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Under Pressure, Disney Backs Off Its Punishment of the L.A. Times

Punishing The Los Angeles Times for an article had led to threats of boycotts of Disney movies and banishment from awards.
Image: Emma Watson poses at the premiere of \"Beauty and the Beast\" in Los Angeles
Emma Watson poses at the premiere of "Beauty and the Beast" in Los Angeles on March 2, 2017.Mario Anzuoni / Reuters file

Facing a growing backlash and accusations that it was overreacting to critical press coverage, the Walt Disney Company announced Tuesday that it would no longer punish The Los Angeles Times over an article the company didn't like.

Disney had retaliated against the Times after the newspaper published an investigative report last month on the company's tax benefits from the city of Anaheim, California. The company said the newspaper's reporters would no longer be welcome at advance screenings of Disney movies.

That decision produced a loud protest over Disney's tactics, along with threats of boycotts against the entertainment giant and of banishing its movies from awards consideration.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics issued a joint statement saying they had voted to “disqualify Disney films from year-end awards consideration until said blackout is publicly rescinded.”

Image: Emma Watson poses at the premiere of "Beauty and the Beast" in Los Angeles
"Beauty and the Beast" star Emma Watson poses at the film's premiere in Los Angeles in March.Mario Anzuoni / Reuters file

The New York Times announced that it would not attend preview screenings of Disney films until The Los Angeles Times was allowed to do the same.

"A powerful company punishing a news organization for a story they do not like is meant to have a chilling effect," said a spokeswoman for The New York Times. "This is a dangerous precedent and not at all in the public interest."

Shortly after The New York Times joined the boycott, that newspaper became the first to announce that Disney had backed down.

Disney later confirmed its decision with a statement from a spokesperson: “We’ve had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at The Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns, and as a result, we’ve agreed to restore access to advance screenings for their film critics.”

Prior to Disney's reversal, Alyssa Rosenberg, a culture columnist for The Washington Post's Opinions section, announced that she would boycott screenings of Disney movies until the L.A. Times was invited back. That drew a tweet of support from the director Ava DuVernay, who is working on a Disney movie, “A Wrinkle in Time.”

On Nov. 3, the L.A. Times said its annual holiday movie list wouldn’t include Disney’s big releases, which include Marvel’s “Black Panther” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

CNN anchor Jake Tapper also weighed in on Monday, tweeting: “Disney’s boycott of the LA Times is unprofessional and unjournalistic. It’s petty, vindictive and it makes the company look small.”

The dispute began after The Los Angeles Times reported on Disney's forceful tactics in extracting tax breaks from Anaheim, the home of Disneyland. Among other details, the article said that Disney takes in $35 million a year from a parking lot owned by the city, which spent $108.2 million to build it, but charges Disney just $1 a year for the lease.

Disney responded by blasting the newspaper for a "complete disregard for basic journalistic standards," and the Times said it had been informed that its critics could no longer attend the usual advance screenings, which are necessary to publish reviews on the day a movie opens.

The company's hardball tactics are also well-known to financial analysts. One entertainment analyst, Rich Greenfield of the firm BTIG, told NBC News that he has been effectively banned by Disney since he downgraded the company’s stock last December.

“They won’t return our phone calls or emails or take our questions on a conference call, and when they do analyst meetings they invite everyone but us," said Greenfield, adding that Disney's chief executive, Bob Iger, even blocked the firm on Twitter. “This appears to be a recurring policy for the way Bob Iger handles critics. It goes all the way to Bob himself.”

CORRECTION (Nov. 7, 2017, 1:25 p.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated Alyssa Rosenberg's title at The Washington Post. She is a culture columnist of the Opinions section, not a film critic.