For Disney CEO Bob Iger, “caution is imperative” when it comes to public criticism of China. When weighing in on climate change, immigration, Donald Trump, gun control, taxes, abortion, income inequality, and whatever else, Iger is slightly less reserved.
The difference, of course, is that public criticism of China could cost Iger big money. That’s why his call for caution, issued on Tuesday at a Wall Street Journal tech conference, reveals laughable cowardice.
As protests in Hong Kong continue, and the NBA grapples with the fallout from its pathetic stance, Iger told conference attendees, “What we learned in the last week — we’ve learned how complicated this is. The biggest learning from that is that caution is imperative. To take a position that could harm our company in some form would be a big mistake. I just don’t believe it’s something we should engage in in a public manner.” (For a better take on how American companies should handle public criticism of China, read Helen Raleigh.)
It’s true, any criticism of China “could harm” Disney’s bottom line, which relies on access to the country’s massive market. It’s a simple matter of dollars and cents. But Iger, who mulled a Democratic primary bid, isn’t exactly a silent observer of politics—he clearly believes in speaking his mind. According to Bloomberg, Iger squirmed to justify his public positions on other political topics thusly:
Iger said he spoke out when President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accords because he believes global warming is real and a threat to his business.
‘If people can’t breathe the air, they’re not going to theme parks,’ Iger said.
The executive said he also spoke up in support of legalizing the immigration status of young people brought to the U.S. illegally as minors, some of whom work for Disney.
‘I felt I owed it to them to stand up on their behalf,’ he said.
Iger also weighed in on Georgia’s stricter abortion law, although the executive, who has considered running for president, said his comments in that case were not a position for or against the law but a statement of fact that the company may have trouble shooting in the state because actors and other creative types may not want to work there.
Iger’s abortion comments—in which he did actually say political opposition from industry denizens would make it “very difficult” to film in Georgia—highlight a telling dynamic. So disgusted is Hollywood by pro-life legislation that Disney would decline to take further advantage of the state’s lovely tax incentives for filmmakers.
Meanwhile, far from protesting the country’s abhorrent human rights records (which is in a slightly different ballpark than Georgia’s), that same industry bends over backwards to accommodate the Chinese government. Leave Georgia, go full steam ahead in China—and all from the country’s most sanctimonious industry.
Iger is a perfect case study, encapsulating neatly in one person the corporate class’s emergent China problem. Woke capitalists are only woke when it’s easy, which really just makes them capitalists. That would be fine enough if they didn’t also pretend to be brave, progressive culture warriors.