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Disney Communications Chief Steps Down After Florida Debacle

One of the masterminds from the Walt Disney Company behind the ongoing battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the Parental Rights Bill is stepping down.

Geoff Morrell, the chief corporate affairs officer of the company, is leaving, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in a memo to staffers on Friday.

“I am writing to share the news that Geoff Morrell, our Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, is leaving the company to pursue other opportunities,” he wrote in the memo obtained by dead line.

Chapek said his company has no shortage of talent after Morrell steps down.

The company also reshuffled its leadership related to public affairs and government relations.

Kristina Schake, a former Biden administration communication aid who served as the head of the White House’s COVID-19 vaccine education campaign, was tapped as the executive vice president for global communications.

Schake will lead the company’s communications efforts and report to Chapek.

Disney also moved his general counsel, Horacio Gutierrez, to lead government relations and global policy.

Morrell reportedly admitted that he doesn’t fit the job.

“After three months in this new role, it has become clear to me that for a number of reasons it is not the right fit,” he wrote in a separate memo seen by the Financial Times.

The Epoch Times reached out to Disney for comments.

Epoch Times Photo
Protestors rally in opposition to The Walt Disney Company’s stance against a recently passed Florida law outside of the company’s headquarters in Burbank, Calif., on April 6, 2022. (Jill McLaughlin/The Epoch Times)

The outgoing communication chief was appointed to the position less than four months ago. His departure from him did not come as a surprise for many after the company experienced a chaotic confrontation with the Florida governor.

Disney entered a saga with Florida after the state passed the Parental Rights in Education Bill, which prohibits teachers from instructing about sexual orientation and gender identity topics to children under the third grade. Proponents of the measure said that teaching young children about such topics is inappropriate and tantamount to grooming.

The House of Mouse criticized the bill, saying it “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.” The company also claimed it has a “goal” to get the law struck down or repealed.

The disputes triggered a standoff between Disney and the DeSantis administration.

Epoch Times Photo
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis displays the signed Parental Rights in Education bill flanked by elementary school students during a news conference at Classical Preparatory school in Shady Hills, Fla., on March 28, 2022. (Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

DeSantis signed a bill on April 22 to dissolve Disney’s self-governing status in central Florida after the state House and Senate passed the bill.

The law would eliminate the 55-year-old Reedy Creek Improvement District and several similar districts by June 2023. The measure allows those districts to be reestablished under circumstances.

It could have significant tax implications for Disney, which operates a series of theme parks in its 25,000-acre district.

“Incredibly, they say, ‘we are going to work to repeal parents’ rights in Florida,’” DeSantis said in reference to Disney’s corporate leadership. “And I’m just thinking to myself, you’re a corporation based in Burbank, California, and you’re going to marshal your economic might to attack the parents of my state. We view that as a provocation, and we’re going to fight back against that.”

Read Chapek’s memo to staff, obtained by Deadline:

Team-

I am writing to share the news that Geoff Morrell, our Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, is leaving the company to pursue other opportunities. Fortunately, the strength and experience of our existing leadership team—including relatively new all-star hires—means there is no shortage of talent to guide our reputation-driving functions. With Geoff’s departure from him, I am pleased to share the following changes:

First, Kristina Schake will lead The Walt Disney Company’s communications efforts, serving as our Executive Vice President, Global Communications reporting directly to me. In this expanded role, Kristina will have oversight for corporate and segment communications and continue to be our chief spokesperson. Our business segment and content communications leads will continue to dual report to both division leadership and corporate communications, now led by Kristina.

We are incredibly fortunate to have Kristina with us at this important time. Her 30-plus years of experience from her includes roles leading President Biden’s COVID-19 vaccine education program, communications for Instagram, and leadership positions in political campaigns and the Obama White House. Kristina has a strategic approach and collaborative style, as well as relentless optimism and a strong appreciation of our brand and its place in the world. These attributes will be invaluable as she works to protect and enhance our reputation, and I am thrilled to be working with her more closely.

Next, Government Relations and Global Public Policy will now be led by our General Counsel, Horacio Gutierrez. Since joining the company earlier this year, Horacio has integrated seamlessly into the Disney family, and has quickly become a valued advisor to me and the leadership team on a wide range of issues. His extensive experience leading these areas will be incredibly useful in driving our efforts.

In addition to his current direct reports, Susan Fox, Senior Vice President for Government Relations, and Yvonne Pei, Senior Vice President, External Relations, Greater China, will join Dorothy Attwood, Senior Vice President, Global Public Policy, in reporting directly to Horacio .

Finally, Jenny Cohen, Executive Vice President, Corporate Social Responsibility, will now report solely to me in her role leading our CSR and ESG efforts. Jenny is a strong leader, and has done incredible work modernizing our approach in key areas like environmental sustainability, community investment, and philanthropy.

I am incredibly confident in this team, and look forward to working with them and all of our leadership to set Disney’s course for the next 100 years of extraordinary entertainment and experiences.

Jack Phillips contributed to this report.

Allen Zhong

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Allen Zhong is a long-time writer and reporter for The Epoch Times. He joined the Epoch Media Group in 2012. His main focus is on US politics.

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