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Obama: Sony ‘made a mistake’ by pulling movie after cyberattack

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This story has been updated.

President Obama said Friday that Sony Pictures "made a mistake" by pulling a movie that sparked North Korea to launch a cyberattack against the company.

Speaking at a year-end press conference, Obama said that the movie studio should not have bowed to pressure after the attack.

"Sony's a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced," Obama said. "Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake."

This week Sony pulled the movie "The Interview" from theaters after the attack, which exposed emails from movie executives and actors and wiped out computer data. The movie, which starred Seth Rogen and James Franco, was scheduled to debut Dec. 25.

"I wish they had spoken to me first," Obama said, and that their move had not set a good precedent.

"We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary that they don't like or news reports that they don't like," he said.

Obama said the United States will "respond proportionally" to the attack, though he did not specify how. "We'll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose," he said.

Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chair Michael Lynton said in an interview on  CNN that the company decided to pull “The Interview” after movie theaters said they would cancel showings.

“At that point there was no alternative but to not proceed with the theatrical release,” Lynton said. “We have not caved. We have not given in.”

He said Sony has “every desire to have Americans view this movie.”

A relaxed Obama spent more than an hour taking questions, only fielding inquiries from women journalists. He talked about topics ranging from Cuba to the tax code to the Keystone XL pipeline to race relations.

"My presidency is entering the fourth quarter. Interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter," Obama said.

He spoke of a resurgent America, from an economy that is burgeoning, with wages rising and a nearly five-year streak of job growth. He said the rescue of the auto industry is over and more than 10 million Americans have enrolled in health care through the Affordable Care Act.

"There is no doubt that we can enter into the new year with renewed confidence that America's making significant strides where it counts," he said.

The president also sounded an optimistic note on developments abroad, touting the landmark climate change agreement the U.S. entered into with China last month, leading the international coalition to defeat the Islamic State and fight to eradicate Ebola in West Africa.

And he noted that the U.S. combat mission in Afghanistan will end this month, though more than 10,000 troops will remain in the country and the United States will remain in armed conflict after that date.

This week, the United States and Cuba reached a landmark agreement that moved the two nations toward full diplomatic relations for the first time in half a century. Obama said that Cuba is now "open to the world in ways that it has not been before."

"Change is going to come to Cuba. It has to. They've got -- they've got an economy that doesn't work. They've been reliant for years first on subsidies from the Soviet Union, then on subsidies from Venezuela. Those can't be sustained," he said.

However, Obama still raised concerns about human rights and civil society issues in the island nation, saying it is a regime that "still oppresses its people" and that he does not expect that to change overnight.

Obama said that he does not anticipate visiting Cuba anytime soon, nor does he think that President Raul Castro will come to the United States in the near future.

Obama continued his annual theme of optimism when it comes to working with Congress, citing tax reform and infrastructure as some of the issues that have the promise to break through partisan gridlock.

“I think there are real opportunities to get things done in Congress,” Obama said. “I take Speaker Boehner and Mitch McConnell at their words that they want to get things done.
I think the American people would like to see us get some things done.”

But the president vowed to put up “stiff resistance” if Republicans try to water down the Affordable Care Act or dilute consumer protection laws.

And despite lawsuit threats, he also said he would continue to use executive actions if and when he sees fit.

“I intend to continue to do what I've been doing, which is where I see a big problem and the opportunity to help the American people, and it is within my lawful authority to provide that help, I'm gonna do it,” and then reach out to Congress “and say let's work together; I'd rather do it with you,” he said.

Cecilia Kang contributed reporting