December 19, 2014

North Korea Censors Hollywood

Hackers succeeded in prompting Sony to cancel a movie release.

Hollywood faced major embarrassment when hackers uncovered and released unflattering emails between Sony Pictures executives, producers and other big shots. The emails included racially tinged jokes about Barack Obama’s taste in movies – but that was just the tip of the iceberg. The hacking led to the release of the screening version of five current films as well as the script to the upcoming James Bond movie – all among more than 38 million unauthorized files snatched from Sony’s servers.

Eventually, an entire movie release was canceled by Hollywood’s intrepid defenders of our First Amendment.

This intrusion marks a new chapter in the relationship between the United States and North Korea. Federal officials blamed hackers from the NoKo-allied “Guardians of the Peace,” a group that vowed “the world will be full of fear” of 9/11-style attacks if a Sony movie called “The Interview” was released as scheduled on Christmas Day. “The Interview” is a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, and it tells the story of a fictional CIA plan to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un after two journalists, played by Rogen and Franco, secure an interview with him.

But never fear; the White House is working on a “proportional” response, while Barack Obama boldly declared, “My recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”

Well, they can’t see “The Interview.” In response to the hackers’ threats, the Carmike Cinemas theater chain opted not to show the film, at which point four other major chains followed suit. With no major chains willing to risk showing the film, Sony abandoned plans to distribute it at all, meaning a $44 million investment will be scrapped.

This despite the fact that at least two State Department officials screened a rough cut of the movie in June and approved it. That Sony sought government approval is as troubling as the result of the hacking.

And the damage isn’t done, as another studio likewise dropped plans for a North Korea-based “paranoid thriller.” Then, as if to add further insult, Paramount Pictures yanked the movie some theaters wanted to show in place of “The Interview” – a 2004 satirical comedy starring marionettes and dubbed “Team America: World Police.” That movie depicted Kim Jong-Un’s father, the late North Korean despot Kim Jong-Il, as the comedic villain in a terrorist plot.

So how did we come to be so afraid of a group of hackers – or should we say the pudgy young third-world dictator who directed them – that we bow to their wishes and scrap a $44 million movie? It’s likely Sony can only guess at the amount of economic damage caused by the data breach, but the bigger problem is whether other rogue nations and groups will be emboldened whenever media or broadcast portrays them in a bad light. Clearly, the blueprint for blackmail now exists.

As National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke writes, “How grotesque it is … to see businesses in the United States act so cravenly to what appears to be little more than a glorified letter of complaint. Is this now to be how America works? If so – if the friends of a campy two-bit dictatorship can force us to put our tails between our legs and ask not to be thrown into the briar patch – then one can only wonder how we might expect to stand up to our more competent foes.”

Heck, even The New York Times editorialized that “this decision will establish a dangerous precedent that could further embolden rogue regimes and criminals.” When the Times is even slightly hawkish, you know something’s up.

For decades, Hollywood made films and television shows about America’s toughness. In the days of John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone and Chuck Norris the message was “Don’t mess with America.” That era of Hollywood ended some time ago, however, and in the politically correct morass that we’ve come to know as modern Tinseltown it was only a matter of time before someone blinked. We’re not defending the content of Sony’s movie one way or the other, but we do think Liberty is worth defending.

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