Disney CEO Bob Iger was confronted at the company's annual shareholders meeting on Wednesday by a shareholder who accused ABC News and ESPN of liberal bias.
Speaking on behalf of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), Disney Company shareholder Justin Danhof cited Brian Ross's coverage of the Aurora theater shooting and Rob Parker's remarks about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III as examples of Disney's contribution to liberal media bias, according to Politico:
"Disney's media platforms, from ABC News to ESPN, deserve their share for the nation's skepticism -- whether its ABC News reporter Brian Ross rushing to [falsely accuse the Tea Party] for the deadly shooting and massacre at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, or then-ESPN columnist Rob Parker saying that Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III was a, quote, 'cornball brother' who was not down with the black cause because his [fiance] is white and he is a Republican -- liberal bias pervades Disney's media outlets.".
"It's time to stop denying the bias and do something about it," continued Danhof, the director of the NCPPR's Free Enterprise Project. "Our company's leaders should show the intellectual honesty to admit it exists, it is a problem, and let's start working together on a solution."
Danhof argued that the appearance of bias harms Disney's revenue potential because it alienated "such a large market" of conservative viewers and drove away potential advertisers. Danhof cited a Feb. 2013 Gallup poll which shows that self-identified conservatives outnumber liberals by almost two-to-one.
Politico clarified that 38 percent of Americans in that poll identified themselves as "conservative," 36 percent as "moderate," and 23 percent as "liberal."
"I'm not asking that you turn ABC News into Fox News, or that you start airing Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh daily on ESPN," Danhof said. "I'm just asking you to start playing it straight with the American people. Stop the bias and return to an era of honesty and objectivity in the news."
Iger responded by telling Danhof he respected his concerns and his right to share them, but he defended both of his networks:
"Our goal at ABC News and ABC News stations and at ESPN is to be fair and to present the news that they cover in as unbiased a way as possible. Without meaning to sound overly defensive, I believe that the body of their work in fact is fair and unbiased and accurate.
Iger then threw Danhof a bone, but concluded by dismissing the shareholder's accusation of bias:
"However, I will say that over time we have been guilty of making mistakes -- not specifically commenting on those you cited -- but I can tell you that in managing this business over the years, we have at times either presented the news in a slightly inaccurate way through mistakes, or in ways we weren't necessarily proud of. But I firmly stand behind the integrity of our news organizations, because I believe that overall the job that they do is one that is worthy of respect, and certainly one that delivers to the value of the Walt Disney Company and its shareholders."
Kudos to Danhof for raising this issue at a shareholders meeting where media honchos like Iger can be made to feel the awkwardness and the financial pressure. Check out the audio clip above.