Why Publishing Stolen Sony Data Is Problematic but Necessary

The more Sony Pictures data keeps leaking, the more my moral compass spins like a weather vane in a hurricane.

What just a week ago seemed such a clear-cut case of doing what my instincts have told me to do at every other moment of my career is now making me increasingly queasy. It’s getting harder for me to report on the contents of Sony’s leak without wondering whether I’m somehow complicit with these nefarious hackers by relaying the details of seemingly every pilfered terabyte.

Salaries. Budgets. Scripts. Aliases. On the one hand, I’m drawn to discovering what I’m not supposed to ever know, like the warm conviviality Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal enjoy. On the other hand, I’m repelled by the circumstances by which this opportunity has come to pass.

Let’s get real: The hackers are playing the press as pawns. Journalists are essentially doing their bidding by taking the choicest data excerpts and waving them around for the world to see, maximizing their visibility.

No doubt Sony sees the press right now like a zombie mob from “The Walking Dead,” mindlessly staggering from one carcass to another to consume parts of what the hackers already killed.

From the beginning, Variety has not shied away from reporting on what has emerged from the data to date. That isn’t to say absolutely everything that pops up will be duly noted in our publication — personally identifiable information about execs, for instance, would be one no-no.

But my mounting misgivings have forced me to explain to myself what all this reporting is really about. While I found a lot to question about the rationales, ultimately I’ve arrived at an uneasy peace with why the leaks just can’t be ignored.

When ethical boundaries get murky, it’s only natural to grab for some sense of precedent. The one that comes to mind for me is a relatively recent example: the celebrity nude photo leak in October that besmirched the good names of everyone from Jennifer Lawrence to Ariana Grande.

These young women clearly had their privacy invaded. There was a lot of justifiable hand-wringing in the press about the plight of these women, but why is there none of that for the corporations? Their privacy has been invaded as well, albeit in a different way.

Nude photos weren’t hacked at Sony, but it’s interesting that while nudity is deservedly considered to be crossing the line, financial records aren’t accorded a measure of respect as well. Rest assured that SPE chairman Michael Lynton would probably rather you see his private parts than the company’s movie budgets.

The difference between nude celebrity photos and the leaked Sony data, respectable media outlets will argue, is only the latter is “newsworthy.” But what does that really mean?

Perhaps “newsworthy” is as simple for some publications as “if readers are interested in it, then it is newsworthy.” For others, “newsworthy” conveys some vague sense of the material being important.

Edward Snowden surely qualified for the latter notion: He shared with the press information he stole because he felt it was vital for a democracy to get a fuller understanding of how its government operated. The ends justified the means, some would argue.

But Sony is not a government; conflating the imperatives behind covering a government and a corporation feels like a false equivalence to me. Both are sizable institutions, but am I, as a journalist, entitled to see every last spreadsheet a private company has even if they were stolen just because I report on Sony the way, say, Glenn Greenwald reports on Snowden? Were it not for the example the Snowden affair set, I’m not so sure the press would have leapt on the data from the Sony leak as zealously as it did.

In the absence of upholding a healthy democracy, what is the justification of our coverage here? We can cite the executives mentioned in these leaks as “public figures” who merit any and all scrutiny, but again, false equivalence: We can take extraordinary means to uncover something about President Obama, but doing the same for the CEO of a corporation who isn’t suspected of any malfeasance—that’s different. We’ve seen the leaks unearth instances of questionable judgment and poor taste, but no actual misconduct.

For some publications, I suspect publishing the leaks really amounts to little more than thinly veiled schadenfreude. Because Sony is a powerful entity, the pretense can be floated that exposing the data has some importance. But really, the press loves a great narrative just as much as a movie studio, and here we’re just casting Sony in the villainous role of the greedy capitalist machine getting what it deserves. There’s no true need to expose every aspect of its inner workings, but because Sony isn’t as sympathetic a character as say, selfie-snapping ingénues, no one is going to mind if the press appropriates the stolen data.

Let’s entertain some hypotheticals here; adjusting the optics brings the larger issue into focus. What if instead of Sony, it was your favorite charity organization or advocacy group that had its documents leaked? Would journalists descend on that data with equal fervor or give them a pass?

Better yet, let’s take hacking out of the equation altogether: What if suspected hacker North Korea bombed Culver City? Can I sift through the rubble for Sony executives’ hard drives?

Outlandish as that sounds, it’s also strange that because the nature of the Sony attack was virtual instead of physical, it’s fair game to scavenge for data. Trust me, when Sony gets the clean-up bill from the hacking, the distinction between a physical and virtual attack may not seem arbitrary.

