marvel superhero tentpole Thor: Ragnarok, which opens to wide release today and likely will surpass $100 million at the box office in its opening weekend.
“Walt Disney Co. studios declined to screen the movie for The Times’ critics, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with the city of Anaheim,” the statement read. “The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public. Justin Chang’s review of “Thor: Ragnarok” will appear in Saturday’s paper.”
Disney has had a long history of cultivating unusual relationships with localities in order to be able to do business its own way. Since Disneyland was in its developing stages in the early 50s, Walt and Roy Disney worked out special tax incentives with Anaheim, and the company spent half a decade working with Orange and Osceola Counties in Florida in the run up to the opening of Walt Disney World (which I talk about in detail in my book Football, Faith, and Flannery O’Connor: A Love Letter to the South.)
Now the LA Times is questioning whether Disney is “paying its fair share.” Typical liberal move, isn’t it? It’s easy to see why Disney is mad – for all the complaint about left-leaning content coming from Disney, they’re pretty conservative when it comes to business – but it’s fascinating that they would choose to play hardball in such a way.
The move may backfire for Disney, as the New York Times is threatening to boycott Disney screenings until the company restores press access to the LA Times. Other media outlets could follow suit.
The whole tiff comes down to the fact that Disney is a big enough company to try to bully a media outlet, but the media could gang up enough to hit back pretty hard. And Disney doesn’t want that.