#BBCtrending: Defending Sony's 'cowardly act'

A billboard for Sony's The Interview is taken down. Image copyright Getty Images

The Sony hacking story escalated from embarrassing Hollywood insider gossip to a topic of Grave Concern in a matter of hours, thanks to Sony's decision to pull the plug on The Interview before the film's scheduled Christmas Day opening.

Twitter users, many posting with #TheInterview hashtag, were among the first to pass judgement on the decision, and the verdict was grim.

"With the Sony collapse America has lost its first cyberwar," writes former Speaker of the House, turned pundit Newt Gingrich. "This is a very, very dangerous precedent."

"A sad day for creative expression," tweets actor Steve Carell, who's own movie set in North Korea was scrapped soon after the Interview was pulled.

"This isn't one of those glib 'the terrorists have won' deals," says Collider.com editor Adam Chitwood. "The terrorists genuinely got their way. Bad precedent."

Sony's decision was a "cowardly act", tweets Vox culture editor Todd VanDerWerff.

Not to be outdone, the Weekly Standard issued a "special editorial", saying Sony's decision "could be - unless we reverse course in a fundamental way - a signpost in a collapse of civilisational courage".

Amidst all the garment-rending and teeth-gnashing, however, a few writers are defending Sony's actions and even downplaying the impact of the whole ordeal.

Sony's decision to pull the movie was a reflection of the free market reacting to "the reality of fear", writes Bloomberg View's Stephen L Carter.

"The relevant market actors are moviegoers," he says. "Theatre owners are guessing that with The Interview in their multiplexes, holiday audiences will stay away in droves. From everything."

And they're probably right, he concludes.

Releasing the movie just isn't worth the risk, says Business Insider's Steve Kovach.

"We know these hackers are organised," he writes. "But we don't know how organised they are. Why risk it, no matter how silly the threat may seem?"

New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait says that while Sony is hardly a "profile in courage", the studio isn't at fault here - paper-thin cybersecurity notwithstanding.

"Sony is a for-profit entity, and not even an American one, that effectively has important influence over American culture," he writes. "We don't entrust for-profit entities with the common defence. And recognising that the threat to a Sony picture is actually a threat to the freedom of American culture ought to lead us to a public rather than a private solution."

Chait argues that the US government should guarantee Sony's financial liability or even cover the studio's film expenses and then distribute it on the internet for free.

"The fiscal cost of backstopping Sony, against the backdrop of the federal budget, would be insignificant," he writes.

It's a plan Breitbart's John Nolte endorses as well, calling Sony's decision a "tactical retreat" that allows it to preserve the film as a viable product.

"Once the government has done its job, only then will it be morally necessary for Sony and Hollywood to push back hard against North Korea - hopefully with withering, brutal and devastating satire," he writes.

Others downplayed the seriousness of the threat.

"The ability to steal gossipy emails from a not-so-great protected computer network is not the same thing as being able to carry out physical, 9/11-style attacks in 18,000 locations simultaneously," cybersecurity expert Peter W Singer tells Vice's Jason Koebler. "I can't believe I'm saying this. I can't believe I have to say this."

He adds that calling what the hackers did "cyber-terrorism" goes "beyond the realm of stupid".

"We're not going to war with North Korea over this act just because Angelina Jolie is now mad at a Sony executive," he says. "Acts of war have a different standard."

In the end, writes Vulture's Adam Sternbergh, Sony's decision to pull the plug on The Interview probably has a lot less to do with caving to threats of violence than with the studio executives thinking: "Please, oh mighty lord in heaven, just make this go away."

"Simply put, at a certain point - given the accumulated damage in industry relationships, in corporate practices revealed, in class-action lawsuits from its own employees, in potential liability nightmares - The Interview was no longer the hill that Sony wanted to die on," he says.

If Americans want to get upset over something, he says, they should be less concerned with violence spawned by shadowy hackers and more worried about studios no longer being interested in pushing the bounds of political satire.

"Freedom of expression will no doubt endure, greater battles than this will be won, firewalls will hopefully be secured, and corporate emails will likely get a lot less freewheeling," he concludes.

Just don't expect to see any new films featuring Kim Jong-un in US theatres. Or, for that matter, old ones either.

Reporting by Anthony Zurcher

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