PHILADELPHIA -- The Disney ( DIS) dust-up moved into high gear Wednesday afternoon, with dissidents claiming victory and the company standing firm. Following a raucous meeting at a hotel here, the Burbank, Calif., media giant faced a rising revolt from restive shareholders. "Michael Eisner must go," former directors Stanley Gold and Roy Disney said. They claimed 40% of votes cast in the company's director elections were withheld from Eisner, constituting what they called a no-confidence vote. Turnout was heavy. Disney said at the meeting that 1.78 billion shares were voted by proxy, amounting to 87% of outstanding shares. The company hasn't released numbers for individual directors, including Eisner. The turmoil came on the heels of the latest posturing by the company and the dissidents led by Roy Disney and Gold. Opening Wednesday morning's festivities, Eisner once again emphasized the strong progress the company has made operationally, financially and in terms of corporate governance. "I love this company. The board loves this company. And we are all passionate about the output of this company," Eisner told a packed house at the Pennsylvania Conference Center, reiterating the themes he's been hammering on ever since Comcast's ( CMCSA) surprise hostile bid last month. "Your company has the management skill and the creative talent to continue its growth path." Gold, drawing a significantly more enthusiastic reaction than Eisner, soon took the microphone on rebuttal. Wednesday's events represent "an unprecedented no-confidence vote" in the annals of American business, Gold said. He was referring to his prediction,
made earlier Wednesday, that no votes on Eisner would reach 40% when the balloting is tabulated this afternoon. Gold also took aim at Eisner's famously lavish pay. While shareholders have often lamented the performance of Disney's floundering shares, "Michael Eisner has never had a bad year," Gold said. The other half of the team that would decide Disney's fate -- ex-director Roy Disney, who held some 17 million shares at last count -- may have been slightly less on message. Taking aim at the company's branding efforts, he said, "Branding is something you do to cows." He continued, "Disney is an institution, but it doesn't mean it has to think like one." Retaking the stage to brush off those critiques, Eisner said his management team had met with foes in the past, and that while Gold and Roy Disney viewed Disney as not listening, Eisner said management was listening but simply not agreeing. Eisner added that discord over the company's direction arose after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "We are a very well-managed company," Eisner said. "I believe you have just heard rhetoric from our critics that frankly replaces reason." On Wednesday, Disney shares slipped 8 cents to $26.68.