A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.
The right-wing media machine has a new villain: Disney.
Right now Fox News, conservative talk radio, and a constellation of right-wing websites and influencers are all training their firepower on the entertainment giant. Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s belated stand against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill has given way to right-wing media portraying the company as a “woke” organization seeking to “groom” children with what they characterize as a radical LGBTQ agenda.
Yes – really – Disney. The family-friendly, fun-for-everyone, intentionally inoffensive brand is being challenged like never before, largely by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other GOP politicians who are playing to the cameras to raise their own profiles.
“They have a sexual agenda for six-year-old children,” Fox host Tucker Carlson declared on Wednesday night. “You’d think that’s illegal in some way. It’s certainly immoral. It’s creepy as hell. And yet they are the country’s leading purveyor of children’s programming. That’s a problem, no?”
Later in his show, Carlson spoke about executives at Disney who have sought to normalize LGBTQ lifestyles by representing them in movies and other projects. “Sounds like the behavior of a sex offender,” Carlson said. “Normal people do not sexualize underage children.”
Carlson’s rant is just one of many examples. An hour earlier, Fox host Jesse Watters made similar arguments, dubbing the company’s theme parks as “The Wokest Place on Earth.” The truth is that characterizing Disney as a creepy company which aims to morally bankrupt kids – an extreme position – has become quite mainstream in GOP media circles.
How much will it impact business?
It might be tempting to dismiss these attacks on Disney as irrelevant to the company’s bottom line, but I think that would ignore the very real power held by the talking heads and entities attacking the company. We saw over the last six years how effective these same players were at convincing a not-so-insignificant swath of the country that news from reputable sources was “fake.” That assault certainly impacted how conservative Americans view mainstream news outlets.
That’s not to say that the same fate will meet Disney. It’s possible that this assault will blow over in a few days or weeks. And Disney’s footing in American culture is strong, with its ownership of brands such as “Star Wars” and Marvel. Disney has historically been seen as both family-friendly and, in a more specific way, gay-friendly. Those two identities are not in conflict. Rather, they shouldn’t be, but DeSantis and others seem to be creating a conflict.
Consider this: Just as the “1619 Project” was successfully demonized by Fox and others, what is to say that Disney will be unscathed? If the right-wing media apparatus is able to put a sour taste in the minds of the millions who turn to it for news, that could spell at least some bad news for Disney…
The Daily Wire’s $100 million bet
While the right is waging an all-out war on Disney, at least one company is seeking to take advantage of it. The Daily Wire, the right-wing media organization, announced in a press release that it will “invest a minimum of $100 million over the next three years into a line of live-action and animated children’s entertainment on its streaming platform.” The company said such content, which it disclosed had been in the works for months, will be available to its subscribers in 2023. As Axios’ Sara Fischer noted, the company has “pushed into entertainment” as a way “to attract paid subscribers.”
In making the decision to develop children’s content, Daily Wire co-CEO Jeremy Boreing said, “Americans are tired of giving their money to woke corporations who hate them. They’re tired of giving their money to woke media companies who want to indoctrinate their children with radical race and gender theory. But they want to do more than just cancel them. They want alternatives. The Daily Wire is giving them those alternatives.”
The QAnon factor
It is difficult to ignore the QAnon factor at work. The political movement reshaped the GOP in significant ways, helping to mainline the notion inside the party that elites are sexual deviants seeking to exploit kids. This type of story, that Disney is a woke company used by the liberal Hollywood elite to indoctrinate children with radical gender theories, feeds right into that broad theory and reinforces it. Fox and others in the right-wing media galaxy might not directly be promoting QAnon, but they are without question throwing up the Bat-Signal to its fans.
>> Here’s a good background piece published last year from BuzzFeed’s Otilla Steadman: “Conspiracy theories about sex trafficking and child abuse have been a core feature of the online fever swamp that bloomed under Trump, acting as a powerful recruitment tool and call to action…”
Fox’s own LGBTQ activism
While Fox’s talk channel blasts Disney for advancing a pro-LGBTQ agenda, it apparently forgets — or chooses not to mention — that it belongs to an organization that also boasts about its own “commitment” to “championing” such communities. On Fox Corp’s website, as flagged by MMFA’s John Whitehouse, the company, for instance, brags that it has received a 100% rating by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 2021 Corporate Equality Index, giving Fox “the distinction of ‘Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality.’”
The company adds that it has been recognized as a “Top LGBTQ+ Friendly Company.” It even goes as far as to say that it seeks out to “build business opportunities and lasting relationships” with companies owned by LGBTQ individuals. “IT’S ALL ABOUT PRIDE,” the company says in its “corporate social responsibility” report. I asked a Fox Corp. spox on Wednesday how the company can square the two messages, but didn’t hear back…
– Chapek’s missteps have fueled a “confidence crisis at Disney,” Kim Masters writes. She says insiders are speculating about “how long he might last on the job…” (THR)
– In an interview set to stream on CNN+ Thursday, Bob Iger tells Chris Wallace, “When you are dealing with right and wrong, and when you are dealing with something that does have a profound impact on your business, I just think you have to do what is right and not worry about the potential backlash to it…” (Deadline)
– Laura Ingraham continued the assault on Disney on her show: “Why not just rename the roller-coaster ‘Sex Mountain.’ C’mon kids, it will be blast!” (Twitter)
– Philip Bump’s point: Republican legislators … are in the business of selling themselves to the sorts of people who agree with what’s shown on Fox News. And here we are…” (WaPo)