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The story that "Save Disney" tried to hide

Jim Hill

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The story that "Save Disney" tried to hide

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Actions speak louder than words.

That's why I think that "Save Disney" 's decision to delay the announcement that it would NOT be putting forward an alternate slate of candidates for positions on Disney's board of directors at the 2005 annual meeting until AFTER Wall Street had closed for business last Friday afternoon speaks volumes about the sad state of Roy Disney & Stanley Gold's "Oust Eisner" campaign.

You don't see the significance of this event? Okay. Here, let me try & put things in context for you by taking you back to November 30, 2003. The day that Roy sent his letter of resignation into the Walt Disney Company's board of directors.

This event was carefully staged in order to get the maximum amount of press attention. Walt's nephew deliberately made his announcement early that Sunday afternoon. Which virtually guaranteed that a headline which read that "Roy Disney resigns from the Walt Disney Company" would be prominently displayed in the business section of every major American newspaper the following morning.

Then -- with the deliberate intention of keeping this same story in the media spotlight -- Stanley Gold sent his own letter of resignation into Disney's board of directors on Monday, December 1st. Which -- in essence -- got Roy & Stanley two bites of the same apple. More importantly, it was this additional press attention that helped to get their then-fledgling "Save Disney" campaign off the ground.

So you see what I'm saying here, folks? Right from the get-go with "Save Disney," Disney and Gold proved that they were masterful manipulators of the media. Which -- given that these two served on the board of directors for one of the world's largest media comglomerates -- this really shouldn't come as a shock.

Of course, the flipside of being this media savvy is that Roy & Stanley also know how to get a news item buried. How to make sure that as few reporters as possible file stories on a subject that you DON'T want most people to know about.

Which brings us back to the timing of last Friday's announcement that "Save Disney" would not be presenting an alternate slate of candidates for positions on Disney's board of directors at the company's 2005 annual meeting. Disney & Gold's people made sure that this particular news item wasn't released to the press 'til after Wall Street had actually ended its trading day this past Friday afternoon.

"So what's the harm in doing that?," you ask. Well, you have to understand that the business press doesn't really follow a seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day news cycle. That it tends to work the hours that Wall Street does. Which is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. EST Monday through Friday.

So -- by making this announcement late on Friday afternoon East Coast time -- Roy & Stanley virtually guaranteed that this particular "Save Disney" -related item would get little or no coverage from the business press. That -- by the time that all the reporters who cover Wall Street finally got back to work on Monday -- that there'd be all these other business-related stories that happened on Saturday & Sunday that now need to be covered.

Which is how all those no-alternate-slate articles wound up being buried in the business section of most newspapers today. Which -- to be honest -- is just the way that Disney & Gold wanted this all to play out.

So Roy & Stanley -- thanks to their skill at manipulating the media -- managed to save "Save Disney" from some real embarassment last week. Which is a nice change for Disney & Gold, given the pounding that their reputations have taken over the past two-and-a-half  months.

Since "Save Disney" basically threw in the towel with its September 28th statement , Roy & Stanley have had to endure numerous humilations. Being forced to testify last month on Michael Eisner's behalf at the Ovitz compensation trial in Delware was one particularly embarassing episode. Then watching helplessly as one of "Save Disney" 's strongest supporters -- CalPERS president Sean Harrigan -- was voted out of power earlier this month was another.

Unfortunately, the humiliations keep coming. Roy's family members are said to be particularly upset at how Mouse House officials have been deliberately begun removing all mentions of Walt's nephew from Disney Company products.

Take -- for example -- the next wave of "Walt Disney Treasures" DVDs that are due to hit stores tomorrow. For years now, these collector tins have featured a blue paper wrapper emblazoned with Roy's signature. Well, that's no longer the case. Supposedly on Michael Eisner's direct order, these banners were removed from the upcoming wave of "Walt Disney Treasures" DVDs. All in an effort to downplay Roy's connection with the company that his late uncle founded.

