Dear Twitter: Sony and Theater Owners Aren’t to Blame

Comedians Wrong to Critisize Sony The

It’s been a rough month for Sony Pictures Entertainment, to say the least.

First came the calamitous hack, then came damaging leaks, which were amplified by massive media coverage and, finally, the withdrawal of “The Interview” from theaters (and any other kind of release).

All of this was unavoidable. But what came next wasn’t.

News of the pullout was greeted by a flurry of derisive tweets from high-profile talent who ripped the decision for many different reasons. Comedy stars should know a thing or two about bad timing, but it came across as insensitive given that the studio — as well as the exhibitors — were trying to do the right thing.

Take your pick of the nitpicking (some excerpted below): An act of cowardice. A victory for censorship and a loss for freedom of speech. A bad setting of precedent that invited other terrorists to do same.

They’re entitled to their opinions, but they’re being short-sighted. Given that the scope of this cyber-attack is uncharted territory not just for Sony but for the entire country, proceeding with caution was the right call.

Think what you want about Sony did, but is there anyone who really believes the studio didn’t have honorable intentions? Sony was faced with a no-win situation: Keeping the movie in theaters risked a tragic incident that, even if chances were minimal, would have been an economic disaster for the entire movie business had the hackers made good on their threat.

Yanking the film, one could argue, was actually the more selfless move that contained the damage to Sony, which can kiss its marketing spend goodbye at a time when it actually stood to gain from all the publicity surrounding the controversy. Studios with competing films at the box office may want to send a thank-you note.

But rather than drone on any longer on this subject, let’s take it on a tweet-by-tweet basis.

“Cowardice” is an offensive criticism, Jimmy, considering Sony and the exhibitors were just being prudent given the threat risk. Had they put “The Interview” in theaters, they could have faced an even harsher criticism: that they were being reckless given the known threat.

Sorry, Bill, but this wasn’t a random teenager calling in a bomb threat at his local high school to get out of a math test. It’s a dangerous nation-state that already proved its capability to pull off a sophisticated cyber-attack, which made the potential for a violent outbreak worth taking seriously.

I feel you, Steve, fear is never a good thing. But it can be a sensible reaction in the face of a very unpredictable threat. There seems to be a lot of wounded pride out there because North Korea scored a victory, but this war is far from over, and there should be hope and optimism that justice will prevail in the long run.

I see your point, Zach, but is there really a line forming behind North Korea now of rogues who have such pressing grievances with movies in Hollywood’s development pipeline that they’re ready to attack us over it? Don’t bet on it– this is a unique situation. Safety should take precedence…over fears of setting a precedent.

No offense taken, Michael. Finally, a tweet on which we can all agree.

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  1. gahpaStan says:

    It won’t always be a rogue nation state. See, for example, Anonymous threatening to hack Iggy Azalea for her tweets about Azealia Banks. Engage in free speech and you will be threatened with cyber attacks. Chilling.

  2. Snarkass says:

    Hey Hollywood, feel free to step up and do one of your live readings then. Put your money where your mouth is if you are so righteous.

  3. No One Of Consequence says:

    Sony could have released The Interview on far fewer screens (say 3-5) and ramped up security so there were no issues (which, incidentally, the Department of Homeland Security said would likely be the case). They chose not to because they are hoping the leaks stop if the film doesn’t come out. They are hiding behind a non-credible threat just like they are hiding from culpability by claiming the Theater Owners are the sole reason The Interview isn’t being released theatrically (even though they have no control over VOD releases.

    Furthermore, this horrible piece of journalism takes celebrity tweets that don’t even blame Sony to takes for no reason at all. The Steve Carell tweet simply says that this is a bad day for creativity. There isn’t even judgement in that statement, but the author chooses to throw in some jingoistist “We’ll get ’em next time” statement. Braff’s tweet isn’t even up for debate by anyone with a brain (right decision or not, this is a bad precedent to set) yet the author tries to completely ignore the premise of a slippery slope. On Maher’s tween the author is just foolish, as there have been more terrorist attacks on Americans by far more other groups than have ever been perpetrated by North Korea. In fact, statistically speaking, we should be far more worried about an attack from the teenager upset about his math test than the Republic of North Korea.

