Disney CEO Bob Iger Addresses Participation in Trump Task Force

Bob Iger - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Bob Iger - Getty - H 2016

"I don't believe my membership in that group in any way endorses or supports any specific policy of the president or his administration," Iger told shareholders.

Disney CEO Bob Iger on Wednesday spoke about his ties to President Donald Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum.

"I made a decision that I thought was in the best interests of our company and of our industry, to have an opportunity to express points of view directly to the President of the United States and to his administration," Iger told the Walt Disney's Co.'s annual shareholders meeting in Denver. 

"I did not believe, nor do I believe that my membership in that group in any way endorses or supports any specific policy of the president or his administration. I think it's a privileged opportunity to have a voice in the room," the exec added in a statement read to shareholders. His comments came in response to calls from two proxy representatives for Iger to stand down from Trump's business task force.

Iger cited the Hamilton stage play number "The Room Where It Happens" to argue for his continued participation: "I think there's an opportunity, when you're in the room where it happens, to express opinions that I think are in the best interests of this company and its shareholders."

The Disney CEO, a Democrat, has withstood protests in the past over continuing to be a member of the panel. He faced one shareholder citing Trump's Muslim ban to urge Iger to quit. "By staying on the economic council, it looks as if you are tacitly endorsing Trump's policies, his anti-immigrant, his anti-LGBT and anti-woman agenda," the shareholder claimed.

"I do not currently intend to stand down from the council, again because I think there's an opportunity for me to express views that I think represent the issues that are of value to this company and its shareholders," Iger replied. He added Disney and the U.S. have benefited in the past from an "open and a fair and a just" immigration policy.

"We are who we are as a country because of great immigration ... I don't happen to believe, by the way, that immigration policies that single people out because of religion, for instance, are fair and just," Iger argued.

He addressed another activist shareholder who claimed ESPN and ABC News had a liberal bias. "I'm going to disagree with just about everything you said," Iger said in response, before denying any bias at ESPN and defending ABC News for its coverage.

"I can stand here today, look you in the face, and say I'm proud of the efforts of ABC News. I respect ABC News. And I believe they work very hard to present news in an extremely fair way," he said. Iger added that people will always see media bias, "yourself included and perhaps the president, who believe it [the news] is not being presented in a way that's consistent with their own beliefs."

That didn't mean the press was being unfair in its coverage, Iger asserted. "What's happened here is there's an indictment about the press because it doesn't toe the line with positions that are being taken by others," he said.

Iger defended the role of the press to hold those in power to account. "We're privileged as citizens of the United States to live in a society where the press can act in an adversarial role in a number of different ways," he argued.

Addressing another hot-button issue, Iger told shareholders he received a call from the chairman of PwC, formerly PricewaterhouseCoopers, to apologize for mistakenly announcing La La Land as the best picture winner at the Academy Awards before that honor went to Moonlight.

"It was an honest, human mistake," Iger said of the Oscar flub, which he added will not impact Disney's relationship with PwC. He also paid tribute to the late Carrie Fisher during the shareholders meeting.

"We all miss her. ... We're proud that this movie coming up is part of her legacy," the exec said, referring to Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which is set to be released in December. The investors gathering took place against the backdrop of speculation about Iger's succession, as he has 16 months to go before his contract expires in June 2018.

The meeting started with clips from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, Thor: Ragnarok, Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Beauty and the Beast, which bows March 17.

"This movie does not disappoint at all. It's beautiful, it's heartfelt and it's fantastic," Iger said of the Beauty and the Beast remake. He also touted Shanghai Disneyland, which has seen 8 million visitors since opening in June and expects 10 million attendees in the first year of operation.

Other announcements included Iger telling shareholders that production has started on Ant-Man & The Wasp; a Han Solo spinoff film will premiere in 2018, followed by Episode IX in 2019; and Cars 3 will feature Cruz Ramirez, the first female race car in the franchise.

And as Iger touted ESPN, he said the sport channel's BamTech-made streaming service will bow by the end of this year.

During the official part of the shareholders meeting, investors followed the board of directors in rejecting two shareholder proposals, one that called for lobbying disclosure and the other surrounding Disney's proxy access bylaw.