Perhaps all data is not created equal; some information rises to the level of truly newsworthy while others do not. Even there, moral clarity feels hard to come by. Serving up gossipy tidbits like what aliases Sony-affiliated celebrities use when they check into hotels might seem more deplorable than divulging actual financial records because the latter smacks of more substantive journalism. But don’t be so sure. If the information being shared reveals to its partners or competitors something that can harm Sony’s business, gossip may be less pernicious.

Of course, it’s not my job to help Sony’s business. Which gets at what I also think is really motivating the current coverage: In an industry where public relations attempts to control the flow of information with a very heavy hand, there’s something very liberating about watching that hand get blown to smithereens by the Sony hack. But that doesn’t make exploiting that destruction right.

There are those publications who have aggregated news of the data dug up by others instead of doing it themselves. While the distinction shouldn’t make much of a difference, this is where the impossibility of steering clear of this story comes in. Were a publication to report on the fact of the Sony hack and merely allude broadly to the data that has been disclosed, a tiptoe dance around the data itself begins. To convey the enormity of what Sony had stolen with any degree of specificity is to feel the quicksand pull of what’s so awfully hard to avoid here.

What’s particularly problematic is that even were a publication to abstain from publishing leaked material, dozens of others will do so regardless. Unfortunately, the data is in the public domain for all to consume. That in turn propels a news cycle from which a publication that stands apart risks looking out of the loop. Should information from a leak force someone like Rudin to make a public apology, how do you report on the apology without citing what he is apologizing for?

But what makes partaking of the Sony data truly unavoidable is that publishing content from the hack isn’t materially different what business journalists do every day. For instance, what if instead of sharing Pascal’s salary from a purloined document, a trusted source discloses that information to me on the phone?

Either way, information that I am not supposed to know has been transmitted to me; should I draw a red line around information that is typed on a computer as opposed to communicated verbally? Should I draw another red line around information when it comes in too great a volume, as it did in the form of the hack?

Journalism is, in some sense, permissible thievery. We occasionally catch wind of what our subjects would rather us not know, and we don’t hesitate to report it if it contributes to an understanding of what we’re writing about. But the way it came to light in this instance makes me wish this never happened.

Every reporter has fantasized about stumbling upon a treasure trove of secret documents. So when a story such as Sony is spread in front of us in all its unprecedented scope, it’s instinctive for us to pounce. But this time around, acting on that reflex just doesn’t feel right…even though it isn’t wrong.

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  1. abbadabba says:

    Finally, a parent with some control chops…

  2. abbadabba says:

    Take all the stuffing SONY’s stolen and roll it into a big ball. There’d be a big hole in the middle of all their stories.

    This is a Japanese Company, as my Oldsmobile, the the Master of Beta, proclaimed. Now they are acting like my FinL’s kinda Japanese smoke scene. Did Sony make their victims make an argument for not looking? If Lt. Aldo is that big a roll over for facsim’s boring twin, I am DONE rolling with his Apache Band. MARK HIM!

    I am much more concerned about how SONY and their elusive competition want to shut the internet down than with their jealousy of folks with talent who don’t have to sucker the financiers every day. Hay, who knew the real character of that Bastard’s mold was the sniper’s success story?

    When your business partner gets penetrated because they suck and wink at security, you take your heat to the courtroom for damages to stop this BS, not excuse it. I’m not certain any facet of our present telephony predicament hasn’t had its hat handed back to it with a well deserved shite. Everyone is covering for the other’s waste lines.

    Listen to Hollywood repeating CIA and NSA’s claim to game…We’re your security blanket…don’t wash us!!

    Do not go to Duplicity City because neither of you will ever see home again, Dorothy. See the Sherlock about the stolen letter. OMG, it’s a matter of national security…and the man who failed us is RUINED! As he should be, accordionly to Sherlock. He screwed up. Now he must face his folly.

    Fool’s dominion..there’s never enough room for all of them! Don’t let them tell you not to look!! It’s your established right. And yes, it’s horribly ugly, so no surprise folks often refuse to do so. Eraserheads.

  3. abbadabba says:

    All owe Will Lewis the brown star for making the most of stolen toast. He is alleged to have managed the fencing of a tape got by subterfuge by the Tele of the MP overseeing Murdoch’s bid for the whole pie in the Sky. Said Cable was captured assuring Murdoch hatebaiters that he’d make the American walk the plank before he let him take over their satellite systems. Then SOMEONE (Lewis again) leaks it to the BBC, twice because no one heard the fish splash the first time through the station. So, after another blast was heard, James Murdoch could enter stage right to claim he was shocked, I tell you, to see a journalist so well exploit his privilge to provide cover for a false flagdown. James is so bad at acting, maybe he can save The Tudors? And thus Cable was snapped by a Sawyer who got the press to do his business for him, just like a well trained PR can.

