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Opinion Disney declined to participate in L.A. Times movie preview over stories on company’s Anaheim dealings

Mickey Mouse balloons at Disneyland Paris in Chessy, France. (Michel Euler/Associated Press)
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The Los Angeles Times has just published its 2017 Holiday Movie Preview. Prominently featured is this note warning readers about a rather large and unfortunate omission from the reviews:

Times note on Disney blackout
The annual Holiday Movie Sneaks section published by the Los Angeles Times typically includes features on movies from all major studios, reflecting the diversity of films Hollywood offers during the holidays, one of the busiest box-office periods of the year. This year, Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.

That Anaheim story, published in two parts under the byline of Daniel Miller, with a third story by Priya Krishnakumar, Daniel Miller and Ben Poston, highlights the mismatch that occurs when a giant conglomerate negotiates on taxes and incentives with a municipality. “Over the last two decades or so, as Disney’s annual profit has soared, the company has secured subsidies, incentives, rebates and protections from future taxes in Anaheim that, in aggregate, would be worth more than $1 billion, according to public policy experts who have reviewed deals between the company and the city,” notes the investigation. Disney responded, “Disneyland Resort has played a pivotal role in Anaheim as a job creator and economic engine.”

L.A. Times staff writer Glenn Whipp has more in this tweet thread:

Whipp told the Erik Wemple Blog that following the series on Anaheim, Disney had denied access for L.A. Times entertainment writers to the company’s media sites, effectively preventing them from previewing the company’s content. Some inquiries about reinstatement, says a source, have gone unanswered. About eight staffers at the newspaper have been blocked from the sites. As for movie stuff, Whipp says that for three movie releases – “Thor: Ragnarok,” “Coco” and “Star Wars: Episode VIII”* – “we’ve been told that we will not be able to review or have any access to the filmmakers or the people who made those movies.”

Movie reviewers have been banned from Disney press screenings, resulting in late reviews.

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Given the fierceness of Disney’s response, it surely compiled a Google spreadsheet of errors in the newspaper’s Anaheim series. Right? “Disney’s complaint was not one of accuracy,” Miller tells the Erik Wemple Blog. “It did not ask for a single correction on this series.” So what was the problem? “I think it’s fair to say that Disney strenuously argued for how significant its positive impact on the city of Anaheim has been and we feel that that is reflected in the story.”

The series, added Miller, stemmed from the newspaper’s judgment that the granting of subsidies, tax breaks and incentives to big companies is a national issue captured by the relationship between Disney and Anaheim. As for the newspaper’s subsequent access to Disney, Miller says, “reporters here have not been getting phone calls and other outreach returned from the company.”

A request for comment from Disney is pending. Statement from the Walt Disney Co.:

We regularly work with news organizations around the world that we don’t always agree with, but in this instance the L.A. Times showed a complete disregard for basic journalistic standards. Despite our sharing numerous indisputable facts with the reporter, several editors, and the publisher over many months, the Times moved forward with a biased and inaccurate series, wholly driven by a political agenda—so much so that the Orange County Register referred to the report as “a hit piece” with a “seemingly predetermined narrative.” We’ve had a long relationship with the L.A. Times, and we hope they will adhere to balanced reporting in the future.

*Correction: This post initially misstated the relevant “Star Wars” movie.