WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama declared Friday that Sony “made a mistake” in shelving a satirical film about a plot to assassinate North Korea’s leader, and he pledged the U.S. would respond “in a place and manner and time that we choose” to the hacking attack on Sony that led to the withdrawal. The FBI blamed the hack on the communist government.
Speaking of executives at Sony Pictures Entertainment, Obama said at a year-end news conference, “I wish they had spoken to me first. … We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship.”
Obama said he imagined situations in which dictators “start seeing a documentary that they don’t like or news reports that they don’t like.”
Sony said it had had no choice but to cancel distribution of the movie since theaters were refusing to show it. North Korea denied anew that it had hacked the studio.
“There is not any connection,” U.N. diplomat Kim Song told The Associated Press. Song criticized the film but disputed his government hacked Sony and orchestrated the movie’s shutdown: “It defamed the image of our country. It made a mockery of our sovereignty. We reject it. But there is no relation” to the hacking.
The U.S. decision to openly blame North Korea — which involved agreement by the State Department and intelligence agencies — escalated a global game of brinkmanship. It happened after the disclosure of confidential Sony emails and business files and threats of terror attacks against U.S. movie theaters until Sony agreed to cancel the Christmas Day release of its comedy, “The Interview.”
Obama spoke not long after the FBI provided the most detailed accounting to date of the digital break-in. The president’s pointed criticism of Sony shifted focus to whether the studio would modify its decision, as some leading celebrities — including actors George Clooney and Sean Penn — have recommended.
“Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced,” Obama said. “Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.”
Sony Pictures chief executive Michael Lynton said it was the president who was mistaken, noting that Sony canceled the release only after all major theater chains decided not to show the movie. But the Homeland Security Department concluded those threats were not credible, and the top multiplex chains in North America dropped “The Interview” only after Sony informed them it would not protest if the theaters pulled the film. Representatives for Regal, AMC, and Carmike did not immediately respond to request for comment Friday.
“The president, the press and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened,” Lynton told CNN. “We do not own movie theaters. We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters.”
Lynton did not indicate whether Sony planned to release the movie on DVD or through video-on-demand services, which are not controlled by theaters, but the company suggested that was an option in a statement late Friday.