Time Warner CEO Pressed by Shareholder About George Clooney's Political Fundraising
At an annual meeting, Jeffrey Bewkes had to deal with a shareholder who was upset about the actor's liberal political views.
For the second straight year, Time Warner CEO Jeffrey Bewkes was forced by a shareholder to publicly defend the liberal politics of George Clooney and his wife, Amal Clooney, an attorney born in Beirut, Lebanon.
"Since you have asked me not to get into any political details, I will simply ask, will Mr. Clooney be able to continue fundraising with his foreign wife, or did she get citizenship?" asked Mindy Wasserman at the company's annual meeting of shareholders, which took place Friday at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank.
Wasserman, who owns 5,500 shares of Time Warner, made Clooney an issue because the actor produced Our Brand Is Crisis, which starred Sandra Bullock and Billy Bob Thornton as rival political consultants working to elect a president in Bolivia.
"The film was good, though it didn't do well at the box office. Only $7 million. He raised more money for the Clintons than that," Wasserman said. "I'm asking if Mr. Clooney will be allowed to continue his fundraising activities as the producer of our film?"
"I don't think we have a role in determining what U.S. citizens are allowed to do in their political activities," Bewkes told the shareholder. "I don't think it's fair to the other shareholders to have this meeting turn into a platform for any of us to express our political views. ... We don't affect our business relations in terms of what people do in their private, political lives."
Bewkes earned some applause with his response, then he let Wasserman have the last word.
"Mr. Clooney made a movie for us disclosing political abuses when foreigners interfere with political campaigns," she told the CEO. "I expect Oscar-winning Warner producers to have integrity in their work and not hypocrisy. I don't want to see another one of those fundraisers."
Despite the CEO's desire to avoid politics, he was pressed to address the topic again by Justin Danhof, a representative of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a shareholder that routinely uses the Q&A session at the annual meeting to complain of liberal bias at CNN.
This time, though, the shareholder actually praised CNN for becoming more balanced in the last year while also boosting its ratings.
"I'm here to tell you, I now regularly do watch CNN," Danhof said. "For years, myself and the other conservatives I know wanted nothing to do with the network, since it was quite clear that the hosts — both opinion and news — abhorred our views on traditional values and free-market principles."
Danhof asked Bewkes what else can be done, given that polls indicating "trust in the media does continue to plummet."
"You're right to keep that question front and center," Bewkes said. He added, though, that some of it is up to the audience.
"What we're not talking about — and we can't do it here — is the internet, and all of the new points of view, including citizen expression that can reach everybody," Bewkes said. "Some of that's good, some of it is essentially unfiltered, unchecked and not very reliable. ... People now, with all these different sites, just go to the one that they think agrees with what they believe, which is not a prescription for learning."
Another shareholder asked why "Time" is still part of the corporate name, since the magazine segment has been spun off as a separate company.
It's too expensive and confusing to rename the company, Bewkes said, though he added: "And then we gotta pick what name and, you know, we could, but we like all our kids the same. So, we haven't figured out how to make a name out of Turner, Warner, HBO. You could do initials. We've had that discussion. … Anybody has a good suggestion, send it in."
Bewkes began the meeting boasting that Time Warner is the "leading pure-play video company in the world" and noting that high-quality video "has never been in greater demand."
He acknowledged that the stock price declined in 2015, but since the beginning of 2008 it has doubled.
One of the highlights of the annual meeting are the clips of upcoming movies and TV shows Bewkes reveals. This year, the upcoming movie that appeared to get the most applause was Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which opens Nov. 18.
Suicide Squad, which opens Aug. 5, also seemed popular with the shareholders, and the CEO also showed scenes from the planned Aug. 19 release War Dogs, though he acknowledged afterward that the clip may not have been family friendly enough for a shareholder meeting.
The clips from upcoming TV shows included Trial & Error starring John Lithgow, Lethal Weapon, which is based on the 1987 hit Warner Bros. film of the same name, and Will, the very modern-looking TNT show about a young William Shakespeare
As for the official business at Friday's meeting, the board members were easily elected, the appointment of the company's accounting firm was ratified and an advisory vote on executive compensation was approved.