- - Sunday, December 21, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Terrorists can only defeat America if Americans let themselves be terrorized. With an otherwise meaningless movie in play — wit and humor at the level of “The Three Stooges” — the terrorists have won. Well, Hollywood was built on hyperbole like that. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that America was not a combatant in this war, though it took collateral damage.

This war was between hackers, likely in the employ of the North Korean government, perhaps with an assist from friends of its ally China, in one corner, and Sony Pictures, a corporation and one of the biggest players in Hollywood in the other corner. Big business, untroubled by conscience or conviction, is easily terrorized. Two famous divines, Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, have made a good living at shaking down corporate America for years, and Mr. Sharpton’s biggest payday lies just ahead.

The Sony debacle is the stuff of a movie script. After the hackers got a cache of internal emails, films, payroll data and other information from Sony and leaked embarrassing documents online, Sony executives went into panic. Several of the purloined emails between Amy Pascal, the chief at Sony, and Scott Rudin, a producer, suggested that they thought movies made for white folks were beyond the taste and understanding of President Obama.

The hackers, not to let a crisis go to waste, demanded that Sony pull its Christmas blockbuster, “The Interview,” about a fictional assassination of Kim Jong-un, the diminutive dictator of North Korea and a keen movie fan. They threatened to bomb complicit theaters. “The world will be full of fear,” the hackers said. “We recommend you to keep yourself distant from the places [where the film is shown].”

The analysts at Homeland Security, after weighing the dorky syntax, didn’t take this one seriously. The spokeswoman for the National Security Council said the U.S. government took no part in Sony’s decision to pull the film, a strong indication that the government thought attacks were highly unlikely. Mr. Obama urged Americans to go to the movies as usual. But when the nation’s five largest theater chains said they wouldn’t show the movie, Sony followed with the withdrawal, for now, of “The Interview.”

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, rightly called Sony’s decision a “troubling precedent that will only empower and embolden bad actors to use cyber as an offensive weapon even more aggressively in the future.” Sony naturally unsettled the creative types in Hollywood. Stephen King, the author, said Sony’s decision “is unsettling in so many ways.” Judd Apatow, a producer, asked whether Sony would pull any movie that gets an anonymous threat: “Everyone caved.” Rob Lowe, who has a cameo role in “The Interview,” invoked the wow factor. “Wow!” he said. “Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them. Wow!”

Ms. Pascal set off on a humiliation tour at the end of the week to save her job as chief at Sony. She apologized again for what she said about Mr. Obama’s taste in movies and spent 90 minutes with Mr. Sharpton in Manhattan, and afterward he tightened the squeeze: “The jury is still out on where we go.”

The Los Angeles Times said Ms. Pascal might take small comfort in the fact that he didn’t ask Sony for her head. At least not yet. But the New York Post reported that she agreed to let Mr. Sharpton have a say in how Sony makes movies. “We have agreed to having a working group deal with the racial exclusion in Hollywood,” he said. Al Sharpton, race hustler, inciter of riots, hoaxter and now artist and movie mogul. Is this a great country, or what?


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