On November 24, the news broke that Sony Pictures’ computer system had been hacked. Today, 25 days later, President Obama finally addressed the issue in one of his rare press conferences. In the meantime, Sony had already announced that it is killing the movie that was the apparent cause of the intrusion, “The Interview;” showings of another film, “Team America,” had been canceled, and production of a third film that referenced North Korea was canceled. This is what Obama had to say:
Q. North Korea seems to be the biggest topic today. What does a proportional response look like and did Sony make the right decision in pulling the movie, or does that set a dangerous precedent?
A. Let me address the second question first. Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats made against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.
Knuckling under to terrorists, Obama said, is not the American way:
We cannot have a society in which some dictator starts imposing censorship here in the United States. Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they see a documentary they don’t like or news reports they don’t like. Or even worse, imagine if producers and distributors and others start to engage in self-censorship because they don’t want to offend the sensibilities of somebody whose sensibilities probably need to be offended. That’s not who we are. That’s not what America is about.
No one can listen to this without thinking about Benghazi. About how Obama and Hillary Clinton blamed a well-organized attack by terrorists armed with mortars on a YouTube video that no one saw, and then arrested the video maker. And about how taxpayers then paid for excruciating advertisements, played in Pakistan, where Clinton apologized for the otherwise-unknown video. That’s our Barry, the tireless defender of free speech! And if North Korea’s attempt to censor Sony is such an obvious affront to our democracy, then where has our president been for the last 25 days, while Sony has been twisting in the wind?
So, according to Obama, Sony made a mistake. What was it?
Again, I am sympathetic that Sony has worries about liability. I wish they had spoken to me first. I would’ve told them do not get into a pattern in which you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.
Right. The idea that anyone would turn to Barack Obama for inspiration to stand up to terrorists is laughable. But, in any event, if Obama is so eager to preserve the American way of life, why does he have to wait for the phone to ring? Why couldn’t he call Sony’s CEO and tell him not to cave into the North Koreans–don’t worry, the government has your back?
Not only did Obama not do any such thing, Sony’s CEO promptly told reporters that his company did, in fact, reach out to the White House:
[Sony Pictures CEO Michael] Lynton reacted to Obama’s comment that he wished Sony had reached out to them. “We definitely spoke to a senior advisor in the White House to talk about the situation. The fact is, did we talk to the president himself? … The White House was certainly aware of the situation.”
That they didn’t connect with the president is not surprising. It has been obvious for a long time that there is no one home at the White House.
This whole episode is a classic example of Obama’s leading from behind. He lies low for nearly a month and is nowhere in sight when Americans, attacked by a foreign power, come looking for help. Isn’t this why we have a federal government? Then, when the dust has settled, Obama emerges from his hideout and points the finger of blame at others.
As for the “proportional response,” Obama offered no clue as to what it might be:
They caused a lot of damage, and we will respond. We will respond proportionally and in a place and time and manner that we choose. It is not something I will announce here today at a press conference.
We can only hope. But retaliation doesn’t seem to be in the forefront of Obama’s thinking. He continued:
More broadly, though, this should be cause to work with the international community to start setting up some very clear rules of the road in terms of how the internet and cyber operates. Right now, it is the Wild West.
Working with the “international community” to increase regulation of the internet–now there is something Obama can get excited about! I hope I am wrong, but I suspect the North Koreans won’t need to lie awake at night, worrying about Obama’s proportional response.
And, needless to say, no reporter asked whether it was the North Koreans, the Russians or someone else who hacked into the White House’s own computer system just two months ago.