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Making Sense of Sony Pulling "The Interview"

Dec 21, 2014

Credit npr.org

"The Interview" is a comedy from stoner bros Seth Rogen and James Franco about a TV entertainment reporter and his producer who get an interview with the leader of North Korea -- and then try to assassinate him at the request of the CIA.

We are told this is not high brow stuff but you can't check it out yourself because Sony Pictures has decided not to release the film after it's corporate email system was hacked by what the FBI said were agents of the North Korean government.

And then the same group made terrorist threats against movie theaters who show the film.

This story has widespread implications for the media.

When the Sony email system was hacked, lots of confidential corporate information was released -- and the media jumped at the opportunity to report that stolen info.

"The emails were clearly stolen by bad people with bad intentions. And yet there's some information in these emails that is in the public interest," said Kelly McBride of the Poynter Institute's Sense-Making Project. "So journalists everywhere are asking themselves is it OK to mine this information? And what I've been telling them is you have to make sure you have a very high journalistic purpose, that you have to be acting in the public interest. A lot of the information in those emails is merely curious, funny, embarrassing. Not in the public interest. But there have been some stories that I think have shown the American public behind the scenes at Sony and behind the scenes at other large American corporations, including the New York Times."

So what kinds of information stolen in the North Korean hack of Sony justifies publication?

"It's a moving target and it really depends on the newsroom that you work for," McBride explained. "For instance, Deadspin linked to a couple of emails by Channing Tatum and George Clooney. Those were just funny, not really in the public interest. Buzzfeed did a story on how Maureen Dowd was apparently allowing people at Sony to review her column ahead of time. Maureen Dowd denies that. That's a little more in the public interest because Maureen Dowd is a powerful columnist. The New York Times is perhaps one of the most influential media outlets. Bloomberg did a really, really good story on how Sony apparently has access to the medical records of thousands of its employees. That's clearly in the public interest because what corporations do with our medical records, we all want to know the answer to that question."

Is there a difference between the leaking of the Sony corporate information and the leaking of National Security Agency information by Edward Snowden?

"Edward Snowden believes the information that he revealed is important for American citizens to self-govern themselves," said McBride. "There's no pretense here that the people who hacked into Sony believe anything other than they wanted to hurt Sony."

And then there's the cancellation of the release of the movie, "The Interview".

What does that say about free speech versus cyber terrorism?

McBride said, "the fact that you and I cannot go see Seth Rogen and James Franco make fun of North Korea is a win for North Korea."