If you spend any time following Disney news on Twitter, you’ve no doubt heard that this week’s (month’s? year’s? This is a story for another day.) “Limited Time Magic” promotion is a week spent in celebration of President’s Day. Patriotic bunting and special vocal performances celebrate the history of America’s storied leaders, four of whom have visited Walt Disney World during their presidencies. That’s right….four. According to an article on the Disney Parks Blog last year, Presidents Carter, Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Obama have all visited WDW during their tenure.
Like this year’s vanishing “Limited Time Magic” promotions, history seems to have disappeared a fifth president who spent some time at Walt Disney World: Richard Nixon.
In November of 1973 – with the Watergate scandal nipping at his heels – President Nixon took a trip to Disney World to address a convention of Associated Press editors. In an hour-long question-and-answer session with the AP, Nixon would utter words that are perhaps his most famous, assuring the gathered crowds that he was “not a crook.” The setting for this most famous of speeches? Disney’s Contemporary Resort Hotel.
I’m going to defer to Parkeology here for a more detailed look at Nixon’s longstanding history with Walt Disney and the Disney company. What I find interesting is the erasure of this seminal moment in history from Disney’s own history, from the narrative it tells in its social media and through its corporate story. Of course, the author of the aforementioned Disney Parks Blog piece does later clarify – albeit in the post’s comments – that the number “four” only refers to sitting Presidents who visited Disney theme parks, but the distinctions seems rather odd given the historic nature of Nixon’s speech. Certainly enough time has passed that Disney could capitalize on this juicy bit of presidential trivia without fear of seeming to condone Nixon’s crookery?
Unsurprisingly, media outlets covering Obama’s visit to the Magic Kingdom last year took Disney’s “four presidents” story and ran with it. As you can see here, here, and here, for example, the media took Disney’s version of history at face value, publishing without much critical thought Disney’s presidential visit history. Unlike Disney, however, most of these outlets made absolutely no effort to qualify the in-a-theme-park vs. hotel visit distinction. Nixon – who was that, again? (Interestingly, as Progress City, U.S.A. points out here, an internal Walt Disney World publication documented a 1980s Nixon family vacation to Disney World, well after his resignation. But again, this information was not -strictly speaking – for public consumption.)
I make no claims that this ought to be a major source of outrage, or even a minor one for that matter. But in an era where social media further blurs the lines between journalism and entertainment, where corporations have an easier time than ever before conveying their stories directly to consumers, it’s worth thinking about the need to consider carefully the sources and context of what we read. Like Limited Time Magic, Nixon was there one moment, and gone the next. It may not be the proudest moment in our nation’s history – far from it – but it’s important not only to remember it, but also to remember where it happened.