    Seriously? We think a 12 billion dollar deal doesn’t go down with a little sneeky peeking on the side for those landing rights? I bet Murdoch told GCHQ if they busted his crew for hacking in 2006, he’s leak about Telephony, Tempora and Prisms’ wake to make a mockery of the whole Chase scene. Of course financiers have to be part of the story, even though Murdoch ONLY buys with cash. This is Hollywood, Chinatown.

  4. abbadabba says:

    Sounds like the NYT’s dilemma back when WaPo’s publisher checked himself into an asylum to avoid testifying to a fraudulent affidavit he’d made to dissuade the investigation into how the Interior Secretary got the money to buy that massive branch…Nope, it was not a loan, Greystone…Meet me at camera three…Data is the New Oil, Pipeheads, and now their Tea Pot is Blown. See the Navy, Google.

    The NYT’s publisher had assured his oily friends the blues of Tea Pot Dome would never sound across the Hudson. Leave it stuck in the Denver Post mechanism. Then WaPo’s owner stepped in, and it was all back down to business, “Friends.”

    Gotta kick a mogul when they are down or the whole world will be over ridden by the competitive little dictators. See Lundberg’;s Press of the Plutocracy. These are Studio Wars over which narrative the government has to bake off.

    Did NO ONE benefit from the wisdom of Les Wasserman at Universal? Oh, that’s right, he never wrote anything down.

  5. Brian Groh says:

    You’re selling stolen goods. You’re serving the perpetrators. You’re hurting people. Consider the reason that your moral compass “spins like a weather vane in a hurricane” is because every part of goodness in your body knows that what you’re doing is wrong despite your lengthy justification spelled out here.

    The inclusion of personal emails in Variety’s reporting of this story cheapens the magazine whose journalism I’ve mostly enjoyed throughout the years.

  6. zooniecait says:

    Reading through some of the comments here, it is a farce to see this as terrorism. It is a malicious act only made possible by Sony’s apparently mortifyingly useless attitude to digital, across the organisation. I would leave it up to the consciences of the individual journalists as to how deep in to the ripped data to report, but reporting on it is *imperative* in order to get the industry to wake up, and understand that digital and IT infrastructure is something to take seriously, spend money on and employ professionals who can educate your whole organisation re: such baby-steps things as password security!

    I do feel very, very sorry for the day to day folk who work at Sony. It’s not fair, this whole thing but to pretend it’s not happening, and it’s not as mortifying a breach of security as it is, is irresponsible in the extreme. And if Sony’s internal practices were as appallingly lax as has been reported, then frankly the investors, and company directors, who have made decisions to the detriment of having a secure system because of cost *deserve* to have their fingers rapped and be damn sore from it.

    If there’s anything I wouldn’t report on in any kind of a serious way is the nonsense that has now built up re: film premiere terrorist attacks and so forth. This is lads laughing behind their hands and seeing how far in to the ridiculous they can push this. That Seth Rogan’s new film will suffer so badly because of it is hugely, hugely unfair, for all of those folk who worked hard to produce it.

    So report. as responsibly as possible, but keep reporting.

  7. richiscoul says:

    OK, I’m a journalist and I find the whole thing embarrassing, and not for the first time.
    YOU DON’T NEED TO PUBLISH IT. NO ONE IS MAKING YOU. Sorry for the shouting!

    By your logic, were I to break in to your office, search in your desk drawer for a password, log in to your computer, take your private/business documents then publish them your conclusion would be: “No problem, it’s fair enough, go ahead…”

    I don’t think so.

  8. Brian Berdan says:

    I think we’re beating a dead horse- Mr. Wallenstein has certainly sensed the almost unanimous impression of condemnation. It is encouraging that pessimism hasn’t dominated the zeitgeist completely and that a moral compass can still be cherished (or pined for). Perhaps a response from him would be welcomed here. Or not.

  9. Stephen Ford says:

    You are an accesory to terrorism, asshole.

  10. John Haynes says:

    No it’s not necessary.

    1. Just because something is in the “public domain” doesn’t mean it needs to be widely disseminated or publicized. You are choosing to make that choice basically as clickbait for your own financial gain / that of your site (and no other reason, so don’t kid yourself).

    2. You’re giving bandwidth and publicity time to criminals and thieves. Quite simply don’t. Don’t fan their fire. You’d be far better off making their crime worthless.

    3. The comparison with Edward Snowden isn’t a good one. He at least took the action to make the leak because he wanted to show that government was not acting with integrity between what they said they were doing and what they were actually doing, and that they were essentially in breach of basic rights of privacy of many citizens all over the world. A massive case of unjustified governmental overreach. In this case there is no such real reason given. It really seems to be the case that the perpetrators disagree with the artistic content of a film (and that film’s right to criticize / poke fun at something). This is not at all the same kind of thing.

