Time Warner Inc. Appears Poised to Take Quarter-of-a-Billion-Dollar Gamble On Freeman Extremism
by Judy Kent
Burbank CA/Washington, DC - Asked by a representative of the National Center for Public Policy Research what the company can do about the celebrities it employs making radical political statements that might hurt the company's profits, Time Warner, Inc. chairman and CEO Jeff Bewkes replied flatly: "Not much."
This stunning admission came at the company's annual shareholder meeting as Time Warner Inc. is likely to make a gamble on a $250 million project by allowing actor Morgan Freeman to promote the upcoming release of "The Dark Knight Rises."
Polling indicates Freeman's past remarks against conservatives and the tea party movement may have hurt the box office returns of his last Warner Brothers Studios film, "Dolphin Tale."
"Everyone has a right to their own opinions, but it's a pity that Hollywood stars now seek to use their fame to push their opinions on the rest of us," said Oscar Murdock, who attended the Time Warner Inc. shareholder meeting on behalf of the National Center. "After all he's done to deride conservatives, I will not see a film by Sean Penn. Studio heads need to know I am not alone in considering stars' outspoken politics when making entertainment decisions."
At the Time Warner, Inc. shareholder meeting in Burbank, California, Murdock, a spokesman for the National Center's Project 21 black leadership network and a tea party activist, asked Bewkes: "According to The Hollywood Reporter, sizable numbers of conservatives and Tea Party members avoided [the film] 'Dolphin Tale' after hearing Mr. Freeman's divisive remarks. This surely hurt this film's ticket sales. What specific steps will Time Warner take to assure that Mr. Freeman avoids such divisive an insulting words while promoting his next Warner Bros. film, 'The Dark Knight Rises'?"
While promoting the Warner Brothers Studios film "Dolphin Tale" last year, Freeman called tea party movement opposition to Barack Obama "a racist thing" on CNN's "Piers Morgan Tonight." He further said the tea party agenda is to "screw the country" so the President will fail.
According to a poll by Penn Schoen Berland conducted for The Hollywood Reporter, conservatives and people of faith originally expressed more interest than liberals in seeing "Dolphin Tale," but 34 percent of conservatives and 37 percent of tea party members were less likely to see it after hearing about Freeman's remarks.
In response to Murdock's question, Time Warner's Bewkes said he had "some sympathy" for tea party activists such as Murdock, but confessed that, in his view, there is "not much" a studio can do to control an actor's comments. Despite the Penn Schoen Berland poll that indicates a clear problem Freeman caused for the company, Bewkes tried to downplay Murdock's follow-up as to whether the company did its own internal investigation of the damage Freeman caused, saying: "We don't think it's significant."
"I wasn't the only one at the meeting with this concern today. Several people came up to me afterward to thank me for raising this issue with Time Warner's CEO," added Murdock after the May 15 meeting. "There aren't many conservatives in Hollywood willing to speak their mind, but I imagine liberals would adopt my viewpoint if there were and they used their stardom as a political platform. Executives need to know there is a risk when their talent mixes politics with promoting their products."
Oscar Murdock's exchange with Jeff Bewkes quickly received coverage in the Hollywood Reporter, the Guardian (UK), the Atlantic, Urban Electronic Report (here and here) and elsewhere.
A transcript of Oscar Murdock's exchange can be found here. An audio clip of the exchange is available here.
A story, transcript and embedded video of Morgan Freeman calling Tea Partiers "racist" on CNN’s Piers Morgan show is available here.
National Center for Public Policy Research President David Ridenour is a Time Warner Inc. shareholder. Oscar Murdock attended as Ridenour's proxy.