Bob Iger vs Elon Musk: A Battle of Wokeness and Free Speech in the Media Industry

Bob Iger vs Elon Musk
Bob Iger vs Elon Musk - Getty Images

Bob Iger, the former CEO of Disney, has a lot of challenges to deal with, as the media giant faces pressure from activist investors, declining stock value, and waning consumer interest in its films.

He is also involved in a dispute with the Florida governor, who revoked Disney’s special authority over its own district, known as Reedy Creek, because of its progressive agenda.

Despite these difficulties, Iger chose to engage in a public confrontation with Elon Musk, the owner of X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.

Iger announced that he would withdraw ads from X, joining other progressive CEOs in criticizing Musk, who is despised by the left as much as former President Donald Trump.

The progressive movement’s main objective, as it seems, is to destroy X, which Musk is trying to transform from a liberal echo chamber to a free-speech haven.

Musk has vowed to stop censoring conservative voices and to resist the influence of the Biden administration.

This has made Musk, the world’s wealthiest person, a target of the left.

Musk himself added fuel to the fire when he endorsed a tweet that implied something hateful and antisemitic: that Jews were behind a conspiracy to replace white people.

Some online trolls claim that Jews deserve the antisemitic violence that erupted on the streets after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israelis near Gaza.

Media Matters, a left-leaning watchdog group funded by George Soros, reported that X allows neo-Nazi content to appear next to ads from major companies like Disney, leading to an ad boycott and a loss of revenue that threatens X’s survival.

Iger, at the New York Times DealBook conference last week, seemed to enjoy X’s troubles.

He took the initiative to publicly rebuke Musk and to reduce X’s ad income even more.

“By him taking the position that he took in quite a public manner,” Iger said, “we just felt that the association with that position and Elon Musk and X was not necessarily a positive one for us. And we decided we would pull our advertising.”

Musk admitted that his X post was stupid (he said so at the same conference) but a more balanced interpretation does not put him in the same category as the antisemitism displayed by some members of the Democratic Party who are almost celebrating the Oct. 7 attack – without any condemnation from Iger.

Media Matters’ “investigation” is as shaky as Disney’s stock price; Musk’s developers say that the group fabricated the situation they accused X of creating. Musk and his lawyers are now suing for defamation.

The bigger question for Disney’s shareholders is whether Iger knows what battles he should fight.

Iger was the longtime CEO of Disney, a legend in media and entertainment, before he stepped down as chief executive in 2020 (he remained as chairman until 2021) and handed over the company to his successor, Bob Chapek.

Iger was praised for his acquisitions, stock performance – and for his progressive social activism that he signaled from his C-suite and that was applauded by the liberal elite.

Left-wing influence prevails at Disney

In my upcoming book on corporate wokeness, “Go Woke, Go Broke”, I show how Chapek was ousted by the company’s left-wing establishment partly because he tried to change the culture that Iger had created.

It was not surprising that when Chapek was fired in late 2022, the board of Disney brought Iger back and he resumed his previous agenda. But it was not that simple.

His deals were not that impressive; they burdened Disney with a lot of debt at a time when consumers were not interested in its woke movies or willing to spend a lot of money for a visit to woke Disney World.

Disney’s stock price has fallen by almost 20% in the past five years, and shows no signs of recovery.

In a recent report to investors, the company admitted that its progressive positions are hurting its profits because “consumer perception of our position on matters of public interest, including our efforts to achieve our environmental and social goals, often differ widely and present risks to our reputation and brands.”

Musk’s reaction to Iger’s virtue-signaling also made headlines because it was both hilarious and typical of Musk.

“If somebody’s going to try to blackmail me with advertising, blackmail me with money,” he said during the Dealbook conference, “go f–k yourself. Go. F–k. Yourself. Is that clear? I hope it is . . . Hey, Bob, if you’re here in the audience. That’s how I feel.”

I have heard that Musk’s team at X are working hard to change its business model, moving the platform away from paid ads by big, woke corporations like Disney.