Sony Hack: George Clooney Attacks Media, Defends Studio

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Clooney and his agent circulated a petition around Hollywood to show support for embattled Sony Pictures, but no one would sign it out of fear

Three weeks after his home studio was hacked, George Clooney gave a passionate and defiant interview that attacked the press for "abdicating their duty" and took shots at Hollywood executives who "ran for the hills" when he sent around a petition asking the industry to "stand together" and present a unified front behind Sony Pictures and not give into threats from the hackers.  

In a Q&A with Deadline, Clooney began by lambasting the press for "fiddling while Rome burned," taking particular issue with news outlets prevaricating on whether North Korea was involved or not. "With just a little bit of work, [the press] could have found out that it wasn't just probably North Korea — it was North Korea," he said.

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Clooney, the son of journalist Nick Clooney, was particularly strident on the ramifications the Sony hack could have on news reporting. "Here, we're talking about an actual country deciding what content we're going to have. This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have," he said, also asking, "What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don't like it?"

Regarding Sony's decision to pull The Interview from release, Clooney feels they were forced into it by theater owners. "Sony didn't pull the movie because they were scared. They pulled the movie because all the theaters said they were not going to run it. And they said they were not going to run it because they talked to their lawyers, and those lawyers said, if somebody dies in one of these, then you're going to be responsible."

Clooney said that not only Sony, but also the press, has a responsibility to stand up against the hackers.

Troubled by how Sony Pictures had been left to fend for itself, Clooney and his agent CAA's Bryan Lourd drew up a petition "a week ago" that called on Hollywood's biggest players to show support for Sony and stand united and defiant in the face of threats to the notions freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. The full text read. 

On November 24 of this year, Sony Pictures was notified that it was the victim of a cyber attack, the effects of which is the most chilling and devastating of any cyber attack in the history of our country. Personal information including Social Security numbers, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and the full texts of emails of tens of thousands of Sony employees was leaked online in an effort to scare and terrorize these workers. The hackers have made both demands and threats. The demand that Sony halt the release of its upcoming comedy The Interview, a satirical film about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Their threats vary from personal—you better behave wisely—to threatening physical harm—not only you but your family is in danger. North Korea has not claimed credit for the attack but has praised the act, calling it a righteous deed and promising merciless measures if the film is released. Meanwhile the hackers insist in their statement that what they’ve done so far is only a small part of our further plan. This is not just an attack on Sony. It involves every studio, every network, every business and every individual in this country. That is why we fully support Sony’s decision not to submit to these hackers’ demands. We know that to give in to these criminals now will open the door for any group that would threaten freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together.

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Clooney and Lourd sent it to "basically the heads of every place" but they couldn't find anyone to sign it as the hackers had created a climate of fear. "Here’s the brilliant thing they did. You embarrass them first, so that no one gets on your side. After the Obama joke, no one was going to get on the side of Amy, and so suddenly, everyone ran for the hills. Look, I can’t make an excuse for that joke, it is what it is, a terrible mistake. Having said that, it was used as a weapon of fear, not only for everyone to disassociate themselves from Amy but also to feel the fear themselves. They know what they themselves have written in their e-mails, and they’re afraid," he said.

The actor felt that the lack of support for the petition had created a new paradigm, one in which people were afraid enough to give into threats. Clooney wants people to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. "This is just where we are right now, how scared this industry has been made. Quite honestly, this would happen in any industry. I don’t know what the answer is, but what happened here is part of a much larger deal. A huge deal. And people are still talking about dumb emails. Understand what is going on right now, because the world just changed on your watch, and you weren’t even paying attention," he said. 

Clooney is clear that the ramifications of the Sony hack and the demise of The Interview will lead to big challenges for films dealing with controversial issues and that are critical of foreign governments. "What’s going to happen is, you’re going to have trouble finding distribution. In general, when you’re doing films like that, the ones that are critical, those aren’t going to be studio films anyway. Most of the movies that got us in trouble, we started out by raising the money independently. But to distribute, you’ve got to go to a studio, because they’re the ones that distribute movies."

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Clooney and Sony Pictures co-chief Amy Pascal are close and he spoke with her about how to approach the release and subsequent withdrawal of The Interview. "We should be in the position right now of going on offense with this. I just talked to Amy an hour ago. She wants to put that movie out. What do I do? My partner Grant Heslov and I had the conversation with her this morning. Bryan and I had the conversation with her last night. Stick it online. Do whatever you can to get this movie out. Not because everybody has to see the movie, but because I'm not going to be told we can't see the movie. That's the most important part. We cannot be told we can't see something by Kim Jong Un, of all fucking people."

Returning to the issue of the wider story, Clooney also touched upon Aaron Sorkin's criticism of the press and their obsession with private emails. "The problem is that what happened was, while all of that was going on, there was a huge news story that no one was really tracking. They were just enjoying all the salacious shit instead of saying, wait a minute, is this really North Korea, and if it is, are we really going to bow to that?"

Clooney reiterated that this could have happened to any industry, and the issue is hugely serious for wider national security, as the Sony hack was state sponsored. "The FBI guys said this could have happened to our government. That's how good these guys were."

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As an actor, director and producer, Clooney is gravely worried about issues of censorship and self-censorship. "The truth of the matter is, of course you should be able to make any movie you want. And you should take the ramifications for it," he said, adding: "But to say we're going to make you pull it, we're going to censor you — that's a whole other game. That is playing in some serious waters, and it's a very dangerous pool."

Clooney concludes that his self-interest in this issue is content and the effects it will have on content. "I wanted to have the conversation because I'm worried about content. Frankly, I'm at an age where I'm not doing action films or romantic comedies. The movies we make are the ones with challenging content, and I don't want to see it all just be superhero movies. Nothing wrong with them, but it's nice for people to have other films out there." 

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