President Obama sat for an interview with CNN on Friday and rebutted any notion that Sony Pictures Entertainment consulted with the White House on pulling “The Interview” from theaters after the news channel aired excerpts of a separate interview in which the studio’s chairman, Michael Lynton, described reaching out to the Obama administration.
In addition, a source close to the administration took issue with any suggestion that it advised Sony on the film’s release.
CNN anchor Candy Crowley nabbed the interview with Obama, which will be shown in full on Sunday for the final installment of her series “State of the Union.” Appearing on the network Friday to promote the interview, she recounted that Obama told her no one in the White House talked with Sony about yanking the film.
“They called about the hacking,” Crowley, who announced she was leaving the network earlier this month, said on air that Obama told her. “There was not discussions about distributing or not distributing.”
In Lynton’s earlier CNN interview, he does not specify what he talked to the White House about exactly, but administration officials were concerned that his comments would be interpreted as meaning they advised on the release decision. “I personally did reach out to senior folks in the White House and talked to them about the situation and informed them we needed help,” Lynton told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in an interview that will run in full Sunday on “Fareed Zakaria GPS.” He said that he talked to a “senior adviser” about the situation, but not Obama himself. “The White House was certainly aware of this situation,” he said. He indicated that the conversation took place within the past few days.
Obama also told Crowley that had he been approached by Sony, he would have personally talked to the movie theater chains about sticking with the Dec. 25 release date.
A senior administration official who spoke to Variety on condition of anonymity said, “There was a meeting, and they did present to the government their issue. But to say that we instructed them, or made them to believe that we endorsed the idea of them pulling the film, is categorically incorrect. The administration, and no administration, is in the habit of instructing businesses what to do or not do or how to conduct their business.”
The official said that it “defies logic” that the administration would somehow give its endorsement to pulling the movie, as it would be a “bad idea.”
Lynton was responding to President Obama’s statement on Friday that the studio’s decision to pull the movie was “a mistake.” “I wish they had spoken to me first,” Obama said, referring to Sony, in a press conference. “I would have told them do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.”
A rep for Sony did not respond to a request for comment.