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Presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin was only a few minutes into interviewing Disney CEO Bob Iger on stage at the Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit when he turned the tables on her.
Telling Goodwin that perhaps the audience would want to hear from her, he asked, “If feels as though we’re more polarized than since perhaps the Civil War. What changes that?”
Goodwin, who has written books on Lyndon Johnson, Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt, among others, responded that people “have to not accept that this is a healthy political system.” She added, “The most important thing right now is citizens have to start acting. They can’t just be wallowing in how sad we feel.”
Goodwin spent most of her interview probing into what makes Iger tick. She started by asking him about his well-known proclivity for waking up early in the morning. Iger responded by noting that he likes to start his day without technology, “I like being alone with my own thoughts.”
She also asked him if he ever goes to the movies on his own, and Iger admitted that he slipped into the back of a darkened theater for both the first new Star Wars in 2015 and 2018’s Black Panther.
After a question about the skills that he was born with, Iger said he views himself as an optimist. “The ability to project optimism is one of the most powerful tools a leader can have,” he explained.
The interview, which included an early look at Jon Favreau’s The Lion King, took place just one day after Disney announced the new leadership structure for its television group following its acquisition of the 21st Century Fox assets, one that puts Peter Rice in charge of Disney Media Networks. Goodwin asked Iger whether he worries about taking big risks like the Fox deal. He said that he likes taking big risks, adding that it is important to share not just successes but also failures, and to learn from them in the future.
Though Goodwin is known for her work studying the minds of presidents, Iger made sure to point out to the audience that they shouldn’t read anything into the fact that she was the interviewer. “I’m not doing that,” he said, reiterating previous statements that he doesn’t plan to run for president. “It’s off the table. I’m running the Walt Disney Co.”
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