I’m not sure why this hasn’t been dwelled on during the ABC The Path to 9/11 controversy, but remember this the next time the network asserts it is even-handed politically: Disney’s chief lobbyist, Preston Padden, is one of Washington D.C.’s most well-connected Republican lobbyists. Padden, whose title is executive v-p of government relations for Disney, is also a founding member of a loose-knit group billed as “Entertaining Republicans” who raised about $100,000 for the Republican Party in 2004. Since 2005, Padden has actively coordinated with the National Republican Congressional Committee to raise money for GOP congressional candidates running in the 2006 midterm elections. (In fact, Padden’s boss, Disney prez and CEO Bob Iger, was supposed to attend one National Republican Congressional Committee’s $500-a-plate breakfast Washington fund-raiser which Padden helped organize that was hosted by House Speaker Dennis Hastert.) Meanwhile, Padden’s new No. 2 is Bill Bailey, former communications adviser to Sen. John McCain.
Then again, ABC’s parent company Disney has a history of being close to the Bush administration since 9/11. Let’s not forget that W pleaded just days after the tragedy for Americans “to return to the kind of lives we were leading before [that], especially air travel. Get on board. Do your business around the country. Fly and enjoy America’s great destination spots. Go down to Disney World in Florida; take your families and enjoy life the way we want it to be enjoyed.” It was as close to a White House commercial for Disney as any corporation could dare hope. Then Bush followed that up weeks later with a PR visit to Orlando, Florida, where the Magic Kingdom had suffered a 25 percent drop in ticket sales. And since then, in addition to the usual tax breaks from W’s brother, Jeb, Disney World has benefited from special security measures, including extra protection and a federally declared “no flyover zone.” And let’s not forget that former chairman/CEO Michael Eisner, although he has supported Democratic candidates like Bill Bradley in the past, pulled the distribution plug on Fahrenheit 9/11 even though stockholders were starving for movie-division profits after everything else on Disney’s slate in the first half of 2004 fell flat. Obviously, Eisner didn’t care that this beleaguered company would miss out on one of the most profitable films that year if it meant angering the Bush administration being so helpful to his company.
Meanwhile, Padden, who used to work on behalf of Murdoch, was set to use all of his considerable influence in the GOP-controlled Congress and White House on Disney’s behalf when Comcast was interested in gobbling up the Mouse House. Padden intended to portray it as a David vs Goliath takeover. Now his biggest issue, besides pushing for anti-piracy legislation, is preventing congressional bills to allow so-called “à la carte” cable pricing (to let consumers pay only for the cable-TV channels they want, thus upending the traditional cable-TV bundle), which could hurt Disney’s ESPN or family channels.