Disney denies '9/11' politics


Top brass at Disney were called on Thursday to defend their decision not to release "The Path to 9/11" on DVD and to justify CEO Robert Iger's $27.7 million pay package.

"Path" was a 2006 ABC miniseries critical of President Clinton's handling of terrorist threats that was so controversial it prompted leading Democrats to ask Disney not to air the program. Disney, after making some hasty edits, ran it commercial-free.

At Disney's annual shareholders' meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., one mutual fund portfolio manager said it was high time for Disney to turn "Path" into a DVD and recoup some of the $40 million that it spent on the project.

The fund manager, Tom Borelli, accused Iger of protecting Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign at the expense of shareholders and pointed out that Iger has been a steady Clinton donor since before the former first lady was elected to the Senate.

He claimed to have a letter from a Lionsgate representative proving that Disney has no intention of even selling the DVD rights to another company.

The "Path" question came shortly after another shareholder objected to foul language and persistent sexual innuendos on such ABC shows as "Ugly Betty" and "Good Morning America," prompting Iger to cite ABC's right of free speech. Borelli demanded to know why Iger seemed more interested in protecting curse words than he was in protecting political speech.

The fund manager noted Disney's reported $46 million profit on "Fahrenheit 9/11," also a politically controversial project —though far more critical of Republicans than Democrats.

Seemingly taken aback, Iger assured the shareholder that his decision on the DVD was based purely on business considerations and not on politics.

Contacted after the meeting, Lionsgate insiders said that there is no serious interest in acquiring the DVD rights to "Path."

It's not the first time advocates have claimed that Disney's refusal to distribute a DVD of "Path" is motivated by politics. "Path" screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh has told reporters that a top executive at ABC Studios confided that "if Hillary weren't running for president, this wouldn't be a problem."

Although Iger handled that persistent line of questioning mostly solo, he let board chairman John Pepper Jr. address the issue of the CEO's pay.

Pepper said Iger made less than other CEOs of major media companies and that much of his pay was based on performance. Iger noted earlier — to applause — that Disney's stock has returned 15.3% annually to shareholders over the past five years, compared with just 11.5% annually for the S&P 500.

Apparently, Pepper's vigorous defense of Iger's pay wasn't sufficient, however, as another shareholder stood to address the same issue, claiming that Iger didn't deserve to make in three hours what a school teacher earns in a year.

Pepper countered that Iger is "what the doctor ordered" and is a better CEO than all his media counterparts. The issue was put to rest when another shareholder took the microphone to declare: "Mr. Iger's entitled to every damn penny he makes!"

Iger earned a similar endorsement Monday when Warren Buffett, the newly named richest man in the world, called Iger one of the best CEOs in the nation.

As has become customary at these events, yet another shareholder pleaded for Disney to release on DVD "Song of the South," the animated family film that is decidedly politically incorrect by today's standards. "We continue to discuss and debate it," Iger said diplomatically.

Iger also alluded to a concept he called "Classic Disney," which might, in the future, be a Web site for showing archived shows like "Davy Crockett" for free or to subscribers.

Another investor, who said she has made money from buying shares of Disney, Apple and Pixar, wanted to know what companies Disney planned on buying or partnering with in the future. Iger said he has some in mind, but he wouldn't disclose them.

Pepper also thanked a Disney enthusiast for suggesting the company create "a worldwide pass" good for admission to all its theme parks, and Iger disappointed another shareholder who asked him to commit to a fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" installment. The CEO politely declined.