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Tempers flare over ‘DisneyWar’

“DisneyWar,” a book set to be released later this month, puts the heat on Robert Iger, the  media giant's current president and possible successor to CEO Michael Eisner.
Disney President Robert IgerAbc / Reuters file
/ Source: Financial Times

ABC entertainment chairman Lloyd Braun walked into Vincenti restaurant in Brentwood, Los Angeles, and extended a hand to his boss, Disney president Robert Iger, who did not reciprocate.

Instead, Mr. Iger warned his lieutenant on that night in November 2003, “I'm going to let you have it.”

But it was Mr. Braun who let fly, according to a passage from a draft of James Stewart's book “DisneyWar.”

Mr. Braun accused Mr. Iger of “lack of character; incompetence; taking credit for things you had nothing to do with; and running away from decisions you made.”

When Mr. Braun alleged that his boss had not had a hand in one of ABC's few successes at the time, the “reality” show “The Bachelor,” Mr. Iger was irate. He jumped out of his chair, jostling a waiter who spilled coffee down Mr. Iger's shirt front. Mr. Stewart's book, which does not hit stores until later this month but already is the talk of Hollywood, could not come at a worse moment for Mr. Iger, widely seen as the frontrunner to become Disney's next chief executive after Michael Eisner.

“The timing isn't good at all,” said Harold Vogel, a media analyst. Disney board members are scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss Mr. Eisner's replacement, expected to be named by June.

Once dismissed by Wall Street as being too close to Mr. Eisner and not a strong leader in his own right, Mr. Iger has overcome reservations in the investment community.

Disney cooperated extensively with Mr. Stewart during his research. But recently the group has been battling with the author and his publisher, Simon & Schuster, over unflattering passages about Mr. Iger and Mr. Eisner that Disney executives have insisted are slanted or erroneous.

Asked to comment on the draft of Stewart's book, a Disney spokesman would say only: “This flagrantly irresponsible article does not rise to a level that merits the dignity of a response.”

Mr. Stewart, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, declined to comment. Simon & Schuster executive vice-president David Rosenthal said, “We feel the book speaks for itself, and we stand behind it.”

Mr. Stewart describes a meeting of the Disney board in September 2002, during which Mr. Eisner complained about dissident directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold, who would later resign from the board and lead a shareholder revolt against him. “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? Bob?” Mr. Eisner asked, turning to Iger and adding dismissively, “Bob can't run this company.”

Sources said Mr. Eisner has disputed this version of the meeting.