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"Save Disney" in disarray

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"Save Disney" in disarray

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I'm sorry, folks. But there really isn't a polite way to say this. Other than to say that the people working at "Save Disney" had a just plain awful week last week.

By that I mean: Roy Disney & Stanley Gold's team got caught flat-footed by Michael Eisner's surprise announcement on Friday, September 10th that he would be stepping down as Disney's CEO as of September 2006. And Roy & Stanley have been forced to play catch-up ever since.

Yeah, Disney & Gold are now learning what a costly error it was to basically put their "Save Disney" campaign on hiatus for these past six months. To assume that the Disneyana faithful would just come a-running whenever Roy & Stanley called. To believe the media would always remain sympathetic to their "Oust Eisner" cause.

Don't believe what I'm saying? Then let's talk about the mass e-mailing that "Save Disney" sent out on Thursday, September 16th. Perhaps you received a copy of this message yourself? The one entitled "Action Alert!"? This e-mail asked those who were still sympathetic to Disney & Gold's cause to immediately fax Disney Chairman George Mitchell and/or General Counsel Alan Braverman & express their concern with the Disney corporation's succession issues.

Less than 24 hours later, "Save Disney" suddenly sent out a second mass e-mailing. You know, the one with a headline that read "Major Press Puts the Pressure on Mitchell!"? This follow-up note urged those hadn't already faxed or e-mailed George Mitchell & Braverman to do so ASAP. Using urgent language like "It's important that you join the chorus calling for change at this critical time."

So why did "Save Disney" send out two such similiar e-mails within a single 24 hour span? Because -- based on what I've heard from folks who work for that organization -- that Thursday's call to arms didn't actually get much of a response. With fewer than a hundred people contacting Disney & Gold's office and asking that their anti-succession messages be forwarded to Mouse House officials.

"That's when the panic set in," said one "Save Disney" insider. "Which is why we sent out that second e-mail, hoping that that message might get a better response from the people who subscribe to our mailing list."

I'm told that the response to Friday's "Save Disney" missive was equally tepid. Which is what led many members of that organization to finally realize what had been whispered about for weeks now was true. That Roy & Stanley no longer have the strong support of the Disneyana faithful. Which means that Disney & Gold are going to have to put in a truly heroic effort if they ever hope to win these people back.

Certainly the press is no longer in "Save Disney" 's pocket. Don't believe me, eh? Okay. Then let's look at the Wall Street Journal. Michael Eisner's announcement that he would stepping down as Disney's CEO in September 2006? That was literally front page news in the Journal on Friday, September 10th. With Bruce Orwall's exclusive story running in the paper's right hand column on Page A1.

On Monday, September 13th, Orwall & Joann S. Lublin wrote a follow-up to that Eisner-stepping-down story entitled "Lame Duck in Charge." This feature (Which ran on Page B1. Which -- for those of you who don't know -- is the front page of the Wall Street Journal's "Marketplace" section. That part of the WSJ which is dedicated to covering technology, media and marketing-related stories. Anyway ... ) listed a number of Eisner's possible successors, including Disney president Bob Iger.

So what happened last Tuesday in the Journal? After Roy & Stanley sent their own letter to Disney's Board of Directors, in which "Save Disney" threatened to " ... continue (its) campaign to oust Mr. Eisner unless the board quickly signals that it will hire a search firm and replace Mr. Eisner by next spring"? Where did the WSJ story covering Disney & Gold's latest missive wind up? This Bruce Orwall & Joann S. Lublin collaboration got buried all the way back on Page B13. (Which -- given that September 14th's Wall Street Journal only had 14 pages in its entire "Marketplace" section -- gives you some idea of how deeply this story got buried.)

Okay. I can hear some of you "Save Disney" types out there saying that the Wall Street Journal must be biased. That -- because they're the paper that originally scored the exclusive on Eisner's stepping-down announcement -- it was then probably in the WSJ's best interests to bury that "Save Disney" -related article.

Well ... Maybe ... But -- even if that were the case here -- then how do you explain what's going on with all those other newspapers out there? Like Laura Holson's article in last Friday's New York Times, "After Eisner, the Disney Board Faces Its Own Deluge." That story -- which also discussed succession issues at the Walt Disney Company -- barely touched on "Save Disney." Except for a paragraph about Bob Daly, the former co-chairman of Warner Brothers. Who is said to be interested in becoming the Walt Disney Company's chairman -- should that position ever become available.

In the paragraph in question, Holson states:

"Mr. Daly has been approached by two of Mr. Eisner's most vocal critics -- Roy E. Disney, the nephew of the company's founder, and his financial adviser, Stanley P. Gold -- to join an alternate slate of directors. But Mr. Daly turned them down because he did not want to be a hostile candidate, according to three media executives who were informed of the overture."

You see what's happening here, folks? This story is really starting to slip out of Roy & Stanley's control. Where once "Save Disney" was the media's darling, now we're starting to hear about how influential people within the business & entertainment community are turning Disney & Gold down. Out of fear of what may happen to their reputations should they become associated with Roy & Stanley's campaign. Which is now being percieved by people in the industry as being negative.

Even "Save Disney" 's hometown papers -- the Los Angeles Time and Daily Variety -- appear to be losing interest in Roy & Stanley's efforts. This past Friday's piece in the Times about the Walt Disney Company's succession issues -- Richard Verrier's "Disney Chairman Isn't in the Happiest Place" -- doesn't get around to mentioning Disney & Gold 'til 19 paragraphs in. And then this article pretty much dismisses Roy & Stanley's entire "Oust Eisner" effort with a single 'graph.

