Disney CEO Bob Iger on Thursday rejected Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign rhetoric against the company, calling the Republican presidential candidate’s attacks “preposterous and inaccurate.”
Iger, who spoke in an exclusive interview with CNBC, was responding to DeSantis’ comments from the campaign trail that the entertainment giant is “sexualizing children.”
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Iger, the CEO of one of Florida’s largest employers, also defended Disney’s right to speak out last year against a controversial state bill that limited classroom discussion of LGBTQ+ issues, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.
The move by then-CEO Bob Chapek, who succeeded Iger in 2020 and resigned in 2022 when Iger returned to the helm, kicked off the bitter feud with the governor and his Republican allies.
Following Disney’s criticism, the Florida officials targeted the special tax district that for decades had allowed Walt Disney World to essentially self-govern its Florida operations. Disney has sued, accusing DeSantis of waging a campaign of political retribution against the company.
“We are concerned that he has decided to retaliate against the company for a position the company took on pending legislation in that state,” Iger said Thursday.
“And frankly, the company was within its right, even though I’m not sure it was handled very well, it was within its right to speak up on an issue [of the] constitutionally protected right of free speech,” he said. “To retaliate against the company in a way that would be harmful to the business was not something that we could sit back and tolerate.”
As the legal fight plays out, DeSantis has continued to wage war against Disney in the court of public opinion. As he campaigns for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, DeSantis has regularly accused Disney of advocating for the sexualization of children over its opposition to the classroom bill. A pro-DeSantis super political action committee also cut an ad claiming Disney films promoted “secret sexual content.”
Iger told CNBC, “The last thing that I want for the company is for the company to be drawn into any culture wars.”
“We are a preeminent entertainer in the world, and we’re proud of our track record there. The notion that Disney is in any way sexualizing children, quite frankly, is preposterous and inaccurate,” he added.
Iger also said it was “horrifying” to see a recent demonstration by neo-Nazis who had gathered near Disney World following former President Donald Trump’s federal indictment.
“It’s concerning to me that anyone would encourage a level of intolerance or even hate that, frankly, could even become — dangerous action that could be turned into some dangerous act of some sort,” he said.
A DeSantis campaign spokesman declined to comment on Iger’s remarks, telling CNBC, “The governor’s statements to date are our position.”
The DeSantis campaign responded to Iger later Thursday by tweeting a video clip of Disney executive Karey Burke speaking in a 2022 company-wide Zoom call about LGBTQ representation in the company’s content.
Burke in that clip describes herself as a mother of two queer children and says, “We don’t have enough leads and narratives in which gay characters just get to be characters and not have to be about gay stories.”
The lengthy interview Thursday morning came less than a day after Disney announced Iger would stay on as CEO through 2026. Iger previously said he was not planning to remain in the job past 2024.