    I’m not in the media, and have nothing to gain from this. But as a member of the general public, I do feel this sort of thing has gone far enough, and sometimes in exercising editorial discretion and in order to be viewed as a credible and solid reporter or commentator in your chosen field you need to be seen to act with integrity. (I should also say that I almost never comment on anything on the web in a public way like this).

    Also as a member of the general public, I have to say if these guys are doing things like ripping folks social security numbers and publishing, that’s certainly not something I’d want to have happen to me, and I’m sure you wouldn’t like it either. Don’t give these guys any air time at all is my message basically! They don’t deserve it. Please don’t be a tool to these nobs.


    • John Haynes says:

      P.S.: When I wrote, “A massive case of unjustified governmental overreach”, I should have written, “A massive case of unjustified governmental overreach, which was highly justifiable to report on in the public interest as it was about how a large quantity of members of the general public’s own personal data was being intercepted and handled without their knowledge, and so they had a right to be informed about that.”

      Just wanted to clarify that point. (I at least (I hope) am striving for some accuracy and integrity in my commenting :) . Please feel to correct if I got anything wrong).

  11. Eric says:

    Compleetely indefensible logic. If the New York Times were hacked, and all its emails among its staff and leadership were leaked to the world, would other new outlets publish it as newsworthy? By this logic they should. And by that same logic, The New York Times should publish all the private emails of all their own employess, becuase its a treasure-trove of newsworthiness. Why aren’t they doing this? This is how we find moral clarity that Wallenstein thinks is so tricky: they aren’t doing it because it would be wrong. The leadership of the Times are morally bankrupt. Absolutely only out to serve their own needs to sell their wares, which now has become selling juicy gossip stories stolen from another company for eager public consumption. Its not about the news or right to know. Its about greedy capitalists trying to sell newspapers.

  12. Mark Sq says:

    If the information had been gathered legally or was about something we all own (our government), then sure, publish it. But since one part of the information chain was not legal, I don’t think you should publish it.

  13. Fab says:

    Your overthinking this completely. You’re trying to give yourself some sort of justifiable reason for being part of this group vivisection
    But deep in your heart you know the real reason everyone has pounced on this. It’s entertainment. This is what you sell. Not news, but just entertainment. The currency at play here is the very same currency that Sony sells to the public.
    So please do everyone a favor, and live up to what you really do. You are not a journalist, you are just regurgitating what someone else gave you.
    A real bona fide journalist would actually be able to dig up new information on who the real hackers are, and would be able to shed light on how this crime was perpetrated, but instead, you join the legions of so-called journalists who would prefer to release email exchanges with the George Clooney’s of the world, the Seth Rogan’s etc. etc., because it’s entertainment, and you know it will sell.

  14. David says:

    Sony was digitally raped but smart people like Andy Wallenstein will always be able to think up reasonable-sounding arguments for sharing the bloody details.

  15. Liberty Valance says:

    You’ve obviously spent a great deal of time on your defense. There’s little to debate about your ability to publish the material. However, that doesn’t excuse the fact that your editorial decisions have focused on embarrassing people with out-of-context, “gotcha” quotes, particularly with the lead copy. That would not be a surprise with the consumer press, but Variety is a trade publication that purports to be a professional business journal, containing substance. I’m not sure how you’ve preserved that notion, but your editorial intent seems clear. Very disappointing, to say the least.

  16. vfunct says:

    Publishing this information is worse than what the NSA does, because at least the NSA only keeps their data within their servers. You guys, meanwhile, goes ahead and posts private communications for the world to see, because you need that little bit of $0.02/CPM clickbait money.

    Journalism is bad enough as is, you don’t need to give the profession an even worse stigma by doing such completely unethical things. You don’t HAVE to do this, you know? You DO have the option to not be scumbags, you know? This is definitely a dark event for journalism, and you can always tell which media outlets are ethical and which aren’t by their treatment of privacy rights.

    In the end, you’re going to only encourage more hackers to violate people’s privacy rights. Your obligation to your reader is to make sure you they know that it’s not OK for people to hack their emails, but as it stands, you are making it clear you do not care about privacy rights.

  17. Jerry says:

    Great article on this. It isn’t wrong to write about this information, but it certainly can feel wrong.

  18. Joe says:

    Its a dilemma for liberals because they have no morals and they are against morals for the rest of us, but when that perspective leads to damage to one of their friends or partners it leads to a short painful moment of introspection. In the end they were always going to publish because Money and Drugs are the Gods of the Left. Who gets hurt in the pursuit of the money and drugs doesn’t matter to them.

    • vfunct says:

      Indeed, that is how we liberals control you, by causing your children to be addicted to our liberal drugs, which we will use to tax you and control you and limit your rights and freedoms while we spend the fruits of your labor on our liberal handouts.

