Complaints that Sony Pictures Entertainment didn't stand up for itself, for the freedom to show a movie widely expected to be panned – if critics could have seen it – and for civil rights everywhere are mighty precious.
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Yes, Sony capitulated to pressure from North Korea, after a massive hacking assault that exposed its confidential data and embarrassing emails from and to employees, and last week canceled the Christmas release of "The Interview," a fictitious account of the North Korean leader's fictitious assassination. Although Hollywood's distributors wouldn't touch the thing and movie houses were quaking in their snowboots, howls arose against Sony's spinelessness.
Yes, it is regrettable that one of the most powerful companies in the world finds itself savagely attacked, by underhanded means yet. Though it is doubtful whether it would be preferable to have its headquarters bombed from the air from jets with North Korean markings rather than being targeted by underground hackers.
Even U.S. President Barack Obama chided the company, saying he thinks it was a "mistake" to yank the movie. Distributors lined up in synchronized-spitting unison to snipe at Sony, though none them stood tall and said, "We, we! Shall distribute this turkey in the name of freedom."
But I wish to ask, over what exactly do Sony's critics think the company should have bared its throat? Not human rights, or missing Japanese nationals or even the right to open a grocery and sell tomatoes on Shabbat. No, it's over the public's right to see "The Interview," a movie produced by Sony that is, by most accounts, not great.
Yes, ideally Sony should be able to release its movie, whether it's the second coming of "Citizen Kane" or more the level of "Zombie Strippers" (not that we unwashed masses will know until somebody streams it onto YouTube.) But how far should this company reasonably have to go to protect the public's unalienable right to watch a silly movie? Would you risk your livelihood, your reputation and possibly life itself for the right to screen a movie about something supremely inconsequential?
And what exactly did the critics expect Sony to do? Release the movie and sit back and watch it flop, in all likelihood, while the cyberattack on Sony escalated?
It is fair for Sony to decide that it doesn't want to commit corporate hara-kiri, watch its secrets spill and see the world read intimate emails of its employees, over this movie.
But mainly, it isn't Sony's job to take on the man from Pyongyang, and not just because his unpredictability is legend and North Korea's abilities are not fully known or understood. (Experts have been admitting the cyber attacks on Sony show an unexpectedly developed level of skill.) In any case, North Korea firmly denies being behind the cyberattack.
It is up to nations, not a company however large and powerful, to prove if North Korea was behind the attack, and if it was, to contend with it and its leader, Kim Jong-un. These responsibilities lie with Japan, the home of Sony, and the United States, the self-professed bastion of civil rights; not a profit-oriented company making a business decision to cut its losses and not take on an amorphous monster with infinitely greater power and resources than its own.
Even the great United States has essentially professed itself at a loss, reportedly asking China for help in blocking North Korean cyber-aggression. So what it expects Sony to have done – except purse its corporate lips and cut its loss – is baffling.
Meanwhile, since Sony shelved the movie, its stock has been rebounding from the slump caused by the cyberattack. Cybersecurity shares are also jumping like grasshoppers on speed. The world's investors, a practical lot, evidently weren't on the list of people shaking their heads at Sony for its ostensible cowardice.
And just today North Korea's Internet connection went dead for some hours, a collapse for which the U.S. may or may not have been responsible. Washington, which vowed to respond to the Sony hack, coyly isn't saying. But if it is the hand on the delete button, evidently it, too, realizes whose war this is to fight.