Obama Says Sony Made a Mistake

The irony of social and political tension is that it can be created not just by large and important actions, but by anything at all. And so, today, we heard President Barack Obama deadpanning “I think it says something about North Korea” that the country would “mount an all-out attack over a satirical film… starring Seth Rogen.”

This is the world we’re in now, where entertainment news and geopolitics are the same thing, where the leader of the United States devotes time in a press conference to a comedy movie.

In the wake of Sony scrapping the release of Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg‘s film The Interview, arguments have erupted over the wisdom behind the move. The Sony hackers — now identified by the FBI as elements of the North Korean government — responded with a new message saying that retaliation would follow if Sony released The Interview in any form, ever. Responding to a question about the hack and the decision to pull the film, Obama says Sony made a mistake pulling the movie, and that retaliation will follow.

UPDATE: Sony responded to the President’s claims later in the afternoon. In the statement, they say “It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.” Unfortunately, every VOD outlet has turned them down. Read the full statement below.

The latest message from Sony’s North Korean hackers reads:

Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy. we still have your private and sensitive data” and claims that they will “ensure the security of your data unless you make additional trouble. And we want everything related to the movie, including its trailers, as well as its full version down from any website hosting them immediately.

That’s a bully that sees it has power, and isn’t ready to give it up. Presumably this means that they want us to pull all The Interview images like the one above.

Today, Obama said “Sony’s a corporation, it suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they face. That being said, yes, I think they made a mistake.”

He went on to say “I wish they had spoken to me first… Don’t get into a pattern where you’re intimidated by these kinds of attacks.”

And Obama spoke to the concerns that many have aired in the wake of Sony pulling the film:

We cannot have a society where some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody’s going to intimidate [Sony] for releasing a satirical movie, imagine what’s going to happen when there’s a documentary they don’t like. Even worse, if producers and distributors start engaging in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody who frankly probably needs their sensibilities offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not who Americans are.

He followed with comments about taking further action.

They caused a lot of damage. We will respond. We will respond proportionally and we will respond in a place and a time and a manner that we choose. We are working up a range of options and they will be presented to me. 

UPDATE: Here’s the full response from Sony to the President’s statement, as of Friday December 19:

Sony Pictures Entertainment is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment. For more than three weeks, despite brutal intrusions into our company and our employees’ personal lives, we maintained our focus on one goal: getting the film The Interview released. Free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion.

The decision not to move forward with the December 25 theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation’s theater owners choosing not to screen the film. This was their decision.

Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it. Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.

After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so.

That’s a great sentiment but, speaking to CNN (via The Wrap), Sony’s CEO Michael Lynton said the following:

There has not been one major VOD or one major ecommerce site that has says they are willing to step forward and distribute this movie….There are a number of options open to us and we have considered those and are considering them….Again, we don’t have that direct interface with the American public so we need to go through an intermediary to do that.

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