The last month has been a nightmare for Sony Pictures executives. After a group called Guardians of Peace hacked into their computers, the world was awash with the inner dealings of a Hollywood studio. The details ranged from the interesting to the downright sensational, and it will be a long time before the studio can repair the relationships damaged by the leaks. They were, understandably, embarrassed by much of what the public was reading.
But they should be embarrassed tenfold by their shameless capitulation to the hacker group. Not that they had much choice. After the group released a warning that violent attacks would accompany the studio’s release of The Interview, many major American theater chains decided they would rather be safe than sorry. Running out of distribution outlets, Sony decided it was time to put the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy on ice. In doing so, they’ve set a dangerous precedent. Some in Hollywood have gone as far as to call it “unAmerican,” and it’s hard to disagree.
The movie involves the comedy duo playing journalists enlisted by the CIA to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. From the first announcement of the film, it has inspired outrage from the secretive dictatorship. A foreign affairs minister called it an “act of war.” And it was a war they were apparently prepared to fight, if only in cyberspace. The hack – now confirmed by U.S. officials to have ties to the North Korean government – was one of the worst in history.
Jim Lewis of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that Kim Jong-un was undoubtedly pleased by the capitulation. “Nobody has ever done anything this blatant in terms of political manipulation. This is a new high.” Former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said that “America has lost its first cyberwar.” Even while giving the hackers exactly what they wanted, Sony said it was “deeply saddened at this brazen effort to suppress the distribution of a movie.”
The ramifications of the surrender have implications beyond just The Interview. A day later, New Regency announced they were scrapping a planned thriller starring Steve Carell that was to be set in North Korea. And so it seems that North Korea will now join Islam as a “protected” group, immune to mainstream criticism and mockery. Not because it is the ethical path, but because radicals have scared the media into sticking to subjects that won’t inflame people who have no sense of what free speech means.
Is the world really losing out by abiding by a moratorium on Muhammad cartoons and NK-centric Hollywood comedies? Are these relatively minor concessions justified by avoiding the loss of innocent lives? Absolutely not. Freedom is not something you practice only when it’s safe, convenient, and universally approved. Whenever violent threats are met with cowardice (disguised as prudence), the terrorists win. That’s a phrase that has been abused and misused in the years since 9/11, but it has never been more accurately applied than now.