      Unfortunately for you, you do not have a choice but to submit to the will of our liberal rule. Remember, we liberals have installed our dear liberal President Barack HUSSEIN Obama as your lord and ruler, and he controls our fully nuclear armed and operational liberal army, which is pointed directly at you.

      Now please get back to work. Our liberal handouts aren’t going to pay for itself, you know?

  19. BuddyJones says:

    Why is there really an ethical dilemma?

    Information was obtained illegally. Publishing the “stolen property” should also be illegal, and there’s little doubt here of right vs wrong.

    How does freedom of speech make publishing the hacked information acceptable? Has everyone lost all manor of empathy?

  20. srvwp2013 says:

    In the “what if” column, what if Watergate had just been treated as “a third-rate burglary”? “Woodstein” was not necessarily The Second Coming, but even today, later generations of “country lawyers” are having an impact on unearthing corruption in even the tiniest of hamlets. Tip said “All politics is local.”, and was he ever correct. In America, at least as far back as Benjamin Franklin, it is the responsibility of the Press to REPORT the TRUTH. As Jack said, most people “can’t handle the truth.” By the same token we have had betrayers and turn-coats at least as far back as Benjamin Arnold.

    Anyone living in the “computer age” knows, or should know, that there is no expectation of privacy. With the J. Edgar Hoovers and the Jack Andersons, and no doubt decades of their predecessors, there has been, and certainly is not now, no expectation of privacy in our lives. We have been told since our days in pre-pre-school that if we transgress, there will be black mark on our PERMANENT Record. Our files and dossiers are established even before birth.

    I worked, and we all work in businesses and corporations where we are told in orientation that there is no expectation of privacy and there is really no expectation, from one day to the next, of a job. I can understand how some people may feel that there is, or should be, an expectation of privacy, but as “Mr. T” was fond of saying, “I pity the fool.” Humankind is a weak, frail, fragile, vulnerable species. Only very few humans have the hard shell of the ever-lasting cockroach. Other civilizations have disappeared and ours is simply playing out the hand in our lives and times.

    • Bon Johnson says:

      None of what you are saying justifies the reporting of stolen information. You are just saying that in the messy real world it is what happens. To use a crude analogy, it is like saying “if you walk late at night in a shady part of town you can have no expectation of being safe”, sadly true but doesn’t make mugging acceptable or ethical. It’s really unfortunate that, in this context, our offices and emails have become as dangerous places.

  21. WTF Guy says:

    I bet there are some pretty juicy emails from Penske’s frustrations in dealing with Nikki Finke sitting on your parent companies servers Andrew. So in theory a fan of THR could do their dirty work and hack into your server to get them, and if that’s how THR obtains them all is fair? Really?

  22. David Greene says:

    When Variety gets hacked, let’s see how vigorous the reporting will be. Rewarding hackers for their efforts only serves to bring them one step closer to the computer or device from which these words are being read.

    The real story isn’t in the hacked content, it’s in the methodology used to obtain it and in our clear inability to prevent it from happening.

    We’re only tailoring new suits from the red flags.

  23. techartisan says:

    This kind of hand-wringing is unbecoming. Sony got hacked = news. Hackers release certain hacked information = news.
    Once a writer engages in self-censorship the entire “4th Estate” is doomed. Let your editors decide if your piece “crosses a line” or “violates publication policy.”
    Writers write.

  24. What really kills me about this piece is the “warm conviviality” comment… two gossips making racists remarks and because its Hollywood its okay… if that were a couple of conservatives.. it would NOT BE OKAY!!!! These people effect real people’s lives and their attitudes about race matter. Im sorry, I don’t much care about tow people making comments – I do care about the inconstancies in reporting about them. They were racist, they were belittling to the President and they go to the real heart of what their like in private which matters to how they are in public. Hypocrites would be what we’d usually call them, you chose warm and friendly… ugh…

  25. Just looking says:

    Where to draw the red line ??? Hmmm …


    – you’ve decided not to draw it at your own journalistic intuition as this ” just doesn’t feel right” .

    – you won’t draw it at theft, because after all, journalism is “permissible thievery”

    – what about materiality, nope, by your own admission this stuff isn’t really important in a national interest or justice or other high purpose way. It might be interesting to a lot of people and embarrassing but important. Naw.

    To you, this doesn’t feel right but it’s ok to use stolen material even if it harms people for unimportant reasons. They are always hiding stuff from you so it feels liberating to see them suffer. Damn it, they probably deserve this!

    This information came to you not from a trusted source but from someone whose intent is plainly malicious. So, malevolent motive isn’t a red line either.

    Who are you kidding? Red lines, that’s almost funny.

    I applaud you for recognizing this isn’t the same as Snowden or nude selfies. because it isn’t.

