Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger spoke out forcefully about the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas, calling the violence a “human tragedy of huge proportion” and noting the incident is indicative of “a huge crisis” for the United States.
“We should be demanding a dialogue about this from our politicians,” said Iger, speaking at a conference Tuesday organized by Vanity Fair. The executive has in the past been the subject of speculation that he might seek public office after stepping down from Disney. “I don’t think this is politics,” he also said. “I think this is a huge crisis for our country.”
In a wide-ranging interview with Vanity Fair staffer Nick Bilton, Iger offered some hints about a Disney-branded streaming service slated to debut in 2019, disclosed that Disney kicked the tires on social-media outlet Twitter; and discussed the recent imbroglio at ESPN sparked by anchor Jemele Hill’s remarks made about President Donald Trump.
The Disney chief also spoke in-depth about ESPN and some of the controversies sparked by some of its on-air personalities. In recent weeks, the sports-media outlet sparked controversy after early-evening anchor Jemele Hill took to Twitter and likened President Trump to a white supremacist.
“We have not asked ESPN to be politically leaning,” Iger said, but he noted some on-air personalities on social media can’t easily separate their job affiliation from their personal need to speak out of a sense of conscience. He disclosed he got involved personally in deciding how to handle the Hill controversy.
“I felt we needed to take into account what Jemele and other people at ESPN were feeling in this time,” he said. “That resulted in not taking action” regarding her regarding her tweet.
The conversation drifted to the national anthem controversy, where Iger made clear he was sympathetic with athletes who chose to take a knee even though he himself wouldn’t do so. “I happen to believe in the national anthem and I stand up when its played, “he said. “But I just think we have to take into account what we’re seeing societally, a little empathy in that regard would go a long way.”
While Iger was reticent to talk about Donald Trump, he was more forthcoming in addressing how the president may be underestimating how hugely pro athletics looms over American culture.
“I don’t think Donald Trump touched sports; sports touched Donald Trump,” Iger said. “It’s not just in a bubble where people put on uniforms and throw balls around. It’s bigger than that.”
Iger also touted the upcoming streaming services coming from ESPN and Disney, the latter of which would feature all the Disney films currently available on Netflix, along with some programming from Disney’s cable networks. He said the company would likely make five original movies a year for the service, and also move some programming from Disney Channel there as well.
Iger said Disney considered the idea of buying Twitter, and spent several months investigating that possibility. Twitter had “global reach and good consumer interface,” he said, but Disney executives ultimately decided to purchase BAMTech, the streaming-video infrastructure that grew out of Major League Baseball.
He played coy when asked what he might do after stepping down from Disney, which he is slated to do in 2019. When the interviewer, Nick Bilton, raised speculation about a potential White House bid, Iger said, “Let’s not go there.” But he did say he fully intended to leave Disney at the end of his contract. “It’s time,” he said, and he would ponder what he might do at that time. Doing so beforehand, he added, would be “premature.”
After what would be a 45-year career at Disney, Iger said he’s still getting a sense of the road ahead for him. “I want to know what’s on the other side,” he said. “I haven’t been on the other side in so long, its going to take me a while to figure that out.”