Disney President Mortified by Newsman's Book

09 February 2005

The board of the Walt Disney Company will meet Thursday to discuss a replacement for ceo Michael Eisner when he steps down later this year. A prime (and eager) candidate for the job is current company president Robert Iger.

But unfortunately for Iger, it emerged this week that he is portrayed in a highly unflattering light in a new book, DisneyWar, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist James Stewart.

Passages from the book were released Monday by the Los Angeles Times as a pre-publication taster of what could turn out to be a business blockbuster of the ilk of Barbarians at the Gate.

Author Stewart recounts an interesting anecdote concerning Iger and Lloyd Braun, chairman of Disney subsidiary ABC Entertainment.

The two men had arranged to meet in November 2003 at Vincenti, an exclusive Los Angeles restaurant. In a spat that allegedly arose because Iger refused to shake Braun's hand while uttering the cryptic phrase, "I'm going to let you have it", the pair went for each other in a public verbal dogfight.

Braun, irked at Iger's snub, accused him of "lack of character; incompetence; taking credit for things you had nothing to do with; and running away from decisions you made."

He continued to slang his boss, telling him that he [Iger] had no part in ABC's reality show The Bachelor - one of the network's few successes at that time. At which Iger allegedly "jumped out of his chair, jostling a waiter who spilled coffee down his [Iger's] shirt front".

Stewart's account seems more like a second-rate comedy routine than some of Tinseltown's more spectacular celebrity ructions - but this and other passages have caused the book to become the talk of Hollywood. And many believe its revelations could not have come at a worse time for Iger.

Another tale related in Disneywar concerns a Disney board meeting in September 2002, at which ceo Eisner complained about dissident directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold (who subsequently resigned from the board to lead an anti-Eisner shareholder revolt).

Stewart quotes Eisner: "Stanley and Roy are trying to get rid of me. They don't think I can run this company. But who do you think can," he asked rhetorically, "Bob?" Eisner turned to Iger and went for the jugular: "Bob can't run this company."

Opines media analyst Harold Vogel: "The timing isn't good at all," while a terse statement from Disney snarled: "This flagrantly irresponsible article does not rise to a level that merits the dignity of a response."

David Rosenthal, evp at Disneywar's publisher Simon & Schuster is unfazed: "We feel the book speaks for itself, and we stand behind it."

Interestingly, Simon & Schuster is a unit of Viacom, whose CBS network is under pressure from ABC, which these days is enjoying something of a renaissance.

Data sourced from Financial Times Online; additional content by WARC staff