The Right-Wing Billionaire Who Bowed to North Korea over ‘The Interview’
He may own some tough-talking, hard-right media outlets. But when a movie controversy crested, Philip Anschutz’s Regal Cinemas caved.
When the top movie-theater chains in the United States dropped Seth Rogen and James Franco’s Kim Jong Un assassination comedy The Interview—ostensibly over fear of terrorist attacks against their theaters—Regal Cinemas was the greatest loss.
Regal Entertainment Group is the biggest and most geographically diverse theater company in the country. It operates over 7,000 screens all over America. Industry sources with knowledge of the situation tell The Daily Beast that Regal and AMC Theatres were the “”first dominos to fall” in the top-five theater circuits, essentially sealing the fate of The Interview.
“Due to the wavering support of the film The Interview by Sony Pictures, as well as the ambiguous nature of any real or perceived security threats, Regal Entertainment Group has decided to delay the opening of the film in our theatres,” Regal announced in their statement.
Regal’s move brings back into the public view a right-wing media baron who would rather be elsewhere. The chain’s biggest owner is a secretive deeply conservative billionaire and devout Christian who is, according to The New Yorker, “the man who owns L.A.”
Philip Anschutz, whose investment fund owns about 47 percent of Regal’s shares, has all the makings of a major-league boogeyman of the left—like a Rupert Murdoch or a Koch brother. He presides over a sprawling media and sports empire that spans from the Lakers to The Chronicles of Narnia. He has donated generously to conservative (and anti-gay) causes and candidates, including Rick Santorum, both Bush presidents, John McCain, and Mitt Romney. Last year, Regal Entertainment Group slashed some workers’ hours down to 30 per week, blaming Obamacare. And Media Matters, the liberal media-watchdog group, labeled Anschutz, “the other right-wing media mogul you should worry about” in 2009.
And in 2002, Fortune magazine honored Anschutz with the distinction of America’s “greediest executive.”
Along with his large-scale philanthropic efforts, Anschutz owns a slew of news outlets such as the Washington Examiner and the neoconservative flagship The Weekly Standard, the latter of which he purchased from Murdoch's News Corp for roughly $1 million in 2009.
The Weekly Standard ran a couple items the day after the theaters and Sony dumped The Interview: “The surrender to North Korea is a historical moment,” Bill Kristol, the magazine’s editor, blogged. “The capitulation to North Korea could be—unless we reverse course in a fundamental way—a signpost in a collapse of civilizational courage.”
This “collapse” started on Tuesday when Carmike Cinemas announced their decision to drop The Interview from its 278 theaters, several other major theater chains followed suit the next day, which caused Sony to ditch the planned Christmas Day release. The combined action set a very dangerous precedent—all because of pro-North Korean hackers’ threats that the Department of Homeland Security has said are not credible.
“These guys are afraid of what happened to Sony happening to them I’m sure,” said Michael Goldfarb, a Weekly Standard contributing editor and a big player in neoconservative circles. “The government isn’t doing anything to help them as they face the threat of attack by a foreign power. It’s a disgrace but they aren’t equipped to deal with this kind of thing.”
Nowadays, it looks like Anschutz is trying to get out of the multiplex business. In October, news broke that Regal hired Morgan Stanley to explore a possible sale. As for whether or not Anschutz will personally address the international Interview affair? Don’t hold your breath.
“I don’t think Phil wants to have a public persona,” a longtime friend told Politico shortly after the reclusive mogul bought The Weekly Standard. “Phil is a very private person.”