Disney Chief Bob Iger Calls for Civil Discourse, Warns "Hitler Would Have Loved Social Media"

Bob Iger, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Rabbi Hier - Getty - H 2019
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"We are losing ground," warned Disney chief Bob Iger in a fiery speech about the collapse of civility in America as he accepted the 2019 Humanitarian Award at the Simon Wiesenthal Center's annual National Tribute Dinner. "Hate and anger are dragging us toward the abyss once again, and apathy is growing ... consuming our public discourse and shaping our country into something that is wholly unrecognizable," he told a ballroom full of Hollywood's most powerful players, Jew and non-Jew alike, noting, "Our politics, in particular, are now dominated by contempt.”

The 68-year-old, who has presided over massive growth at Disney since taking the reins from Michael Eisner in 2005 — propelled by acquisitions of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and, most recently, Fox — was one of four honorees at the fundraising event, which took place at the Beverly Hilton. The other three, who received Medals of Valor, were Jeffrey Myers, the rabbi at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life Synagogue, which was the site of a mass shooting last October; Kurt Kleinmann, whose late brother chose to accompany his late father to Auschwitz rather than be separated; and Florence Phillips, who has tailored ESL courses for immigrants seeking to become American citizens.

Jimmy Kimmel, the host of Jimmy Kimmel Live! on Disney-owned ABC, served as the night's master of ceremonies. Kimmel, who emceed the Oscars in 2017 and 2018, but not in 2019, when the show went hostless, cracked, "The last time I was asked to host an awards show, that awards show decided that it no longer needed a host, and ratings soared." He also ribbed his boss, Iger, noting that previous recipients of the Humanitarian Award include the since-disgraced Harvey Weinstein (2015) and Les Moonves (2018), remarking, "Let's just say, mistakes were made!"

WndrCo chief Jeffrey Katzenberg, a member of SWC's board of trustees who has teamed for decades with Universal chief Ron Meyer to help organize the National Tribute Dinner, introduced Iger, gushing, "Bob somehow finds the time to apply his leadership skills to causes that matter," and noting that while "Bob has made [Disney] the gold standard of corporate giving," that is only the beginning. "Beyond Disney, he gives generously personally." Katzenberg further noted that Iger has only once ever refused a request of his: "No matter how much I begged Bob, he just wasn’t willing to run for president of the United States." (Oprah Winfrey has also called Iger her ideal candidate.)

Iger, as he walked onstage, was flanked by Kimmel, Katzenberg, Meyer, Paramount chief Jim Gianopulos and Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of and driving force behind SWC and its educational arm, the Museum of Tolerance (who has won two Oscars). "Contempt spreads like a virus ... leading to unspeakable acts," said the honoree. (This echoed the sentiments of Rabbi Myers, who said he no longer uses the word 'hate' and stated pointedly, "We must tone down our rhetoric and restore civil discourse in our society ... prayers and thoughts just don't help.")

The Disney chief, for his part, asserted, "Hitler would have loved social media," suggesting that it is "constantly validating our convictions and amplifying our deepest fears" and "makes it far too easy to deny our shared humanity.” He emphasized that "it is possible to argue policy without attacking people" and that "we have to change how we talk to each other" before suggesting, "Maybe we should just start by reconnecting with those friends and family members that we haven't spoken to since the 2016 election."

Looking toward the future, Iger said, "I want to be inspired by big ideas." On the same day it was reported that Iger will soon co-host a fundraiser for 2020 Democratic candidates for the United States Senate, he encouraged others, "Whomever you support with your vote or money, make them earn it." He closed his remarks with a call to action: "We have the responsibility to fix what is broken ... The world needs us to be better ... Each one of us has the obligation to be part of the solution."