After nearly a month of PR blunders, Sony hired crisis management expert – and Scandal Oliva Pope inspiration – Judy Smith for some much-needed damage control.
Smith, the savvy PR guru whose firm Smith & Company came to the rescue of several troubled high-profile celebrities in need (Monica Lewinsky and Wesley Snipes chief among them) will certainly have her work cut out for her as the media, celebrities and even the president have all come to a single consensus: Sony dropped the ball.
Hiring Smith was the first smart and sensible thing the multimedia cooperation has done.
Sony’s unequivocal announcement last week that The Interview would never see the light of day due to the hacker group Guardians of Peace vowing a 9/11-style attack on American soil should the film be released caused so much indignant outrage that the company had no choice but to backtrack.
And backtrack it did. First, on Friday, Sony chief executive Michael Lynton went on CNN and said the company is exploring other platforms that could show the film.
Then, on Sunday, Sony lawyer David Boies went on Meet the Press and elaborated, saying “Sony only delayed this. Sony has been fighting to get this picture distributed. It will be distributed. How it’s going to be distributed, I don’t think anybody knows quite yet. But it’s going to be distributed.” The New York Post even reported that Sony has chosen its online distribution site, Crackle, to show the film for free.
Whether that report is credible remains to be seen, but the damage has already been done.
First, let’s be clear: Audiences aren’t missing out on a cinematic masterpiece here.
Everyone involved has done and will do better work. But if anything, America is a land of principles, and when First Amendment rights are jeopardized because of terrorist threats, then, (to borrow a post-9/11 cliché) the terrorists really do win.
And Hollywood has no one to blame but itself.
Sure, Barack Obama telling CNN on Sunday, “You know, had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what that story was,” might prompt one to ask why Sony is not taking him up on that offer now. And even though the president isn’t supposed to intervene in the private sector, perhaps an exception should have been made if there was a potential for large-scale national security risk.
At his end of the year press conference on Friday, Obama expressed a need “for us 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’s sort of the Wild West.” Perhaps, then, this gives us an opportunity to not only reach out to other countries, but to involve corporations as well in the valiant effort of combating cyber-terrorism.
As for Hollywood, it’s easy to pile on the industry itself and make fun of its inhabitants for being out of touch and simply not like us. But standing up for what they believe in, speaking out in the name of freedom of expression, is what they do best.
It is telling, then, that nobody signed George Clooney’s petition that he circulated among the Hollywood elite that called for Sony to back down and go forward with its original plan to release the film Christmas Day.
“Nobody wanted to be the first to sign on. Now, this isn’t finger-pointing on that.
This is just where we are right now, how scared this industry has been made,” Clooney explained to Deadline Hollywood.
Celebrities, though, didn’t hold back from airing their anger on social media.
On Twitter, Rob Lowe compared Sony’s decision to keep the film under wraps to Neville Chamberlain appeasing Hitler.
“Hollywood has done Neville Chamberlain proud today,” he posted, adding, “Wow.
Everyone caved. The hackers won. An utter and complete victory for them. Wow.”
Sean Penn, never one to shy away from controversy, sent a statement to Mother Jones which said, “This week, the distributors who wouldn’t show The Interview and Sony have sent ISIS [Islamic State] a commanding invitation. I believe ISIS will accept the invitation. Pandora’s box is officially open.”
As hyperbolic as those statements may be, they aren’t without merit.
Not releasing the film sets a disturbing precedent where outside and menacing forces can determine what America should or shouldn’t see.
But why doesn’t Hollywood put its money where its mouth is? In an industry full of wealthy and influential people, what’s preventing them from hiring a topnotch security detail and renting out a theater? Even if it is done once in New York and Los Angeles it would still send a message that capitulating to terrorist demands is not an option.
In the first Academy Awards after 9/11, Tom Cruise opened the ceremony saying, “Does it matter what we do now? Should we celebrate the joy and magic movies bring, well, dare I say it? More than ever.”
It would behoove Hollywood to find that sense of purpose yet again. For them and for us.