    Somebody just cost SONY $100 million by carrying out a really complex crimminal sabotage. You are helping them be very successful. No surprise there.

    What’s their motive for such a devastating assault? Is it the North Koreans with their lousy sense of humour, extortionists or just kids having fun. That’s the story.

    The real journalist will be whoever delivers that news.

  26. Levity says:

    Tried to get a handle on what you’re saying, but something’s not translating fully. You aren’t the story. This isn’t Watergate, this site isn’t “The Washington Post.” The stolen data is being meted out to many other journalism outlets = you’re actually all aggregating the data and using your editorial judgement as to what runs.

    One’s editorial task would be to frame and contextualize the news. Suggesting you’re the only one doing the hard work of sorting through this massive breach is like a fever dream episode of “The Newsroom” to the tune of “Pumped Up Kicks.” How about your e-mail address, mine and many other professionals who did business with Sony are out there now also?

    Sony brass aren’t the criminals; the C-level stupidity, lack of discretion in some cases and, some would argue, poor taste on company communication is newsworthy to their demoralized employees, peers and consumers who have been soiled and betrayed in the process by mere association.

    Want to feel a vortex of emotions? Go sort through rubble in Haiti and dispatch a piece. I know “Variety” must stay relevant, despite ingrained self-importance B.C., but there are many other journalists framing the story without a furrowed brow to a town that should know better. Perhaps assign this coverage to someone else in the hallowed halls?

  27. SusieQ says:

    Andrew asks if we would be interested in journalists publishing the material if it were our favorite charity or advocacy group. I don’t know why he expects people to say no to that. Certainly, it might draw a smaller audience, but I would absolutely be interested in it.

    I write my emails now with the understanding that, at some point, someone might publish all of them in the future. Hell, Gmail saves everything – 20 years from now, biographers WILL be sorting through emails the way they sort through old correspondence now. Email archives will be donated to school libraries, much the way someone’s “papers” are now.

    Are there things that might embarrass or distress me in my emails? Sure, there are. I have, on occasion, predicted things that have been wrong, been extremely brusque with people, and frankly stated my opinion in a way that, if published, might hurt someone’s feelings. I accept that as inevitable. That is going to happen no matter whose emails are published.

    What is different here is that there are elements about the inner workings of Sony that are not only newsworthy, but important to expose to sunlight so that they’re burned off – and this is true of many studios and elements of the entertainment industry.

    We know that we need to revolutionize the entertainment industry to keep moving forward, and we know there are problems that need to be fixed. But the studios are so opaque that it’s easy to never fix these problems. It’s easy for a studio to drive itself into the ground financially making films that aren’t profitable and that are critical failures (Sony’s recent Will Smith and Adam Sandler movies), and to never be called to account for it.

    But if we let the industry do this and get away with it, there won’t BE an industry in the next decade.

    We all know that a revolution is both needed and coming, in terms of how the industry works. But we’re not going to get one that is “painless.” It’s going to be hard, and it’s going to hurt.

    If anything, I would put the blame for this on industry media for failing to do true investigative journalism before now. 80% of what’s published is press releases rewritten, with another 19% being rumors of what projects will come together next with what talent. 1% of what’s being published ever asks hard questions about how the industry works.

    If people were used to getting hard questions asked of them, this type of problem wouldn’t be a surprise, and they’d be better prepared to handle it.

  28. Jeff Kreines says:

    You wrote:

    “In the absence of upholding a healthy democracy, what is the justification of our coverage here? We can cite the executives mentioned in these leaks as “public figures” who merit any and all scrutiny, but again, false equivalence: We can take extraordinary means to uncover something about President Obama, but doing the same for the CEO of a corporation who isn’t suspected of any malfeasance—that’s different.”

    The implication here is that Obama is suspected of malfeasance. Talk about a false equivalance! Shame on you!

  29. Tobias2010 says:

    Andrew Wallenstein’s ‘comment’ is rambling and pitiful, without any clarity or opinion. The bar to become a chief editor seems a very low one.

    • Brian Berdan says:

      Wouldn’t it be nice if one person/organisation took the high road. Perhaps a few might follow, and then a few more follow them. What an ugly display of human nature Variety and Mr. Wallenstein have exhibited by publishing the details. If you walk by a bank with a hole blasted in the wall and there is currency floating in the air, is the money yours for the taking?… It’s none of our business.

  30. tlsnyder42 says:

    One thing that the press fails to realize is that Snowden and Greenwald have a socialist agenda that’s rather Anti-American. That’s why Snowden went to Greenwald, a rabid socialist “journalist” who really doesn’t like American capitalism. If the Sony hack was orchestrated by North Korea’s brutal dictator, then isn’t the press playing into the hands of this communist tyrant? Why can’t the mainstream liberal press ask questions like this?

