At a time when we’re seeing more and more companies attempting to avoid soiling themselves with the stench of the belching Trump machine, Disney is actively trying to give Fox News founder Rupert Murdoch more billions. It’s a gutsy move in the age of boycotts, and it shows how shallow Disney’s carefully crafted progressive image really is.
On Wednesday, we learned that Disney has upped the ante in its bidding war with Comcast to take over 21st Century Fox from Murdoch and his family. Disney originally offered $52 billion for the company and Murdoch accepted, but then Comcast stepped in with a bid of $65 billion in cash. Never one to turn down an extra $13 billion, Murdoch chuckled to himself and relaxed while these two fought it out. Now, Disney’s offering $71 billion for Fox and it’s still an open question whether Comcast will come back with more. That’s a lot of money to hand over to the man who could easily be the most singularly responsible for cultivating the environment that got Donald Trump elected and still operates as one of the president’s top advisers.
To be clear, Disney doesn’t want to buy Fox News. That profitable but toxic asset has been separated from the more benign media properties under the 21st Century Fox umbrella. Murdoch is an old-school newsman and his propaganda network affords him all sorts of power and benefits. What’s more, analysts believe that the so-called “New Fox” could be a more streamlined and profitable company for Murdoch that will push out more news to its local television affiliates after it loses the production studios where its scripted programming is filmed. Being the party that gets Fox News to make more “news” while driving up the ultimate profits Murdoch reaps through a bidding war is, to put it gently, not a good look.
Corporate America’s uneasy relationship with Trump’s people and policies began in earnest just days after the president’s inauguration. Uber was the first to feel the effects of consumer backlash after it continued to charge surge pricing to New York’s JFK airport while cab drivers were striking in solidarity with those protesting Trump’s Muslim ban. #DeleteUber went viral, the company lost a lot of customers, and Uber even faced a public backlash from its own employees. Uber’s then-CEO, Travis Kalanick, quickly apologized, pledged millions to help his drivers who were stuck overseas, and resigned from Trump’s business advisory council.
This pretty much set the template for what we’ve seen happen since. With the public feeling powerless to do anything to influence the politically powerful, it’s continued to pressure companies that it considers collaborators through boycotts and shaming. And it’s not just liberals pressuring companies to be more progressive; conservatives flip out at any sign of anti-Trump bias from a corporation. Most famously, fans of Fox News’ Sean Hannity started breaking their Keurig machines when the company pulled its advertising from the pundit’s show. Companies want to stay out of this whole mess in general, but there’s also internal and external pressure for them to do the right thing.
With the administration’s recent decision to start enforcing immigration law through an entirely voluntary and cruel policy of separating families who cross the border “illegally” and throwing little children into cages, things have turned even more heated. We’ve seen American, United, Southwest, and Frontier airlines refuse to transport immigrant children to prison camps and demand that homeland security stop trying. We’ve seen Uber and Lyft step up to offer help to families that are under attack through these jackboot tactics—Uber even offered its team of lawyers to advise pro-bono attorneys working on behalf of immigrants. And there’s the usual flood of CEOs issuing statements of condemnation.
Burnishing your image while doing some good is just PR 101, no matter how sincere the motivation is. But we’re also seeing employees at companies increasingly take a moral stand against immoral policies and practices. Microsoft is facing an internal backlash about the company’s work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Google has gone through the same outrage from employees who oppose the company’s work with the Pentagon on drone programs. And on Tuesday, numerous high-profile employees of Fox spoke out against their own company due to Fox News’ unwavering support for locking children in camps where they may never see their family’s again.
The question is whether Murdoch’s stench will rub off on Disney. The family-friendly media giant has been winning praise for years as it’s tried to make its properties more progressive and inclusive. It’s been known for publicly supporting gay rights long before many Democrats were vocal on the issue, and its CEO, Bob Iger, also recently quit a Trump committee as a “matter of principle.” Does Disney really want to throw away the goodwill it’s built by giving Rupert Murdoch a big ‘ol retirement gift that will further ensure his heirs can continue to pump racist and xenophobic propaganda straight into the veins of middle America? Does the world’s biggest maker of children’s entertainment really want to be associated with children prisons?
Odds are, it doesn’t think it ever will be tarred with that brush. It’s not buying Fox News, after all, and most people won’t really make the connection that this deal is anything more than Disney buying another media company. But it’s not just that. Comcast doesn’t have a moral bone in its corporate body—nothing could dissuade its leadership from enriching Murdoch. And the only thing stopping them is Disney driving up the price of the sale. Murdoch has spent his life wrecking newspapers, lowering the bar in the media landscape, and preying on the fears of white people to sell commercials. This is his last hurrah. He finally gets to cash in and find out how much his life’s work is worth. He would’ve been fine with $52 billion, but now its worth another $19 billion—more than enough to keep a couple more generations of Murdochs comfortable on their yachts.
Objecting to specific policies and making angry statements is easy. When it comes to the big money, though, you’re always going to end up working with scum. It’s the same thing we see with Apple and its good guy image. Tim Cook can say some nice words in public about ending the inhumane separation of families, but when he comes face-to-face with Trump he’d rather talk about tariffs that might hurt Apple’s business. On Monday, it was reported that Trump guaranteed Cook he won’t apply tariffs to iPhones. Cook knows his priorities and so does Disney. Just remember that when the Disney and Marvel logos come up before the next X-Men, Rupert Murdoch is somewhere being a hell of a lot richer.
We reached out to Disney to ask if it has any concerns about being associated with Murdoch and Trump. We did not receive a reply.