Disney finally lifted its ill-advised advance screening ban on Los Angeles Times film critics this week after the paper ran a critical two-part series about the House of the Mouse's political power in Anaheim. A backlash against the move from film critic associations over the weekend sent the Mouse rightfully scurrying. But most boneheaded of all, Disney's tantrum gave the Times' reheated reporting a national spotlight it never really deserved.
Journalist Daniel Miller's two-part series in September explored the shadow Disney casts over Anaheim city hall, not exactly a new topic. Before the ban, Miller showed on Twitter how desperately he wanted his reporting to be consequential a month after it published.
A month after our report on the tense Disney/Anaheim relationship, Disneyland kills plans for disputed transit hub: https://t.co/CTY3UKe6NU— Daniel Miller (@DanielNMiller) October 26, 2017
While few paid much attention to the baseless boast, the film critic ban gave the reporter exactly what he wanted like a whiny kid at any of the theme park's souvenir shops.
The first part of Miller's series posed a question in the headline, "Is Disney Paying its Share in Anaheim?" before railing off a number of Mouse-friendly deals signed off by past city council majorities. It sets the scene at the Mickey & Friends lot where theme park goers pay $20-35 for a space while Disney pays $1 in rent per year for the city-owned structure. (Gee, where have we read that before?) The sweetheart subsidy, part of a 1996 Disneyland expansion deal with the city, is positioned as symbolic of the relationship between the two. But locals are really more pissy about having to buy a tasteless Rumble in the Jungle turkey wrap at the Rainforest Cafe or $20 in merchandise just to validate a few hours of parking! Why, just look at this happy camper.
Other deals spotlighted include Disney's 30-year gate tax ban passed by city council in 2015, and last year's Four-Diamond Hotel Incentive program that ushered in $550 million for three new luxury lodges, one belonging to the Mouse. Aside from talking heads getting quoted and a little further exploration of the '96 deal and gate tax fight, there's nothing really new or insightful offered. Meanwhile, the Weekly recently reported that the new Westin luxury hotel under construction across from Disneyland will leave the city millions in the red after 20-years of tax breaks thanks to lingering bond payments from the '96 expansion. If the Times hadn't ditched its Orange County section long ago, they'd be doing blow-by-blow reporting on Disney and Anaheim just like OC Weekly and Voice of OC. A two-part series coming almost a year after an election that served as a referendum of sorts on these battles reeks of parachute journalism long after the first shots were already fired.
And that's where the second installment turns next. A year ago, Anaheim mayor Tom Tait finally formed a council majority allowing him to put a stop to subsidies for the first time since turning against them in 2012. Miller rehashes election porn by claiming Disney broke its own Anaheim city council election spending record by shelling out $1.22 million through 10 different PACs last year, easily surpassing the more than $700,000 in Mouse contributions tallied by Voice of OC in 2014. That same year, two measures overwhelmingly passed to expand the council by two seats and elect them by single-member district. Disney spent tens of thousands for signage in support, not opposition. Somehow, the Times didn't detail that.
It's true Disney blasted past its total spending in 2014. Then again, even though it had two additional races to stuff coffers for, it fell short of doubling its figures from two years ago. Disney spent less per race, but got more bang for its buck with less voters in each single-member district. Long story short, statisticians: don't compare spending in an at-large race with two fewer seats to a reformed, expanded district election system. Wait until 2018 and subsequent election cycles to play with comparative data.
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Whatever the case, Disney outspent its opponents in all the races and still lost two closely contested seats. Of course, the Times focuses on Jose F. Moreno, the jargon-bot Chicano Studies professor who beat pro-Disney incumbent Jordan Brandman, despite having less union backing, by less than 100 votes even though downtown Anaheim is the most Mexi district in the city and California's anti-Trump Latino voters turned out en masse for the general election. The Battle of Anaheim isn't so dramatic when looking at political newbie Denise Barnes besting Disney-backed dirty ex-cop Steve Chavez Lodge to become Anaheim's first Latina councilwoman, you know? Miller mentions an anti-Moreno smear exposing the candidate's plea for leniency to a judge ready to sentence his wife-beating brother-in-law that emerged on attack blogs the night before the election. He does so without citing former Weekly editor Gustavo Arellano who first unraveled the pathetic plot within hours and tied it to Moreno's opponent.
In fact, Miller cites a local outlet, Voice of OC, only once in his entire two-part series when mentioning a story written by current Times reporter Adam Elmarhek about councilwoman Kris Murray's European vacation with Disney lobbyist pal Carrie Nocella after her reelection in 2014. And if the Miller read local reporting more closely, his article wouldn't have embarrassingly touted the new Tait majority's scrubbing of the luxury hotel program as an example of Disney ass-kicking; pro-Disney councilwomen voted to end it, too.
The series predictably ends looking forward to next year's elections with a swipe at pro-Disney mayoral candidate, former councilman, and perennial pollo bowl Harry Sidhu. But anyone who saw Disney muzzle much liberal criticism of its massively subsidized luxury hotel deal last year knows that all it takes is a few Project Labor Agreements for trades and card check neutrality for service workers to quiet council chambers. Democrat Ashleigh Aitken, Sidhu's challenger, is on record with the Voice of OC as having a negotiable stance on subsidies.
And that, folks, is how the Disneyocracy turns blue.