Geoff Morrell Leaves Disney Three Months After ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Controversy

Disney employee Nicholas Maldonado holds a sign during a protest outside Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. Employees are staging a company-wide strike today to protest the Walt Disney Co.’s response to controversial legislation passed in Florida known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

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Geoff Morrell, the corporate affairs director who helped shape Disney’s public response to Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, has decided to leave the company.

“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 a letter to his team that CNBC obtained. “After speaking with [Disney CEO] Bob [Chapek]I have decided to leave the company to pursue other opportunities.”

Kristina Schake, who Disney hired earlier this month, will lead Disney’s communications efforts and report directly to Chapek. Schake will have “oversight of corporate and segment communications and will continue to be our primary spokesperson,” Chapek said in a memo to Disney staff obtained by CNBC.

Morrell’s three-month tenure has been eventful. He took the job after years as chief spokesman for oil and energy giant BP. Previously, he was a White House correspondent for ABC News and chief spokesman for the US Department of Defense under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

According to people who worked with him, Morrell pledged to be more transparent with Disney communication than his predecessor, Zenia Mucha, who was known to guard Disney’s image tightly.

After beginning his job on Jan. 24, Morrell guided Disney and Chapek to publicly explain why he hadn’t taken a public stance on Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which banned some elementary orientation classes. sexuality and gender identity. Chapek wrote a letter to staff on March 7 explaining why Disney had not publicly issued a statement condemning the legislation.

“Company statements do very little to change results or minds,” Chapek wrote. “Instead, they are often militarized by one side or the other to further divide and inflame.”

Morrell’s thinking, according to people familiar with the matter, was based on setting a precedent. He worried that if Disney takes a public stand against “Don’t Say Gay,” the company may also have to publicly address future human rights issues, including potential infringements from China, a major market for the movie. Disney content. Morrell also worried that potential 2024 presidential candidates Donald Trump and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who championed the bill, would use Disney as a punching bag if the company opposed the bill. law.

Morrell got it right in recent weeks, after Disney quickly reversed its decision to remain silent amid huge protests from Disney employees. Trump and DeSantis both came after Disney’s public challenge of “Don’t Say Gay.” DeSantis signed a bill earlier this month that removes certain privileges granted to Disney for decades regarding the lands surrounding its Disney World theme park.

But by explaining Disney’s decision not to take a stance on ‘Don’t Say Gay,’ rather than simply not taking a position publicly, Morrell’s strategy opened the company up to months of protest that could have been avoided. . Disney employees staged walkouts and ran social media campaigns with the “FireChapek” hashtag after the company’s wavering response.

The Disney brand is arguably its most important asset, and the company has largely avoided these types of PR missteps in the past. Morrell appears to be taking the fall of the past two months by announcing his immediate resignation.

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