Whereas Daily Variety ... In its inimitable show-bizzy style, Variety pretty much twitted the whole "Save Disney" campaign with last Friday's headline: "Mouse dissidents still squeaking."

Of course, Disney & Gold must have known that something like this might be in the wind. Given how badly their appearance on CNBC's "Power Lunch" program last Wednesday afternoon went. The title of this program is entirely appropriate, given that "Power Lunch" 's hosts -- Bill Griffeth and Sue Herera -- basically chewed Roy & Stanley up and spat them out that day.

Disney & Gold had clearly hoped for a much more sympathetic handling by these two CNBC reporters. But Griffeth & Herera were just relentless with the former Disney board members. With Sue hammering away at Stanley, asking him for details about "Save Disney" 's dealings with Steve Jobs. (Gold sputtered out an answer to the effect that -- given that this was a private conversation between himself & Jobs -- that Stanley didn't think that it was appropriate that he should discuss this matter on national television. Herera countered with words to the effect that -- since the "Save Disney" reps had so often talked about Michael Eisner's troubled relationship with Pixar -- why shouldn't "Save Disney" 's own dealings with Steve Jobs be fair game for discussion as well?)

But it was Bill Griffeth's last question to Roy that proved to be the most telling. Griffeth asked Walt's nephew what would happen if -- in the worst case scenario -- that the "Save Disney" campaign failed. What would happens if Disney's Board of Directors didn't actually heed any of Disney & Gold's advice? If they opted to put in their own CEO candidate in place instead and then just proceeded from there?

Roy really didn't have an answer for Bill's question. He certainly didn't say anything stirring like "I'm going to do whatever I have to protect my uncle & my father's legacy." Instead, under Griffeth's grilling, Walt's nephew pretty much wimped out. Closing out this segment of "Power Lunch" with words to the effect of " ... we'd continue to fight for the value of our shares."

Which -- I'm guessing here -- might be a sound bite that would play well on Wall Street. But a quote like that isn't going to do anything to help Disney & Gold win back the hearts of the Disney faithful. People who were hoping that -- should Roy & Stanley actually win -- that we'd see a second flowering of Walt's Magic Kingdom. A whole slew of new traditionally animated films and/or a bucket of of new "E' Tickets being built at the Disney theme parks. Stuff like that.

Again -- let me stress here, folks -- that I don't get my jollies by writing stories like this. But it just bothers me to see so many Disneyana sites out there talking as if things are going great for "Save Disney" ... When they're really not.

Disney & Gold's campaign is in complete disarray right now, people. And -- unless Roy & Stanley get their act together and fast ... Well, here. Let me close out with a quote from Bruce Orwall's "Lame Duck in Charge" article:

"A widespread view on Friday was that Mr. Eisner may have cleverly disarmed his opponents with his retirement plans."

That's the same thing that I've been hearing as well, folks. That Roy & Stanley were completely out-flanked by Michael's stepping-down-in-September-of-2006 manuever. That these two didn't get a very strong response to last Thursday & Friday's request to fax George Mitchell and Alan Braverman because ... Well, to be frank, people don't really care about Disney's Board of Directors.

Which is why we find "Save Disney" in such a sorry state. With Roy & Stanley now fumbling to refine their message. To somehow get Disneyana fans as well as Wall Street movers & shakers excited about the idea of replacing Disney's Board of Directors. Because if that doesn't happen ... Well, there's little chance that Disney & Gold will ever find themselves again in positions of power at the Mouse House.

Again -- I know -- the Walt Disney Company has produced hundreds of cartoons, movies & TV shows over the years where there's this come-from-behind finish and the hero succeeds against some really incredible odds. But this is real life, people. And "Save Disney" ... Well, Roy & Stanley are supposed to be these really smart guys. But (me personally) I haven't been all that impressed with their performance over the past six months. Most of their movement's initial heat has been lost. The same thing can be said for much of "Save Disney" 's momentum.

And now that the Disney faithful aren't heeding Disney & Gold's calls to send faxes and the media seems to have turned its back on these two as well ... I don't see this story ending well for anyone other than Michael Eisner. Who now looks like he's going to have another 700+ days to rule over the Magic Kingdom. Which should give Uncle Mikey plenty of time to repair his tattered reputation.

It really didn't have to be this way, folks. If Roy & Stanley had just kept the pressure up after Philadelphia, if "Save Disney" hadn't taken that six month long seista ... We'd be dealing with a very different situation right about now.

But now ... I can't help but think about the irony of this whole situation. By that I mean: Today is the 20th anniversary of Michael Eisner's arrival at the Mouse House. September 20, 1984 was the very first day that Eisner served as Disney's CEO. And who got Michael that job? Roy & Stanley.

And now here's Eisner stage-managing his own exit. With Michael doing everything he can to make sure that he goes out on a high note. And here are Disney & Gold. Who are equally determined to do whatever they have to in order to get Eisner tossed out on his ass ASAP.

As a good friend of mine likes to say: "If irony were strawberries, we'd all be drinking a lot of fruit smoothies right about now."

Look for this already strange story to get even stranger later this week ... Once we learn what Disney's Board of Directors decided to do during their most recent series of meetings (which were held yesterday, today and tomorrow) and what Roy & Stanley's counter-move might be.

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