Under pressure, Disney backs off its punishment of the LA Times

Facing a growing backlash and accusations that it was overreacting to critical press coverage, the Walt Disney Company announced Tuesday that it would no longer punish The Los Angeles Times over an article the company didn't like.

Disney had retaliated against the Times after the newspaper published an investigative report last month on the company's tax benefits from the city of Anaheim, California. The company said the newspaper's reporters would no longer be welcome at advance screenings of Disney movies.

That decision produced a loud protest over Disney's tactics, along with threats of boycotts against the entertainment giant and of banishing its movies from awards consideration.

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HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 10: The Walt Disney Company Chairman and CEO Bob Iger attends the premiere of Walt Disney Pictures and Lucasfilm's 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story' at the Pantages Theatre on December 10, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
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Bob Iger during 4th Annual Friends Finding A Cure Gala Benefiting Project ALS at Walt Disney Studios in Burbank, California, United States. (Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 8: Disney's Bob Iger and writer/producer Mark Zakarin pose at the afterparty for the premiere of Miramax's 'Keeping up with the Steins' at the Pacific Design Center on May 8, 2006 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Bob Iger, President and CEO of The Walt Disney Cie attends the ceremony to honor movie mogul Michael D. Eisner by a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California, April 25, 2008. AFP PHOTO GABRIEL BOUYS (Photo credit should read GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 25: Disney's Bob Iger arrives at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's 34th Annual Dinner of Champions held at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel on September 25, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Robert 'Bob' Iger, president and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Co., leaves the morning session at Sun Valley, Idaho, U.S., on Wednesday, July 6, 2011. Media executives gather at Allen & Co.'s Sun Valley conference this week looking to shed assets such as the Hulu LLC video website and G4 game channel amid a declining global stock market and slowing economic growth. Photographer: Peter Foley/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 14: Bob Iger, chairman and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Co. attends Unveiling Moment At Barneys New York & Disney Electric Holiday Spectacular With Sarah Jessica Parker, Bob Iger, and Mark Lee on November 14, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Barneys New York)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - APRIL 04: Chairman and CEO of Conservation International Peter Seligmann and Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company Bob Iger attend Conservation International's 17th Annual Los Angeles Dinner at Montage Beverly Hills on April 4, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/WireImage)
Robert 'Bob' Iger, chairman and chief executive officer of Walt Disney Co., arrives at the Sun Valley Lodge ahead of the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, U.S., on Tuesday, July 8, 2014. Billionaires, chief executive officers, and leaders from the technology, media, and finance industries will gather this week at the Idaho mountain resort conference hosted by investment banking firm Allen & Co. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 12: Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company attends the dedication ceremony as ABC News headquarters in New York is proclaimed 'The Barbara Walters Building' ABC News Headquarters Dedication Ceremony on May 12, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)
Robert 'Bob' Iger, chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Co., arrives for a morning session during the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, U.S., on Friday, July 10, 2015. Billionaires, chief executive officers, and leaders from the technology, media, and finance industries gather this week at the Idaho mountain resort conference hosted by investment banking firm Allen & Co. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Walt Disney Company chairman and CEO Bob Iger speaks in front of a model of the new Shanghai Disney Resort during a press event in Shanghai on July 15, 2015. US entertainment giant Disney gave the first detailed preview to the media for its planned theme park in Shanghai, promising Chinese features and new attractions unlike its five other resorts, executives said. AFP PHOTO / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
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Chairman and CEO of Walt Disney Bob Iger holds a press conference at Shanghai Disney Resort in Shanghai on June 15, 2016. The Magic Kingdom comes to the Middle Kingdom this week when Disney opens its first theme park in mainland China, betting the growing middle class will spend big on leisure despite a slowing economy. / AFP / JOHANNES EISELE (Photo credit should read JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images)
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On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the New York Film Critics Circle, the Boston Society of Film Critics and the National Society of Film Critics issued a joint statement saying they had voted to “disqualify Disney films from year-end awards consideration until said blackout is publicly rescinded.”

The New York Times announced that it would not attend preview screenings of Disney films until The Los Angeles Times was allowed to do the same.

"A powerful company punishing a news organization for a story they do not like is meant to have a chilling effect," said a spokeswoman for The New York Times. "This is a dangerous precedent and not at all in the public interest."

Shortly after The New York Times joined the boycott, that newspaper became the first to announce that Disney had backed down.

Disney later confirmed its decision with a statement from a spokesperson: “We’ve had productive discussions with the newly installed leadership at The Los Angeles Times regarding our specific concerns, and as a result, we’ve agreed to restore access to advance screenings for their film critics.”

Prior to Disney's reversal, Alyssa Rosenberg, a culture columnist for The Washington Post's Opinions section, announced that she would boycott screenings of Disney movies until the L.A. Times was invited back. That drew a tweet of support from the director Ava DuVernay, who is working on a Disney movie, “A Wrinkle in Time.”

On Nov. 3, the L.A. Times said its annual holiday movie list wouldn’t include Disney’s big releases, which include Marvel’s “Black Panther” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”

CNN anchor Jake Tapper also weighed in on Monday, tweeting: “Disney’s boycott of the LA Times is unprofessional and unjournalistic. It’s petty, vindictive and it makes the company look small.”

The dispute began after The Los Angeles Times reported on Disney's forceful tactics in extracting tax breaks from Anaheim, the home of Disneyland. Among other details, the article said that Disney takes in $35 million a year from a parking lot owned by the city, which spent $108.2 million to build it, but charges Disney just $1 a year for the lease.

Disney responded by blasting the newspaper for a "complete disregard for basic journalistic standards," and the Times said it had been informed that its critics could no longer attend the usual advance screenings, which are necessary to publish reviews on the day a movie opens.

The company's hardball tactics are also well-known to financial analysts. One entertainment analyst, Rich Greenfield of the firm BTIG, told NBC News that he has been effectively banned by Disney since he downgraded the company’s stock last December.

“They won’t return our phone calls or emails or take our questions on a conference call, and when they do analyst meetings they invite everyone but us," said Greenfield, adding that Disney's chief executive, Bob Iger, even blocked the firm on Twitter. “This appears to be a recurring policy for the way Bob Iger handles critics. It goes all the way to Bob himself.”

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