Former Disney CEO privately complained to DeSantis about 'pressure' from woke left amid FL fight
( Fox )
As the showdown between Florida's legislature and The Walt Disney Company heated up over an education bill that liberal activists incorrectly labeled the "Don't say gay bill," Disney's then-CEO called Gov. Ron DeSantis and complained about the "pressure" he faced.
DeSantis recounts the conversation in a chapter of his new memoir, "The Courage to be Free: Florida's Blueprint for American Revival," which will be released Tuesday by publisher HarperCollins. The chapter, shared exclusively with Fox News Digital, reveals what Bob Chapek, who was Disney CEO at the time, told DeSantis as the fight over Florida's education law heated up in the spring of 2022.
"As the controversy over the Parental Rights in Education bill was coming to a head, Chapek called me. He did not want Disney to get involved, but he was getting a lot of pressure to weigh in against the bill," DeSantis writes.
"We get pressured all the time," Chapek told DeSantis, according to the governor's book. "But this time is different. I haven’t seen anything like this before."
Chapek told shareholders that he had called DeSantis on March 9 to urge him not to sign the bill, which restricts schools from teaching gender and sexuality to children in kindergarten through third grade. Activists nicknamed it the "Don't say gay bill" despite the legislation not using those terms.
"I called Gov. DeSantis this morning to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary and transgender kids and families," Chapek said, according to FOX 35 Orlando.
According to a report from the New York Post, Chapek had privately expressed his hesitancy to involve his company in the political issues in Florida, the home of Disney World, in the months prior. But the pressure campaign within Disney and from Democrats nationwide ultimately convinced him take a stand.
DeSantis, however, issued a warning: If Disney got involved with the legislation, "People like me will say, ‘Gee, how come Disney has never said anything about China, where they make a fortune?’" DeSantis told Chapek.
The Florida governor said if Disney stayed out of the politics, Disney would face 48 hours of outrage when the bill passed. "[And] when I sign it, you will get another 48 hours of outrage, mostly online,'" DeSantis said, adding, "Then there will be some new outrage that the woke mob will focus on and people will forget about this issue, especially considering the outrage is directed at a political-media narrative, not the actual text of the legislation itself."
DeSantis wrote that Chapek and Disney "ultimately caved to leftist media and activist pressure and pressed the false narrative against the bill."
After the bill passed and DeSantis signed it into law, the governor was surprised that Disney chose to "escalate the battle" by vowing to fight the legislation in the courts. DeSantis signaled publicly that he would be willing to reevaluate Disney's special tax district and favorable corporate agreements due to their insistence on "woke" political activism.
Other reports showed that Disney had been pushing messages that conservatives blasted as "woke" — like enforcing gender and sexuality messages in movies and television shows. A show producer reportedly said on a leaked Disney staff call that she had a "not-at-all secret gay agenda" and had been "adding queerness" to kid's programming.
"Behind the scenes, I was not, as a father of children ages five, four, and two, comfortable with the continuation of Disney’s special arrangement," DeSantis wrote in his memoir. "While the Walt Disney Company and its executives had a right to indulge in woke activism, Florida did not have to place the company on a pedestal while they do so—especially when the company’s activism impacted the rights of parents and the well-being of children."
As Florida moved to strip Disney of its Reedy Creek district and revoke the company's self-governing status, DeSantis was surprised to see left-wing voices side with a large corporation.
"Even though Democrats often rail about the nefarious power exerted over politics by large corporations, and supposedly oppose special carveouts for big companies, they all dutifully lined up in support of keeping Disney’s special self-governing status," he wrote.
Chapek left Disney late in 2022, replaced by his predecessor, Bob Iger, who first left Disney in 2020. At a Disney town hall in November, Iger told the company, "Do I like the company being embroiled in controversy? Of course not. It can be distracting, and it can have a negative impact on the company. And to the extent that I can work to kind of quiet things down, I’m going to do that."
The lesson of the Disney saga, according to DeSantis, is that in an environment of "woke capital" where large companies employ their influence to advance left-wing political agendas, "old-guard corporate Republicanism is not up to the task at hand."
DeSantis' book aims to showcase his governing thesis that fighting for conservative principles paid off for Florida and could benefit other states and even the whole country. As a rumored 2024 presidential hopeful, DeSantis has led former President Donald Trump in a few early primary polls. He has not announced whether he will run.