This might explain why "Save Disney" is now quietly championing the shareholder proposal that Disney investor Frank Wierenga wants to have put up for a vote at the company's 2005 annual meeting. Wierenga's proposal calls for at least one member of the Disney family to always have a seat on the corporation's board of directors.

Given how Eisner (thanks to his low-key, behind-the-scenes dealings) has so effectively marginalized Disney & Gold, Weirenga's shareholder proposal may be the only way that Roy (Or -- more likely -- a member of Roy's family) will ever have any real say about the day-to-day dealings of the Walt Disney Company. Which is why (obviously) the folks at "Save Disney" really want this proposal to be put before the shareholders at next year's annual meeting and then have this item pass.

Of course, getting all the votes necessary to get Weirenga's proposal adopted may prove to be a real challenge these days. Give how seriously "Save Disney" 's fan base has eroded over these past few months.

Don't believe me? Then head on over to www.animationnation.com, a site that still proclaims that it "wholeheartedly supports Roy Disney in his efforts to revive the Disney corporation."

Well, that's what the banner at the top of animationnation's homepage says. But -- were you to poke around the site's discussion boards -- you'd find that many animation professionals have begun to express their shock & dismay at how "Save Disney" seems to have dropped the ball. At how Disney & Gold appear to have abandoned their quest BEFORE the Walt Disney Company actually got saved.

This is why I think that it's rather ill-advised for "Save Disney" (in an effort to get some positive press going for Roy as well as provide yet another distraction from last Friday's no-alternate-slate announcement) to suddenly start championing "Dream On Silly Dreamer." You know, that great new live action featurette from Tony West & Dan Lund which chronicles the sad demise of traditional animation at Walt Disney Studios?

I mean, me personally, I find it somewhat bizarre that Roy Disney is issuing statements like:

"I was recently given the privilege of viewing 'Dream On, Silly Dreamer,' and I have to say how very human a face it puts on an institutional tragedy... the slow, cruel and insidious death of Disney Animation over the past several years under Michael Eisner. It should be seen by everyone who still believes in the magic of Disney. These are the people who made it happen. Their treatment was appalling."

Admittedly, it's nice that Walt's nephew is talking up Dan & Tony's film and all. But does Roy Disney seriously expect people to forget that he was Chairman of Disney Feature Animation WHILE the events that are chronicled in "Dream On Silly Dreamer" were actually happening?

The guy was in the building while WDFA was being systematically whittled away. If he cared so  much about Disney Feature Animation, then why didn't Roy do something to try & stop this senseless destruction back when he was Chairman of that department? Why didn't he confront Eisner about this "institutional tragedy" back then -- rather than bitching & moaning about it now?

This is the issue that I think is really going to come to light should Roy continue to try & champion "Dream On Silly Dreamer." Animation professionals were initially willing to cut Walt's nephew some slack, given that he was the guy behind the whole "Save Disney" effort. But now that Disney & Gold seem to have given up on their "Oust Eisner" crusade, I believe that you're going to start to see some pretty unflattering stories come out about Roy.

"What sorts of stories?," you query. Tales that talk about how Walt's nephew -- in spite of how much he claimed to love Disney traditional animation -- was reportedly just an absentee landlord for that unit at the studio. Which meant that Roy supposedly spent more time getting ready for yacht races and/or flying off to his castle in Ireland than he did tending to official WDFA business. Which is how this troubled unit allegedly fell victim to Eisner's sharp pencil boys.

It's that story -- in spite of Disney & Gold's obvious skill at manipulating the media -- that I think will eventually become Roy Disney's legacy. Not that he once tried to "Save Disney." But -- rather -- that Walt's nephew was reportedly far too busy with outside activities to do the job that he was actually supposed to do at the studio. Which was serve as the Chairman of Disney Feature Animation. To guide, support & protect traditional animation at Walt Disney Studios, this unique artform that was once the very lifeblood of the Disney corporation.

That's the story that -- once the press finally gets wind of what's being said over at animationnation.com -- that I think is going to have a real unfortunate long term impact on Roy Disney's reputation. So one wonders how the folks at Citrick (I.E. "Save Disney" 's PR firm) are going to try & spin this one.

Your thoughts?

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