Amid an extraordinary period of controversy that engulfed Walt Disney Co., the person responsible for protecting the entertainment giant’s public image has quit after just three months on the job.
Disney chief executive Bob Chapek has hired Geoff Morrell, a former BP executive, as the Burbank company’s public relations and government affairs manager.
But that’s exactly where Disney has struggled a lot in recent weeks, as the company faces dire consequences for its response to Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, which critics have derisively dubbed the legislation. “Don’t Say Gay”.
“After three months in this new role, it has become clear to me that for a number of reasons this is not the right fit,” Morrell said in an email Friday to staff. “After discussing this with Bob, I have decided to leave the company to pursue other opportunities.”
As Director of Corporate Affairs, Morrell not only oversaw the company’s public relations, but was also responsible for its government relations and environmental and social responsibility strategies.
Hiring Morrell was widely seen as a chance to recover from the era of Zenia Mucha, known for her fierce approach to defending Disney from critical journalists. For Disney, the world’s best-known entertainment brand, image is no mean feat.
But Disney executives misread the situation in Florida in a way that continues to have ripple effects. After Disney said its “goal as a company” was to see the repeal of the law supported by Republicans in the Sunshine State, Governor Ron DeSantis moved quickly to have Disney’s special self-government status revoked. near Orlando.
In a special session, lawmakers voted to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was created by a 1967 law that gives Disney extraordinary powers over the territory that is home to Walt Disney World. Under the bill DeSantis signed last week, the Central Florida District would be eliminated on June 1 of next year.
Disney’s current problems stem from its initial response to parental rights legislation, which prohibits classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade.
Proponents view the restrictions as reasonable measures to protect children from concepts they are not ready for. LGBTQ activists and allies see it as an attack on gay and trans youth and teachers.
Chapek initially resisted by publicly condemning the bill, despite internal pressure from employees. His first statement to staff — that the company’s statements don’t do much and would turn Disney into “political football” — backfired, prompting public outcry from some employees.
Chapek later apologized and promised to suspend political donations in the state of Florida as the company reevaluates its advocacy policies.
Hollywood insiders had speculated about Morrell’s lifespan as controversies metastasized. His choice was seen as a surprise choice by some, coming from the corporate communications job at oil company BP and moving from London to Los Angeles to take the job at Disney. While at BP, Morrell was tasked with restoring the company’s reputation after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.
In an early mistake at Disney, Morrell posted on social media the opening date for the EPCOT Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind roller coaster. He deleted the message.
Morrell previously served as the Pentagon’s press secretary and deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, serving as the primary spokesperson for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and the U.S. military. He was nominated by President George W. Bush and continued to serve under President Obama.
“Fortunately, the strength and experience of our existing leadership team – including relatively new hires – means there is no shortage of talent to guide our reputation functions,” Chapek said in an email. -email to employees.
Chapek said Kristina Schake will now lead Disney’s communications efforts, as executive vice president of global communications, reporting directly to him. Prior to Disney, Schake held positions leading President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine education program and also worked for the Obama White House.
Since Chapek took over as CEO in February 2020, his reputation has suffered from comparisons to his predecessor, Bob Iger. Chapek has struggled to indulge himself with the notoriously clubby culture of Hollywood creatives and the journalists who cover them.
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