While presenting the Simon Wiesenthal Center Humanitarian Award to Robert “Bob” Iger last week, Jeffrey Katzenberg praised the current Disney chairman and CEO for always responding when he sought help over the years—with one exception.
“No matter how much I begged Bob,” Katzenberg, a cofounder of DreamWorks SKG and a former Disney chairman himself, said at the Beverly Hilton last week, “he just wasn’t willing to run for president of the United States.”
Iger over the years has been rumored to be considering a move into national politics but never followed through. In his acceptance of the award, Iger thanked Katzenberg for his “generous introduction,” but then added, “As for the presidency, he promised me he would never bring that up again.”
However Iger then sounded very presidential as he praised the work of the Wiesenthal Center at a time when “hate and anger are dragging us toward the abyss once again.”
Top studio executives including Universal’s Ron Meyer and Paramount’s Jim Gianopulos, heavyweight producers like Jerry Bruckheimer, top agents including ICM President Chris Silbermann, all paid rapt attention to Iger, who is at the top of his game in Hollywood after Disney’s megasuccess and the acquisition of Fox assets.
Instead of basking in those victories, Iger spoke about the troubling condition of America and the world.
The executive, whom Jimmy Kimmel, the MC for the evening, joked should be known as “Iron Manischewitz,” said our politics are dangerously “dominated by contempt.”
He recalled recently reading that one in six Americans have stopped talking to a friend or family member since the 2016 election.
“As many as one in five said members of the opposing party,” added Iger, “lack the traits to be considered fully human.
“Surprisingly enough,” he continued, “they also admit thinking our country would be better off if large numbers of the other party would just die.”
He placed much of the blame on technology that was originally intended to bring people together. “In this era of complete connectivity,” said Iger, “contempt spreads like a virus. It creates more virulent and resistant strains as it goes.”
He said that leads to “unspeakable acts” like the October 2018 mass murder of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue, with a nod to the Tree of Life’s Rabbi Jeffrey S. Myers, who sat nearby on stage after receiving a Medal of Valor Award.
“By design,” said Iger, “social media reflects a narrow, low view, filtering out anything that challenges our beliefs while constantly validating our convictions, amplifying our deepest fears. It creates a false sense that everyone shares the same opinions.”
The answer, added Iger, is to “once again renounce and reject hate in all forms,” as Americans did after World War II.
“Today’s rancor,” he warned, “is turning the common ground of democracy into scorched earth.”
At this “pivotal moment,” said Iger, “we must demand more from our government leaders” and “elevate our expectations from those seeking office.”
He avoided blaming any person or political party for the rise of hate, rancor, and anti-Semitism but said those who would lead must be held to a higher standard: “Leaders must be committed to a society and a government that respects the rights and reflects the human dignity of everyone.
“Make them earn your money and support,” added Iger. “Make them rise to the challenge of leadership and hold them accountable for finding solutions to our biggest challenges, especially bridging the bigger divide that has crept into our sense of community and sucked the strength out of our nation.
“We have the responsibility to fix what is broken,” he added, “and also the power to do it now. We can do better. The world needs us to do better, so that never again means never again.”
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