Time Warner CEO on 'Julius Caesar' Uproar: We're Proud to Support Public Theatre

Francois G. Durand/Getty Images
Jeff Bewkes

"I'm not going to turn into a drama critic. … The point of the play is one being debated for about 400 years," Jeff Bewkes said.

Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes defended the entertainment conglomerate's financial support of The Public Theatre, which is staging in New York an adaptation of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar in which a stand-in for President Donald Trump is stabbed to death.

Bewkes said Time Warner is "proud" to support the theater, though it doesn't necessarily support each production.

'We don't have a role in choosing or influencing which production they select or how they stage them," he said Thursday at Time Warner's annual meeting of shareholders at the Warner Bros. studio lot in Burbank.

"I'm not going to turn into a drama critic. …  The point of the play is one being debated for about 400 years," Bewkes said.

"The killing of Caesar actually raises very important points about how that did not work out well nor did it accomplish the ends of those senators who did kill Caesar," he said. "Learn about tyranny, learn about how elected leaders can end up changing what they got elected to."

"We're certainly not going to drop our support" for a theater that has "done so much good work," Bewkes told the shareholders.

About half of the 300 people in the audience applauded him, while several others later approached the shareholder, David Almasi, to thank him for his questions.

Bewkes was responding to a challenge from a shareholder who asked "especially in the light" of Wednesday's shooting of Republican congressman Steve Scalise, how Time Warner can continue to support The Public Theatre.

Almasi asked the question on behalf of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a think tank that is also a Time Warner shareholder and is known for accusing corporations of pushing liberal agendas. He also asked about Time Warner's CNN.

"I'm inquiring about CNN's bias and our return on investment," Almasi told Bewkes. "Half the American public — which includes potential and current CNN viewers — voted for Trump last November and supports his agenda. CNN acts as if it is part of the anti-Trump resistance."

Almasi cited data from the Media Research Center indicating that among the CNN panelists dissecting the May 9 firing of FBI director James Comey, 96 were anti-Trump and seven were pro-Trump.

Bewkes acknowledged that CNN is often accused of unfair coverage of candidates and leaders, but it's also sometimes accused of being too "uncritical" in covering Trump.

"We're going to try to be independent. … I don't want you to be skeptical of our effort," he told the shareholder, and he reminded attendees that CNN is seeing record viewership.