On Friday, two odd items appeared in The Los Angeles Times. The paper’s bulky 2017 holiday movie preview began with a “note to readers,” explaining the absence of one particular studio’s productions. “This year,” it went, “Walt Disney Co. studios declined to offer The Times advance screenings, citing what it called unfair coverage of its business ties with Anaheim. The Times will continue to review and cover Disney movies and programs when they are available to the public.” And it turned out they were serious about the last part; a note also appeared in that day’s calendar section, using the same language to explain the absence of an advance review of Disney’s latest Marvel offering. (LAT film critic Justin Chang saw it Thursday night, with a paying audience, and the review ran on the Times’ website Friday.) The Times staff is simply no longer invited to press screenings and junkets, and entertainment reporter Glenn Whipp also told Indiewire that the paper’s TV writers had been locked out of the sites where they review advance screeners for shows on Disney-owned networks like ABC and ESPN.
Disney has issued the following statement on the freeze-out:
We regularly work with news organizations around the world that we don’t always agree with, but in this instance the L.A. Times showed a complete disregard for basic journalistic standards. Despite our sharing numerous indisputable facts with the reporter, several editors, and the publisher over many months, the Times moved forward with a biased and inaccurate series, wholly driven by a political agenda—so much so that the Orange County Register referred to the report as “a hit piece” with a “seemingly predetermined narrative.” We’ve had a long relationship with the L.A. Times, and we hope they will adhere to balanced reporting in the future.
It is, of course, entirely within Disney’s rights to refuse access to its talent and properties; advance screenings and online screeners are a privilege, albeit one that allows critics and reporters to do their job more efficiently (and, in doing so, better promote studio properties). But to penalize a major newspaper – and one that boasts some of the finest critics and entertainment journalists in the country – over a trio of unflattering (and, it should be noted, impeccably and exhaustively reported) stories is petty and small. And for other outlets to look on, or look away, as a giant multimedia corporation doles out that punishment is unacceptable.
Thus, for as long as Disney locks out the Los Angeles Times, this outlet will withhold the only thing we have of value to that studio: the free advertising provided by not only reviewing their films, but write-ups of their trailers, production announcements, casting rumors, and so on. We will not cover any Disney releases, nor those of subsidiaries Marvel or Lucasfilm (no, not even that one) as long as the Times ban stands.
We are, we’re well aware, a comparatively tiny platform, and Disney will probably not even notice our little blackout. But if larger outlets are willing to do the same, to stand with their colleagues in the critical community against a corporate bully, well, maybe that will move the needle a little.