    Just an asinine article trying to defend an obviously friendly set of advertisers.

  4. The actions of Sony and the theater owners are embarrassing; your defense of their cowardice almost as much.

  5. Bill B. says:

    I don’t agree with a thing you have stated here. What happens the next time, and now that we have proven ourselves to fold, there will be a next time. I haven’t the slightest interest in seeing The Interview, another imbecilic stupid American comedy, but I’d buy the damn thing if they can find the “courage” to release it on DVD.

  6. John Shea says:

    Dear Variety,

    This is by no means a unique situation, and will be repeated. As for sacrificing freedom for a little safety, well, you know the famous quote. And I find your trust in the hackers’ actually keeping their word quite touching.

  7. Nick says:

    I agree with tweeters– pulling the film is shameful and makes our country’s belief in freedom of expression look like a fraud.

  8. David 539 says:

    For anyone who believes there was a real danger of the North Koreans attacking a theater showing “The Interview,” (like the author) let me continue your line of thinking. Sony has said they won’t release the film on any medium whatsoever, and if it never gets out to the public, nobody has anything to fear from NK over this film.

    But if Sony changes their mind or the film somehow or other gets out (highly likely at some point), then it stands to reason that NK will follow through on their threats by taking some kind of violent action against the film industry and the public. After all, would they really care how the film was shown, either in theaters or on millions of TV screens? It’s going to bother the hell out of them either way.

    So, by this line of thinking, Sony and the rest of us are still being held hostage and anyone who releases the film will be setting the fuse on a ticking time bomb.

    Or, here’s the alternative. Trust that law enforcement really has no evidence of an actual threat to anyone’s safety and don’t worry about it. Personally, I think this is the more reasonable option. And plenty cautious.

    • cardmarc58 says:

      It’s refreshing and rare to see such logical thinking in an online comment forum. A+ David

      • David 539 says:

        Thanks, cardmark58, I try. I’m not sure Sony or the others supporting Sony’s decision are trying. If they are, so much the worse. Logic, reason, responsibility and spinefulness (there’s a new word) are out the window. Save us, George Clooney.

  9. Merlot says:

    The cancelled pic was rubbish. Stop kvetching abt freedom of expression in Comments. It should never have had a greenlight.

  10. cardmarc58 says:

    Clearly the writer of this article needs to stick to the entertainment business as he is way off on many things.

    1) First you say about the hack “All of this was unavoidable” Wrong, Sony left the door open and that is totally on them.

    2) “scope of this cyber-attack is uncharted territory” Wrong, this was a much smaller breach than other numerous hacks.

    3) “Keeping the movie in theaters risked a tragic incident” There was no credible threat and now that they caved you will see a bunch of copy cat threats.

    4) “Had they put “The Interview” in theaters, they could have faced an even harsher criticism” Seriously, Not even the writer can say that with a straight face.

    5) “prudent given the threat risk” NO credible threat was reported by ALL who are in the business of what is a threat and what is not.

    6) “sophisticated cyber-attack, which made the potential for a violent outbreak worth taking seriously.” No it was not sophisticated and there is zero evidence of any capability that North Korea could ever accomplish any type of violence outside of their own physical region.

    I know that you are in the business so attempting to cover for the studio is understandable, but you have to at least come up with some valid points.

    I do think the large theater chains can share in the blame as well and I would hope that people boycott all the theater chains that caved to this non-threat on Christmas day. Just don’t go to the movies on that 1 day can show the studios that this is unacceptable.

    List of chains that I am aware of: AMC Entertainment, Regal Cinemas, Cineplex, Cinemark & Bow Tie Cinemas, so let them know how you feel as they did help force Sony’s hand.

  11. John Brennick says:

    Any respect I had for Variety just went right out the window.

  12. John Brennick says:

    BS it was the right call. We bent over for North Korea.

  13. Jason says:

    This mentality is why terrorists have won this round. There is no reason for Sony to have pulled this movie from threats by a dying dictatorship. We are weaker cause we allowed vale threats from cyberpunks to control our freedom of expression. Even worse is how little our government defended Sonys right to show this movie by securing moviegoers from what are likely empty threats.

