A curious CNN interview conducted between Candy Crowley and President Obama aired today, with the president claiming that North Korea’s hack of Sony Corporation was not “an act of war” but “an act of cybervandalism.”
Obama said in a Friday news conference that Sony made “a mistake,” and that he wished the company had called him first. That led Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton to tell CNN that Obama and the public “are mistaken as to what actually happened.” He blamed movie theater companies that opted not to show the film, saying they forced Sony’s hand.
Obama shot back, saying: “I was pretty sympathetic to the fact that they have business considerations that they got to make. Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what the story was.”
The President told Crowley that his problem wasn’t with Sony specifically, but with the precedent the company’s decision set.
The FBI on Friday pinned blame on North Korea for a hack into Sony’s computer systems. Obama said both foreign governments and hackers outside government present cyberthreats that are part of the modern business landscape.
“If we set a precedent in which a dictator in another country can disrupt through cyber, a company’s distribution chain or its products, and as a consequence we start censoring ourselves, that’s a problem,” Obama said.
“And it’s a problem not just for the entertainment industry, it’s a problem for the news industry,” he said. “CNN has done critical stories about North Korea. What happens if in fact there is a breach in CNN’s cyberspace? Are we going to suddenly say, are we not going to report on North Korea?
“So the key here is not to suggest that Sony was a bad actor. It’s making a broader point that all of us have to adapt to the possibility of cyberattacks, we have to do a lot more to guard against them.”
It’s a problem that the president is simply not addressing. Congress has been complaining since news of the hack broke that the government has been dragging its feet on cyber security measures. And House intel chair Rep. Hal Rogers thinks that the president’s reaction to the hack itself has been lacking:
President Obama should move have moved swiftly against North Korea following a cyberattack on Sony Pictures that has cost the company tens of millions of dollars and caused it to pull its controversial comedy, “The Interview,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Sunday.
“Saying ‘aloha’ and getting on the plane to Hawaii is not the answer,” Rogers said on “Fox News Sunday,” referring to Obama’s annual holiday trip. “This was a nation state attack on the United States.”
In fact, one tech analyst is wondering why Sony has been left to deal with the North Koreans. Isn’t that the president’s job?
President Obama was quick to second-guess Sony Pictures Entertainment for its handling of the North Korean terrorist threat, which has critics asking why a movie studio has been left to conduct foreign policy instead of the White House.
“This is not something Hollywood is equipped to handle, which is, ‘How do you battle a foreign country?’” said Hemanshu Nigam, a cybersecurity expert who previously headed worldwide Internet enforcement for the Motion Picture Association of America.
“That’s the job of the White House, and if anyone needs to show leadership in that area, it’s the White House,” he said.
Byron York reminds us of what a strong leader is capable of when confronted by the kind of bullying facing Sony. In 1940, a Captain America comic appeared that showed the hero punching Adolf Hitler in the face. The creators received death threats because of it. York relates what happened next:
“The theme was ‘death to the Jews,’” Simon wrote in his memoir. “At first we were inclined to laugh off their threats, but then, people in the office reported seeing menacing-looking groups of strange men in front of the building on 42nd Street, and some of the employees were fearful of leaving the office for lunch.”
Simon called the cops, and as soon as the police showed up, the phone rang. Mayor Fiorello La Guardia wanted to speak to the creators of Captain America. Simon got on the line. “You boys over there are doing a good job,” the voice squeaked. “The city of New York will see that no harm will come to you.’”
That is how it’s supposed to work in a democracy.
Mayor De Blasio made no offer to safeguard New York theaters. President Obama certainly didn’t call the theater chains and offer federal security assistance. All Obama did was second-guess Sony for their decision not to release the film — a moot point when all the major chains refused to run it.
A president shouldn’t give only lip service to freedom of speech. He should do everything in his power to defend it. I wonder if it had been a controversial film about race if the president would have immediately offered federal security for movie theaters under threat.