The decision by Sony Pictures Entertainment to cancel the release of “The Interview,” the Seth Rogen movie that has improbably become the nexus of a massive story involving cyberterrorism, free speech, international relations and business, has drawn a wide range of criticism. Judd Apatow called the decision “disgraceful” and worried that it pointed to “a dark future,” while Neil Gaiman said this only proved that threats work. Journalists agreed, with Will Leitch and Todd VanDerWerff both decrying the “cowardice” on display.
Meanwhile, Aaron Sorkin, creator of the television program “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” also has some thoughts. Here is what Sorkin said in a statement released to Deadline:
Today the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie.
So far, so good, I suppose. Free speech, threats to kill moviegoers, movie — it’s all there. Unfortunately, the statement continues (emphasis added):
The wishes of the terrorists were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fueled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public–a story that was developing right in front of their eyes. My deepest sympathies go out to Sony Pictures, Seth Rogen, Evan Goldberg and everyone who worked on The Interview.
Let’s just go ahead and ignore Sorkin praising “our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech” before using the very next sentence to castigate the media for utilizing said free speech because life is short and we all have things to do. Instead, we will focus on Sorkin saying that the media — sorry, “easily distracted members of the American press” — helped fulfill the wishes of the terrorists.
It is very hard to see how, exactly, media outlets reporting on the contents of Sony’s hacked e-mails are what resulted in the decision to pull the movie in the face of threats made by the group that has claimed responsibility for the hack. Sony didn’t seem to scrap the Christmas Day release of “The Interview” because lots of people read Sorkin’s e-mail about how “the degree of difficulty” is higher for the men who win Best Actor than for the women who win Best Actress (although in the same e-mail, he claims “there just aren’t that many tour-de-force roles out there for women,” which is probably something he should tell any highly-compensated and in-demand screenwriters he happens to know, because if he does happen to know such a person, maybe he can suggest that they write something that doesn’t center on a white man).
Sony decided to pull the movie because the group that claims to be behind the hack has invoked the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in threatening people who go to places screening it. They did not pull the movie because Aaron Sorkin writes in the same e-mail that only “Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep can play with the boys.” They did not pull the movie because Aaron Sorkin’s e-mails were posted and they did not pull the movie because private personal information of employees (including health details and Social Security numbers) got out. They pulled the movie because a group raised the specter of a terrorist attack.
Now, it is unclear how serious this threat actually was. The Department of Homeland Security and the State Department both said this week that there was no credible or specific evidence of any active plot or threat. But we aren’t that far removed from the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., just two years ago, when a gunman killed 12 people and injured dozens of others inside a packed theater showing “The Dark Knight Rises.” Movie theaters draw large crowds and are not particularly well-secured, and this “Interview” threat arrived at a time of the year when a lot of people go to the movies (look at last year, when the weekend after Christmas saw the top 10 movies earning more than $160 million dollars, more than double the amount of tickets sold for the top 10 films during the first weekend of that month).
But back to Sorkin, because this is not the first time he has chimed in on the Sony hack. He also wrote an op-ed for the New York Times criticizing the news organizations that have published details culled from these e-mails, in which Aaron Sorkin, who created a show about journalists, lectures reporters about what is and is not “newsworthy.”
Sorkin is not alone in pointing out that it is ethically questionable to report on what is in e-mails that are stolen. (Emily Yoshida at the Verge has a better look at deciding “whether the value of what we have learned outweighs how we learned it.”) Sorkin just opted to do it by lecturing journalists for doing for money what the hackers are doing “for a cause,” complaining that the hacked e-mails don’t provide anything approaching the import gleaned from documents like the Pentagon Papers, as though that is the standard, as though learning about the gender pay gap in Hollywood is not worth knowing, as though there is nothing newsworthy about decisions (or unpleasant exchanges) made by the people who run a massive company.
The hack itself is, of course, about much more than who Sorkin thinks should star in the “Steve Jobs” movie. Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, called the Sony hack “a serious national security matter” on Thursday. U.S. intelligence officials seem to be pretty sure that hackers working for the North Korean government carried out the attack. Somehow, reporters have been able to report on this fact and the nature of a seemingly new precedent for cyberterrorism and Sony’s scrambling response to the hacks while also covering columnists who appear to promise to share columns before they are published (but who deny doing this) and studio plans to fight piracy and many other things found in the e-mails. Anyway, my deepest sympathies to anyone who read this far down. Here, go look at some cute animals.