    No Andrew, proceeding with caution means a lack of leadership and backbone when our first amendment is being hijacked.

  14. Plywood101 says:

    An artical which contains no new insight but more of a late ‘dig’ at those who oppose the Sony idea of digging their heads in the sand.
    It’s mentioned “a dangerous nation-state that already proved its capability to pull off a cyber attack” does that mean the writer has solid proof that this act of war was by N.K? Because that would be more interesting if so.
    Also, the heroic act of Sony not releasing this film after spending so much on advertising is made void knowing that the full marketing budget was not spent, and they will be able to recoup some by insurance.

    Ps. Also having a dig at Steve Carell this late in the day seems very harsh as I’m sure you are aware of New Regancy have cancelled his latest project due to fears of similar action.

  15. My prior comment was addressed to agree with Jacques — not Zack. Typo on my part.

  16. Zack: My thoughts exactly. It’s not necessarily the North Koreans that might create a catastrophe — it’s the home grown terrorists — the people with bombs or assault weapons — who are looking for an excuse, any excuse, to set off their bombs or take out a theater. And what better day for these home grown nut jobs to get their fifteen minutes of fame (infamy) than Christmas Day over a movie that has already been the subject of threats? And I would bet that, if Sony had released the movie and there was a disaster, the very same people who are calling Sony cowards and complaining about free speech, etc., would be the first ones to scream that Sony and the theaters put profits ahead of people.

  17. Curtis says:

    The reply to Zach Braff’s tweet is the exact reason why Sony SHOULD show the movie. This is an isolated incident of a bunch of hired computer nerds that drank too much dictatorship kool-aid pulling off a good hack, not IZIZ, who already have cells and sympathizers here stateside.

  18. Tyler says:

    Sony is to blame for not having the foresight to see this coming. Maybe on the leak, but the overall reaction.

    2013: “Sure we’ll make a movie about trying to assassinate the murderous, irrational, real-life leader of North Korea!”
    2014: “How were we supposed to know that North Korea would be so mad about this?!”

  19. Jacques Strappe says:

    As much as it pains me to say this, I mostly agree with Wallenstein, no matter how preposterous the email threats may seem. It is really no different from the common practice of mass evacuations of public places when bomb threats are made or school lock downs when a firearm is suspected in a facility, whether it turns out to be ultimately be a water gun or a real gun. This is the post 9/11 era we now live in and is the primary reason why air travel is more painful than a root canal nowadays. EVERY terrorist threat is taken seriously and I don’t ever see that changing. As improbable as a 9/11-style attack (flying jetliners into the multiplex???) on a movie theater or multiple theaters showing The Interview would be by North Korean terrorists, there is always the real life prospect of a homegrown American nut-jobs that would love the attention of bombing a movie theater for either the thrill of it or even trying to “jokingly” scare theater goers with phony bombs and smoke, etc. It’s a sick freaking world.

  20. Smh says:

    This is bull. To err on the side of caution would have been to delay the movie’s release and/or release it on VOD. This is running scared because they don’t want to be hacked again and lose more money than the film is worth. Funny thing is this movie will make 3 times of what it would have made because of how many people would pay to watch it to spite North Korea.

  21. dan tynan says:

    Sorry but no. Assuming authorities are right in that the cyber attacks originated in Korea, then the attackers are also in Korea. How exactly are they going to bomb a multiplex in Des Moines or Dallas? This is a hollow threat.

    Even if it weren’t hollow, sony should have responded by releasing the film on DVD and streaming video. That it did not shows extreme cowardice. There is no safety argument to fall back on.

  22. Nicole says:

    You couldn’t be more wrong. Peace through strength not peace through caution. If we had a real president appropriate action would have been to send the nationa guard to protect movie goers to the perceived threat and put all our analysts on high alert to protect us from the hackers. If North Korea so much as tried either of their threats we treat it as an act of war. The only way they will respect us is through fear. They know nothing else. I am actually pleasantly surprised by Hollywoods reaction!

