Is Disney World safe?

Over the weekend, Disney's (NYSE:DIS) flagship theme park resort in Florida was dealt another blow when a medical report detailed the case of an April fatality on the Dinosaur thrill ride at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The ride was cleared in the mishap; the 30-year-old passenger had an unfortunate medical history and was wearing a pacemaker. But the press picked up on the story, adding to the bad publicity Disney has garnered lately.

This is the kind of story that would normally scoot below the radar. In fact, it almost did. If it were not for the reports coming out of the Bureau of Fair Rides and Exhibitions and the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office, the media would have probably not even have known that it happened.

But it did happen. And journalists love to rubberneck when covering the self-proclaimed Happiest Place on Earth.

Grim, grinning media comes out to scandalize
For some recent guests at Disney's Florida parks, it has been anything but that. Earlier this month, a teenaged girl suffered a stroke after riding Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and remains in critical condition. In an even more horrific accident, a four-year-old boy died in June after riding EPCOT's Mission: Space attraction. Tack on the case of a 77-year-old woman with medical complications who passed away while riding the rather tame Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Florida's Magic Kingdom back in February, and Disney seems downright dangerous.

Is Disney too daring for your next family vacation? Of course not. I've been to the Florida parks more than a hundred times since the 1970s. Beyond once gashing a thumbnail when I was 10 while going down a slide at the now-defunct River Country water park, I can't say that I'm any worse for the wear.

That certainly isn't meant to belittle the fatalities or the families who have suffered. It's terrible. It's incomprehensible. There's no doubt about that. However, two of the three deaths were apparently the result of bad timing as the guests came packing plenty of medical history baggage.

According to Amusement Business, Disney's four Florida parks combined for 40.7 million guests in attendance last year. The law of averages states that a few folks will pass away while on vacation. I've been on cruise ships where guests bid bon voyage and it never makes the printed page. Disney, on any given day, is probably a much safer place to be than, say, driving or walking around. The problem is that the press couldn't care less about the guests who expire while dozing in their guest rooms or on their way to catch a plane to Orlando. It just doesn't make the headlines sing the way an on-ride casualty does.

Beyond the Mouse
Did you hear about the 15-year-old kid who was killed for his iPod in New York earlier this month? Again, it was dreadful. But let's be honest here. If the kid would have been fatally stabbed over some generic MP3 player, do you think it would have made the national news? Probably not. This became a big story because it was Apple Computer's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPod. There was even media coverage a few days later when Steve Jobs called the boy's family to offer his sympathy.

Clearly there is a downside to having an awesome brand. Think about Taser (NASDAQ:TASR). Routine Taser law enforcement incidents that do not result in fatalities are often circulated through the media simply because it's Taser. Granted, Taser can't just tell the journalists to clam up. Calling them out for sensationalizing the commonplace would be pointless.

Taser, an active stock recommendation in our Rule Breakers newsletter service, has had a rough year and some of the wounds have been self-inflicted. Those are the fair shots to take. Ganging up on Taser just because a police officer used its stun gun to subdue an errant teen in a harmless encounter? That's just brand discrimination.

That's why Taser must have relished the opportunity that presented itself when a USA Today story exaggerated the stun gun's electrical force last month. Taser decided to sueGannett (NYSE:GCI) for the misrepresentation. Does Taser have a chance to win the suit? Maybe, but that's not the point. The key here is that Taser decided to take advantage of its media position to stir up some favorable publicity for a change.

Is your brand at risk?
Are there any prolific names in your portfolio that get called out unfairly from time to time? If your stock is also a verb -- like Motley Fool Stock Advisor selections eBay (NASDAQ:EBAY) and TiVo (NASDAQ:TIVO) -- odds are the media is just waiting to pounce. Offbeat or illegal consumer-to-consumer auctions rarely get any kind of attention unless the bidding is taking place on eBay. A digital video recorder that isn't a TiVo is just a DVR, and that would make for sleepy headlines.

The media isn't doing this out of spite or malice. It's all about the glamour. It's all about being newsworthy. Companies like Disney and McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) will spend their corporate lives fending off unnecessary headlines and boycotts and investors must accept that. It comes with the territory. It's even a badge worth wearing.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz thinks brands can be magnetic. He owns shares of Disney. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.