Eisner: 'Boycotters' a splinter group with Nazi leanings

by Dwayne Hastings, posted Thursday, April 22, 1999 (19 years ago)

NASHVILLE, Tenn.(BP)--The head of The Disney Company tossed more barbs at Southern Baptists supporting the boycott of the entertainment giant during a news program April 21.

In an interview with the co-host of NBC's morning program "The Today Show," Michael Eisner said it was a "splinter group" of Southern Baptists who were withholding their financial support of Disney. In a "60 Minutes" interview last November, Disney President Eisner called Southern Baptists "nuts" for approving a resolution on moral stewardship in their annual convention last June. The resolution called for economic action against Disney and other companies who were producing anti-family and anti-Christian products.

Eisner told "Today Show" co-host Katie Couric it was "a very small part of the Southern Baptists" who took the action during the June 1997 Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Dallas. Couric interviewed Eisner as Disney prepared to open its fourth theme park in the central Florida area, Animal Kingdom.

A poll conducted by the University of North Carolina and the Atlanta Journal and Constitution newspapers earlier this year found that approximately 30 percent of Southern Baptists surveyed were likely to participate in the economic action against Disney. The poll suggested 75 percent of non-Southerners and 72 percent of Southerners were unlikely to participate in the boycott, according to a Religion News Service report.

Richard Land, president of the SBC's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called Eisner's comments "both reprehensible and contemptible."

"For a corporate leader who preaches tolerance, Mr. Eisner is remarkably intolerant of those who dare question the direction he has led The Disney Company," Land said, noting Eisner gives no hint of being concerned about any opinion but his own.

"Those most concerned with the shift within The Disney Company are not some fringe splinter group, but are those who were traditionally Disney's best customers -- families with children who desire family friendly entertainment," Land countered.

Eisner told Couric Southern Baptists were upset because Disney decided to give health benefits to "people of similar persuasions."

Yet Land reserved his sharpest criticism for Eisner's comments about a resolution on Jewish evangelism passed during the 1996 Southern Baptist Convention in New Orleans.

Eisner said Southern Baptists meeting last year also took aim at Jews, telling Couric in error that the denomination's 1997 convention also "recommended that they convert the Jews." Eisner continued, saying, "That was something that hasn't been recommended since the ‘40s in Europe."

Land said Eisner's "thinly veiled" comparison of the SBC's action in 1996 to reaffirm the need for evangelism to all people, including those of the Jewish faith, to "Nazi Germany's horrific persecution of Jews" from 1933 to the late 1940s was "outrageous" and "offensive."

"Evangelism is not extermination," Land said. "In calling for Christians to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ, Southern Baptists are standing squarely in the middle of apostolic faith passed down through the ages."

The resolution on Jewish evangelism was "not a new commandment," Land said, explaining it was a challenge from the Apostle Paul himself recorded in the first chapter of the New Testament Book of Romans.

Land expressed hope Eisner would step back "from such contemptuous comments" aimed at those who question his leadership of the world's second-largest entertainment conglomerate and agree "to engage in constructive and reasoned dialogue with those who have grave concerns about the message his company is sending to children."

Answering Couric's question on the financial impact of the boycott, Eisner said Disney's earnings "have been going up substantially." Meanwhile news reports said Disney's ABC Network was canceling plans to bring Ellen back from hiatus for a three-week run presumed to be show's wrap-up. The show has been plagued by declining ratings since the program's main character, Ellen DeGeneres, announced her homosexuality last spring.

Attempts by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission to answer Eisner's charges were declined by "The Today Show."

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