Op-Ed: Some Sony lessons: What a difference a hack makes

Sony has canceled the release of "The Interview" after a hacking scandal that exposed sensitive internal Sony communications, and threatened to attack theaters showing the movie.
Sony has canceled the release of “The Interview” after a hacking scandal that exposed sensitive internal Sony communications, and threatened to attack theaters showing the movie.
(Christopher Polk / Getty Images)

The Sony hack and the demise of “The Interview” have people howling about appeasement, corporate shenanigans and Kim Jong Un’s private life. What will happen next? What should have happened already? And how will it ripple through Hollywood, Washington and even North Korea? Here are four opinions that will help you follow the drama:

Philippe Reines: Strategy? What strategy?

Sony shouldn’t be able to raise a white flag on behalf of all 316,100,000 of us as it did last week. It’s a company, not an arm of our government.

Yes, “The Interview” is about as raunchy as it gets. (I saw the pop-up screening in Washington.) Kim meets his demise in an unnecessarily graphic final sequence that is juvenile and uncreative. Otherwise, the movie is not what you may think it is.


It’s a buddy movie, and Kim is one of the buddies. He’s fun and fun loving. Smart. Cuddly. Loves puppies and Katy Perry and is self-aware enough to keep the latter to himself. And he’s sad. Sad that he is so misunderstood by the West.

Setting aside his ultimate demise, “The Interview’s” depiction of Kim is about the most empathetic and endearing portrayal he’s ever going to get. And the hypocrisy of someone who had his uncle assassinated complaining about his own fictional murder is pretty rich.

What should Sony be doing? To start, it should be communicating directly, clearly and often with the public. I don’t think I’ve seen a single Sony representative live in the flesh, have you? That the voices of its own leadership have been compromised and sidelined by hacked emails shouldn’t stop the company from speaking. Find surrogates.

We need to know: Has Sony appointed someone to review every detail of how this happened? How is it working with law enforcement, intelligence and other national security agencies? Why exactly isn’t it pursuing alternative release options?


The United States needs to up its game too — working with the entertainment industry, sharing information, helping companies secure their infrastructure. This is a wake-up call that state-sponsored hacking of U.S. companies can have implications far beyond the bottom line. The federal government may need to take a role in guarding private companies from nation-state attacks.

Sony, please lower the white flag and release this movie. That’s your job. Protecting us and handling North Korea isn’t.

Philippe Reines served Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as deputy assistant secretary for strategic communications. He is a founding partner of Beacon Global Strategies in Washington.



Judd Apatow: The difference between us and them

Our industry is based on freedom of expression, but the potential impact of this hacking is that the studios and television networks will be afraid of provocative content. If I wanted to make an Islamic State movie right now, I don’t think there would be many takers. One might say Islamic State is a perfectly good target to be ridiculed. They commit heinous acts on innocent people. Will I be allowed to tell a story that points that out? Or will studios say, “We don’t want to deal with that because someone might make a threat?”

The result is the suppression of ideas and expression. Of course we have to make sure our citizens are safe, but the difference between us and them is that we have freedom of speech. We need to be thoughtful and strong so we can protect that precious right.

I’ve seen “The Interview.” It’s a very silly, ridiculous, hilarious movie, but the core idea of it is that the North Korean government is a fraud and that it is committing terrible crimes against its own people. That’s the point of comedy, to find deserving targets. Are we not allowed to point that out and ridicule that? It’s like saying you can’t do jokes about Hitler, because Hitler doesn’t like it.


Let’s assume that the hackers are in fact working at the direction of North Korea. In the most recent statement, the hackers said Sony had to remove all the film’s trailers from the Internet and that there can’t be piracy of the movie. Well that’s impossible to do. The clips of the movie that are out there will never go away.

When everyone in the world can watch that movie in six weeks because it’s been pirated, what was the point of all of this? More people will ultimately see it because of this. They have basically promoted “The Interview.” Do they not understand how the Internet or piracy works? Or is this proof that someone else is behind this? The result will probably be that everyone will see it but nobody will make money off of it.

There’s nothing the North Korean government does that is rational. It does so many things that make absolutely no sense, and that’s what the movie is actually about. What’s funny about “The Interview” is that it points out the ridiculous facade of North Korea, that the leaders are trying to present a country that is strong and its people well taken care of, when in fact, that’s not what’s happening at all.

Judd Apatow is a writer, director and producer of comedy films and television shows.



Howard Lerman and Jon Brod: Never-ending email

It used to be that everything you said was gone as soon as you said it. Words disappear after they’re heard. But all digital communications have been permanently archived. When you delete an email, that doesn’t mean it’s gone, it means it no longer appears in your inbox, but it’s still backed up in your cloud servers and in the servers of everybody you sent it to.

Everything you send by email, text or chat is stored. The cloud is a giant wasteland, and every time you say something digitally, it grows. There are terrabytes and terrabytes of data sitting there, of all kinds of media ranging from text to photos.


People should continue to use email and chat for innocuous conversations, because of the benefits of the cloud and the permanent digital record with respect to archiving, searchability and accessibility. That’s fantastic. But the danger is in confidential information. It would be a scary moment for most people if they thought that every email or text they ever sent was going to be put on the public Internet. We’re at the point where anything you put on email, instant message or chat, you should expect, at some point, to be exposed, whether through hacks, leaks or the recipient.

It’s as if there has been an on-air recording button going since the rise of the Internet, and the best thing you can do is hit stop.

Howard Lerman and Jon Brod are co-founders of Confide, a confidential messaging service.



Paul Fischer: Movies matter

There is a reason North Korea has controlled its film industry with an iron grip for seventy years, vetting and controlling every film made in the country and fighting like mad to keep foreign productions out. There is a reason Kim Jong Il, before becoming the country’s leader and creating its theatre-state as we know it today, rose through the ranks of the Propaganda and Movie Arts Division. There is a reason Hitler, Stalin and Lenin all paid close attention to cultural works — closest of all to movies, that most democratic of all art forms, and most dangerous, because it is consumed collectively and sparks shared reactions and passions.

And of all films, aren’t comedies the hardest to control? You can tell when a drama is banging you over the head with the message it’s trying to send, but comedies help an audience swallow hard truths while their mouths are wide open laughing. How can you be a terrifying, tyrannical force — one so overwhelming and uncontested that no one thinks it possible to question or overthrow you — when comedians are making you look ridiculous, on the same level as slapstick and fart jokes?

I’ve not seen “The Interview " — thanks for that, Kim Jong Un — but nothing suggests it’s exactly “The Great Dictator.” But still it was threatening enough to come to this. The guys who brought you “The Pineapple Express” are now political activists. That alone shows you how much movies and Sony’s decision matter.


North Korea still exists because it understands that. Kim’s state — a nationwide prison that tortures, kills, and oppresses 22 million starving, innocent people — couldn’t exist if it didn’t ban comedies, songs and books. Every single more-serious crime and atrocity it commits, it can commit because it has created a world without dissenting voices, without questioning or mockery.

With the Sony hack, North Korea tried to bully the Hollywood, U.S. and global entertainment industry into participating in that world. And we did.

Paul Fischer, an independent film producer, is the author of the forthcoming book, “A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power.”

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