Mickey Mouse and the free press in Hollywood showdown

[Update: Disney has ended the ban.]

In a world full of corporate phonies, few are as fraudulent as Mickey Mouse and the company that’s amassed a fortune and immense corporate power and isn’t afraid to use it to intimidate a free press into submission.

The Disney Company stepped in it, however, when it ordered retaliation against the Los Angeles Times, which had the courage to publish an investigation into a too-cozy relationship between the company and the city of Anaheim, which has yielded whatever tax breaks the company wants at Disneyland.

Its writers and critics were denied access to press screenings of Thor: Ragnarok as punishment, a severe penalty in a market like Hollywood.

If people didn’t know about the investigation, they know about it now because Disney’s flame-thrower response has raised the ire of film critics around the nation.

“Walt Disney’s ban on LA Times critics and writers from press screenings of Thor: Ragnarok (and presumably the next two Disney movies) wasn’t just a petty bit of retaliation and a frankly dangerous action from ‘one of the good guys,'” writes Scott Mendelson, who covers Hollywood for Forbes. “It was a shockingly shortsighted action, even if the original reporting justified anger, that turned a local controversy into a national conversation. I’m frankly surprised that the smart folks at the top didn’t see that ‘Streisand Effect’ coming.”

Washington Post pop culture critic Alyssa Rosenberg says she won’t review Thor or any other Disney production.

She likes Disney. She just likes journalism’s independence from corporate pressure more, she writes.

Is this the end-all, be-all of journalistic crises? Probably not. It’s not as if Disney can prevent critics at the Times, or any other human being, from buying a ticket to its movies, taking notes and writing up what they’ve seen. Phones may be increasingly verboten in movie theaters (as they should be), but pen and paper are still perfectly legitimate things to use while a film is playing.

The bigger issue is that the later a critic’s review of a movie goes up, the harder it can be for that review to land a coveted spot among the Google search results that guarantee a solid chunk of traffic to a piece. There’s a reason that all of your favorite critics rush to, say, get “Game of Thrones” reviews up as soon as possible after an episode ends, even if that means fast-forwarding to the end of the episode in HBO Go and writing that up (this is not something I personally do, but I’m aware that some outlets do it). The spike of readers from Google can help sustain our jobs. For movies, the race is less intense, but there’s still a real advantage to being able to post a review once an embargo lifts, or, as was the case for the Los Angeles Times, to include a film in a holiday-season wrap-up. These aren’t things that it’s possible to do without access to an advance screening.

Today, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics issued a joint statement saying they have voted to “disqualify Disney films from year-end awards consideration until said blackout is publicly rescinded.”

It’s not just the film critic community that is being pushed around.

Last December, a market analyst downgraded Disney stock. He’s been frozen out, NBC reports.

“They won’t return our phone calls or emails or take our questions on a conference call and when they do analyst meetings they invite everyone but us,” said Rich Greenfield from the firm BTIG. “This appears to be a recurring policy for the way [Disney CEO] Bob Iger handles critics. It goes all the way to Bob himself.”

Iger, by the way, is reportedly considering running for president.