  31. I can now stop using anything Sony!!!

  32. Jaymes says:

    This is one of the greatest publicity stunts in cinema history. The leaked emails, nothing really spectacularly insightful. Salary financials were not that impressive. Personally I’d think that Amy would have been salaried a heck of a lot more. It’s not like Happy Madison is really happy anymore. And the deal with “Jobs”?, c’mon man that’s like resurrecting Thomas Edison, it’s old news. A film nobody would want to see even if Fassbender waved his genitila on the White House steps. Even the Obama stuff was lame. No “N” words were used, not even half an “N” word. The best thing we could of hoped for was a Mad Anout You episode with Kevin Hart. All of this leads me to believe that “The Interview” is going to make a ton of dough for Sony and the press has given it a billion dollars of publicity. Kudos to Seth and Franco on creating a brilliant marketing campaign. The GOP? Isn’t that the same as another organization that rarely identifies itself with Hollywood?

    • WTF Guy says:

      You are insane.

    • JT says:

      The conclusion that this massive cyber attack is a publicity ploy is idiocy, cynicism run amok. Let’s give away the personal information of our 47,000 employees, former employees and contracted workers, their personnel files and salary histories, their medical records, their emails and actual documents from their computers to publicize one mid-budget comedy. Oh yeah, and while we are at, let’s throw in five of our recent films, four of which haven’t yet been released. Any executive or actor who even whispered such an idea would be laughed off the lot–and out of the industry. This breach is going to cost Sony and its employees for years.

      • Andrew Boer says:

        I agree with you.

        But you have to admit, the idea of it being a huge hoax is a pretty hilariously brilliant idea — one upping Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds.

  33. vfunct says:

    You people are only encouraging hackers to do this to other people, a very dangerous step for sure.

    Privacy rights should be respected. Sony is a private organization. They deserve their privacy rights to be respected.

    This makes journalists look really bad and unethical.

    Might as well publish names of child rape victims, right?

  34. NoMinorChords says:

    Karen Chapman put it well: “Personal information was stolen.” To use that to sell your newspaper is acting as a fence for a thief. These people were not Daniel Ellsberg or Edward Snowden acting out of conscience – they tried to shake down Sony first. They are crooks, plain and simple, and you have rewarded and encouraged them. I hope you’re proud of yourselves.

  35. grant donovan says:

    i think you’ve established an intelligent set of arguments for something that has no clear answer. The morals are def hazy at best in our latest data hacks: Snowden, Fappening, Sony. You bring up a fair notion that if your source was a person rather than a leaker, they would be a qualified source to use. However and this is totally a question not an attack: If that source obtained material illegally (or immorally) as a journalist what is your responsibility in reporting? If you report it aren’t you de facto condoning the illegal action, setting up a slippery slope for what lines/laws your next source can cross/break? If you don’t report it and you were the only who had the “scoop” are you failing as a journalist?

  36. karen chapman says:

    Morally, I disagree. This is simple. Personal information and communications were stolen. Publishing it is wrong. The fact that there is not yet a law saying so is irrelevant. Your article is an attempt to justify actions you know are wrong.

    Examples of salaries don’t bother me as much as the verbatim emails, taken out of context. Freedom of speech is a core freedom and if we can’t communicate without the expectation that our emails could be news fodder if hacked, we lose much.

    Sony is the first. Our reaction surely will somewhat determine what hackings follow. If nothing specific is published by fine media, it’s power is diminished.

    Art, which entertainment sometimes strives for and reaches on occasion, must be truth, someone’s truth.

    A free, or inhibited, society is our choice.

  37. Robert A. Cohen says:

    The “malicious service’s” ( an oxy-moron?) overall implication is again to tell everyone that we’re not
    invulnerable, including: The apparently biggest bank in the USA, an enormous discount store chain, the leading hardware chain, and these are only from off the top of my head. It’s apparent to everyone that more cyber defenses need to be. It appears to me (currently) that things internet cyber are “virtually” impossible to protect. Our credit card industry allegedly refused to emulate the British system, and they have been hurt for years. Belatedly they’re apparently distributing improved cards. There’ll surely be more gigantic hackings reported, but meanwhile, what’s not being publically reported because of embarrassment, “security,” and/or whatever?

  38. Al Green says:

    There is a difference between publishing movie news and publishing people’s private information. This leak isn’t the same as the nude leaks but it’s still a crime and instead of looking down on the criminals we’re thumbing our noses at the victims. I think before anyone publishes this data they should think about how they will feel if they’re email inboxes, social security numbers, financial records and other private information was leaked to the public? It’s 2014 and the golden rule is still in effect.

