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Dissidents dis Disney

Pair say CEO hunt is bogus

NEW YORK — Former Mouse directors Roy Disney and Stanley Gold slammed the company’s CEO search on Thursday, saying they’ve been advised by “credible sources” that all candidates will be interviewed in the presence of Michael Eisner.

“If this is true, the practice could make a mockery of the idea that candidates should have meaningful interchanges with the nonmanagement members of the board. Quite honestly, it would subvert the entire search process,” the duo wrote in an open letter on their Web site.

The letter, which will appear as a full-page ad in today’s Wall Street Journal, also scolds the Disney board for failing to investigate allegations raised in James B. Stewart’s recent book “Disney War” that execs withheld from the board pertinent financial information regarding the costly acquisition of the Fox Family Channel.

Disney fired back: “They have been consistently wrong in the past, and this is nothing more than a perpetuation of a campaign of distortion aimed at advancing their own personal agenda.” The company wouldn’t comment specifically on the points raised in the letter.

The book, widely read by media execs and industryites, moved up from No. 7 to No. 5 on the most recent New York Times bestseller list.

“If the facts are even close to those presented in the Stewart book, and there was a cover-up, this board ought to at least demand a return of the very large bonuses from 2002, 2003 and 2004 from the senior executives involved … And you ought to do that before some plaintiff’s lawyer or regulatory official makes that demand,” Roy Disney and Gold said in the letter.

“You have only to consider what Boeing’s board of directors did earlier this week to see how a responsible board responds to even the appearance of unethical or inappropriate behavior on the part of the CEO.”

Boeing chief exec Harry Stonecipher was sacked earlier this week for indiscretions stemming from an affair with another executive at the company.

The board has said it will announce a successor to Eisner in June and that the search process must be confidential. Eisner has said he will step down in September 2006.

Disney chairman and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell has said Eisner’s actual departure date will depend on who is chosen to replace him.

Eisner has publicly backed Disney chief operating officer Bob Iger for the job — a fact that Roy Disney and Gold say makes it problematic if he is indeed vetting other candidates.

“Between last September (when it announced it would select a new CEO by June of this year) and the annual shareholders meeting in early February, the Disney board did not interview a single candidate for the job,” Roy Disney and Gold claimed in the letter.

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