by Aaron Sorkin
December 14, 2014
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Aaron Sorkin: The Press Shouldn't Help the Sony Hackers
“Jolie a ‘Spoiled Brat’ From ‘Crazyland,’ ” says The New York Post.
“Shocking New Reveals From Sony Hack,” says The Daily Beast.
“Sony’s Hacked Emails Highlight Hollywood’s Problems With Diversity,” says The Huffington Post.
“You’re Giving Material Aid to Criminals,” say the rest of us.
LOS ANGELES — THREE weeks ago Sony Pictures Entertainment was the victim of a massive cyberattack by an outlaw group calling itself the Guardians of Peace. They breached Sony’s security and stole tens of thousands of internal documents and emails.
Then they left a threat. The Guardians said they were going to make these private documents public if the studio went ahead with its planned release of “The Interview,” a comedy with Seth Rogen and James Franco in which the two are tasked by the Central Intelligence Agency to whack the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Then they left another threat, this one accompanied by violent and disturbing imagery. “Not only you but your family will be in danger,” read a message to all Sony employees. The Federal Bureau of Investigation won’t say much, but it says the hack is sophisticated and backed by a lot of money.
Credit Kevin Scanlon for The New York Times
The Guardians just had to lob the ball; they knew our media would crash the boards and slam it in. First, salaries were published. Not by the hackers, but by American news outlets.
Then came the emails. A squabble between the Sony executive Amy Pascal and the producer Scott Rudin, an inappropriate and racially charged exchange, an insulting critique of recent Adam Sandler movies, a new idea for the “Spider-Man” franchise. Published. Everywhere.
Finally the media got serious. Not because no one gets more use out of the First Amendment than they do, and here was a group threatening to kill people for exercising it. Not because hackers had released Social Security numbers, home addresses, computer passwords, bank account details, performance reviews, phone numbers, the aliases used when high-profile actors check into hotels (a safety measure to keep stalkers away), and even the medical records of employees and their children. But because a stolen email revealed that Jennifer Lawrence was being undervalued.
I’m not a disinterested third party. Much of the squabbling between Ms. Pascal and Mr. Rudin was about a movie that’s about to begin shooting, “Steve Jobs,” for which I wrote the screenplay, so my name comes up from time to time. The widely published documents that were stolen include an email to Ms. Pascal in which I advocated going to Tom Cruise for the lead role (I did), a second email from one executive to another speculating that I’m broke (I’m fine) and a third that suggested that I might be romantically involved with a woman whose book I’m using as source material for a new script (I wish).
And because I and two movies of mine get a little dinged up, I feel I have the credibility to say this: I don’t care. Because the minor insults that were revealed are such small potatoes compared to the fact that they were revealed. Not by the hackers, but by American journalists helping them.
It’s not a proud day for Hollywood either. This is a town of powerful people — leaders and risk-takers who create things that have the power to start and change conversations. So why has it been so awfully quiet out here?
We create movie moments. Wouldn’t it be a movie moment if the other studios invoked the NATO rule and denounced the attack on Sony as an attack on all of us, and our bedrock belief in free expression? If the Writers Guild and Directors Guild stood by their members? If the Motion Picture Association of America, which represents the movie industry in Washington, knocked on the door of Congress and said we’re in the middle of an ongoing attack on one of America’s largest exports? We’re coming to the end of the first reel; it’s time to introduce our heroes.
I understand that news outlets routinely use stolen information. That’s how we got the Pentagon Papers, to use an oft-used argument. But there is nothing in these documents remotely rising to the level of public interest of the information found in the Pentagon Papers.
Do the emails contain any information about Sony breaking the law? No. Misleading the public? No. Acting in direct harm to customers, the way the tobacco companies or Enron did? No. Is there even one sentence in one private email that was stolen that even hints at wrongdoing of any kind? Anything that can help, inform or protect anyone?
The co-editor in chief of Variety tells us he decided that the leaks were — to use his word — “newsworthy.” I’m dying to ask him what part of the studio’s post-production notes on Cameron Crowe’s new project is newsworthy. So newsworthy that it’s worth carrying out the wishes of people who’ve said they’re going to murder families and who have so far done everything they’ve threatened to do. Newsworthy. As the character Inigo Montoya said in “The Princess Bride,” I do not think it means what you think it means.
So much for ever getting a good review from Variety again. And so much for our national outrage over the National Security Agency reading our stuff. It turns out some of us have no problem with it at all. We just vacated that argument.
As a screenwriter in Hollywood who’s only two generations removed from probably being blacklisted, I’m not crazy about Americans calling other Americans un-American, so let’s just say that every news outlet that did the bidding of the Guardians of Peace is morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable.
I know there’s juicy stuff in the emails and I know some of us have been insulted and I know there’s more to come. No one’s private life can totally withstand public scrutiny. But this is much bigger than hurt feelings and banged-up egos.
If you close your eyes you can imagine the hackers sitting in a room, combing through the documents to find the ones that will draw the most blood. And in a room next door are American journalists doing the same thing. As demented and criminal as it is, at least the hackers are doing it for a cause. The press is doing it for a nickel.
Aaron Sorkin is a screenwriter and playwright.
A version of this op-ed appears in print on December 15, 2014, on page A27 of the New York edition with the headline: The Sony Hack and the Yellow Press.