  39. Jeff Denker says:

    Our industry has upper and lower classes, that view anathema perhaps to its membership’s deeply liberal self regard. The outing of the pay scales and private nastiness of its Mandarins may be understood by many to be the comeuppance, the humbling (albeit momentary), of the arrogant.

  40. Dana says:

    SERIOUSLY….What’s the point of this article??? I never post comments but “Dear Variety, if you’re going to report the news, report it and be done with it. Don’t then try to retract your hand in the matter but posting some ridiculous soliloquy I could barely get through reading.” Sony executives should be smart enough to know never to post such comments into emails or in writing. I’m not condoning anyone’s behavior but it’s just not smart. Any executive should know this. Any and everything you put into writing on paper or in an email can be used against you. So next time they want to rant on about racist jokes, please do so in the privacy of your own home or where there are no iPhone cameras, etc. It’s common sense.
    And Dear Variety, the part about “bombing Culver City”, really????

  41. Drew Cohen says:

    Well, you were right to question your judgement to publish excerpts from stolen emails, but you came down on the wrong side of it, I’m afraid. And, you should be ashamed. The justification that “everyone else is doing it,” doesn’t work for 5 year-olds and it doesn’t work for “news” outlets such as the Variety used to be. Well, maybe they never were a true news outlet, but they didn’t set out to purposely hurt others while enriching themselves. By publishing these stolen emails, you’ve allowed Variety to become an opportunistic vulture, no better than the worst of the rags. You’ve stooped lower than the old regime ever would have and you’ve proven to Hollywood that you you’ll do anything to justify your existence in the electronic age.

    Thanks for giving us a glimpse inside your justifications for doing something you knew to be wrong. I see it as transporting stolen goods and I think it’s only a matter of time before either Sony’s lawyers or your readers feel the same way and take action.

  42. michael Anthony says:

    You wouldn’t publish stolen snail mail, would you? Then why publish stolen email? We all have an expectation of privacy!
    Honda Rimes is on her high horse about the racist tone of some emails. Can she stand before anyone and say she has never spoken “ill” or “in poor taste” about someone in personal email? It’s doubtful.
    If all Variety staff can say they have no problem with their emails being published, then by all means, publish all you want about Sony. If your staff does have a problem, then take the high road!!

  43. JT says:

    Trade publications and the news media should be reporting on this story and its unfathomable scope, but they have gone too far in sharing details that benefit no one and only further victimize 47,000 real-life people and their families. Let’s be clear here: Sony and its employees are the victims of this unprecedented breach, and the information Variety has been publishing was stolen illegally–perhaps at the hands of an enemy foreign government. Just because you have information in your possession doesn’t make your publishing it acceptable, even if others are doing so. At some point ethical considerations must come into play.

  44. jason says:

    This is such an insane thing to say: “Rest assured that SPE chairman Michael Lynton would probably rather you see his private parts than the company’s movie budgets.”

  45. B Francis says:

    To compare this to the nude photos leak is a bit of an uneven comparison because of the nature of the crimes? The nude photo leak wasn’t just a privacy violation, it was a sex crime, one that occurs not just for famous actors but women and men across the globe on a daily basis, which get far less media attention and would also not be shared by the media in any capacity.

    The level of the hack and the privacy violations that have affected the safety and security of Sony Employees is obviously still a weighty subject and must be given strong awareness, but it isn’t the same kind of crime as that case.

    • Rusty Shackelford says:

      While I think many tried to create a moral equivalence between the photo leak and sex crime through analogy, it was not literally so:


      Sex offenses (except forcible rape, prostitution, and commercialized vice)—Offenses against chastity, common decency, morals, and the like. Incest, indecent exposure, and statutory rape are included. Attempts are included.

      The material itself wouldn’t have been illegal if consensually published, the illegality stemmed from the hacking and involuntary dissemination on the part of the subject. So it’s just a regular ol’ crime.

  46. Tracy says:

    “What’s particularly problematic is that even were a publication to abstain from publishing leaked material, dozens of others will do so regardless.”

    This is quite possibly the weakest argument I’ve ever seen for arguing that publishing these leaks are ethical. We’re publishing them because everyone else is? Gee, and “everyone else” is saying the same.

    Snowden was a whistleblower and that clearly is not what is going on here. There are different ethical considerations there.

    I’ve noted with some incredulousness that not a single reputable site posted the download links for the leaked movies (as if this somehow is crossing a line), but happily have posted everything else. It’s all stolen material. There is no difference.

    In the end, I think the question the journalists should be asking is this? If it was my organization’s emails, spreadsheets and work product being stolen, would I think they were newsworthy and should be published? Or would I be screaming to the wind that theft is theft and further disseminating stolen information is a very slippery slope indeed?

  47. vFunct says:

    If Sony wanted to, they could block publications of these emails just on copyright grounds, initiated via a cease-and-desist ltter.

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