    • Curtis says:

      Amen!!! This ordeal is the EXACT reason the Department of Defense exists. The threats of violence are threats against the first amendment, and the DoD exists to protect the sanctity of the the constitution. Therefore,the appropriate response would be to show the movie, and ask for fbi/law enforcement/DoD support. Besides, North Korea is crazy, not stupid. They know they don’t really want none. Kim, I can understand having a fictional movie about your assassination isn’t the coolest ice-breaker ever, but maybe try having a sense of humor for a change, and maybe people won’t think you’re such a nut job.

  23. Jay Salahi says:

    If someone made this treat on Avenger/Star Wars or another $250m movie you know it would still be getting released.

  24. Andrew Houde says:

    Like hell they are not to blame, media coverage gets equal fault but this whole thing is an embarrassment to Americans that the theater owners capitulated like this.

  25. Matt B. says:

    Safety would take precedence, not precedent.

  26. Samuel Gould says:

    Wrong. The author clearly knows nothing about technology. Sony has had a serious problem with poorly secure data servers that dates back 10 years. From passwords being stored in plain text format to outdated hash algorithms that had long since been broken Sony failed to provide adequate obstacles to prevent the hackers from entering their system. They are culpable in everything that has transpired.

    Furthermore their response to the feigned threats by pulling the movie was spineless. They capitulated to paper tigers because the executives at both Sony and the theaters did not have the fortitude to make a real stand. Pathetic all around.

  27. James says:

    You’re right, the media coverage is to blame.

  28. Chris Simmons says:

    Sorry Andrew, they are right and you are wrong. There was no way either the hackers or NK were going to attack American citizens on American soil. This was a cowardly response. I’ve lost my desire to pay to see the film as I don’t want to support Sony’s behavior.

    There must have been some really damming information that was yet to be shared by the hackers.

  29. Dennis Joseph says:

    Wallenstein, add yourself to the list of wimpy bleeding hearts. If Nazi groups threatened to bomb movie theaters for showing Schindler’s List, would you have approved of pulling that movie too? Now go and hide under a desk at Sony.

  30. Dear Sony Hackers: Now that u run Hollywood, I could do without Michael Moore movies.

  31. Joyce Tyler says:

    Thank you, Andrew Wallenstein, for being the voice of reason. When the two stars of the movie bail out of attending the premiere, presumably fearing for their lives, screw “creative expression.” There are crazies out there. If not N. Korean crazies then American ones, just waiting for an excuse to unleash their craziness. The lives of moviegoers should not under any circumstances be put at risk.

    • KWK says:

      Sadly, the ghosts of Aurora, Colorado still haunt exhibitors and movie studios. Sadly, movie theatres continent-wide can still be considered easy targets. As much as I revile censorship, exhibitors also have a responsibility to provide a safe entertainment environment for their paying customers and staff members. Any threat – real or perceived – needs to be seriously considered in this messed-up day and age. Sony should just release THE INTERVIEW to VOD at some point, and corporations should seriously look into beefing up their cyber divisions. And I will run my dvd of TEAM AMERICA (which is about a thousand times more clever than Seth Rogen’s movie LOOKS). Thank you Ms. Tyler for your very sensible posting.

  32. Jace Reid says:

    “Think what you want about Sony did.”

    *Think what you want about what^ Sony did.

  33. jhs39 says:

    Refusing to release the movie on any format or platform was not unavoidable–Sony never made any serious inquiries into releasing the movie VOD which would have allowed people who wanted to see the movie to see it while avoiding the non-existing threat of North Korean terrorism in American movie theaters. Sony took the most cowardly route possible and deserves far more scorn than it has received on Twitter. I can’t understand how the writer of this piece can justify his position which I find both ignorant and shameful.

  34. Alex says:

    LOVE this editorial! This is exactly what I have been feeling and it’s great to see you guys come out and say it.

    • jhs39 says:

      Presumably you work at Sony because nobody with any sense would applaud Sony pulling a movie because of threats from hackers. Sony has given the greenlight to the blackmail of any company based on empty threats of violence from computer hackers. What Sony did was shameful–an act of cowardice so serious that I think all Hollywood talent should boycott the studio completely.

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