Jeers and chants of “pay your writers” from picketers and a number of audience members greeted Warner Bros Discovery chief David Zaslav on Sunday as he delivered Boston University’s commencement address.
Zaslav, who graduated from BU’s law school in 1985, never overtly acknowledged the WGA strike or any of the vitriol, which rippled through the outdoor event throughout his 22-minute speech. Toward the end, though, he appeared to be speaking in part to his opponents when he offered a closing wish. “I hope to see all of you — and I mean all of you,” he said, pointing at the crowd for emphasis, “along the way. The journey of life. There’s nothing better.”
According to a series of pro-WGA tweets before, during and after Zaslav’s speech, picketers from the guild and other unions waved signs as a plane circled overhead with the blunt, all-caps message, “DAVID ZASLAV: PAY YOUR WRITERS.”
As far as the speech itself, it followed the conventional graduation-advice outline of learnings passed along from an elder, with Zaslav urging grads to recognize their strengths and weaknesses, particularly the latter. He returned to touchstones in his career, name-checking former General Electric (and NBC) CEO, Jack Welch, and WBD board member John Malone. “Those relationships, friendships, mentorships will enrich and propel you,” he said.
Recalling advice from Welch, he quoted the late exec as urging him to find a way to get along with others, even those with whom he has differences. (Again, the words seemed to have a lot to say about the current guild tensions, though if he grasped that interpretation, Zaslav, his eyes shaded by sunglasses, never indicated as much.) “Some people will be looking for a fight, but don’t be the one they find it with,” he said Welch had counseled. “Focus on people’s good qualities.”
On the livestream provided by the university, it was difficult to discern exactly where the chants were emanating from, though Zaslav periodically took long pauses to allow the shouting to ease up before he continued. Consistent with the pre-printed picket signs topped with “F*!# Zaslav!” the outbursts were frequently profane. Occasional cutaways to the audience on the livestream did not show any large groups showing their displeasure, though pictures shares on social media showed some in the crowd waving pro-WGA signs. Boos decidedly drowned out cheers on the audio feed.
Zaslav did not appear onstage last week during his company’s upfront presentation to ad buyers in New York, an event stripped of talent in recognition of the labor situation. The exec did appear at a conference, however, hosted by Wall Street firm SVB MoffettNathanson, and sat for a keynote session as picketers marched in front of the hotel where the conference was held.
In an interview with CNBC earlier this month, Zaslav was asked what he thought could bring about a resolution to the labor impasse, which is about to enter its fourth week. “A love for the business and a love for working,” he replied. “We all came into this business because we love storytelling. … That’s what’s going to bring us together.”
Here are some of the tweets about BU’s commencement speaker: