Sony torched by nation state hacking, a mess of all messes


It makes you long for the clearly defined lines of the Cold War, when Hollywood could mock the evil Soviet Union and its leaders because, well, they were evil and they couldn’t do anything about it.

Now Sony, which made a farce about assassinating the leader of North Korea, faces at least $50 million in immediate losses and an absence of revenues from the movie “The Interview,” for the next year. Wednesday the hacked movie maker suspended its Christmas release.

Target and others have suffered crises due to hackers. But this, ascribed in media reports by U.S. cyber experts as directly tied to North Korea, is a crisis of a whole different league.

A rogue state with its own set of bizarre values, even one as poor and backward as North Korea, is way out of the league of most corporations, even Sony, to contend with.

How has the company handled this crisis, which started with embarrassing revelations of private emails leaked by the hackers about President Obama and several actors?

So-so. It’s mostly responded with statements, though one of the most embarrassed top executives did do some interviews. And, it’s easy to see why. Not a lot of companies get hacked by a nuclear nation.

“Sony Pictures has been the victim of an unprecedented criminal assault against our employees, our customers, and our business. Those who attacked us stole our intellectual property, private emails, and sensitive and proprietary material, and sought to destroy our spirit and our morale – all apparently to thwart the release of a movie they did not like,” Sony said in its statement.

That’s a pretty strong statement. And, there is surely a lot of sympathy for Sony and growing indignation that real or empty terrorist threats would kill a movie. But on the flip side, how can any responsible movie company, or theater company, not take those threats seriously?

“In light of the decision by the majority of our exhibitors not to show the film ‘The Interview,’ we have decided not to move forward with the planned December 25 theatrical release,” the company said in a statement. “We respect and understand our partners’ decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theater-goers.”

The company added that it stands by the filmmakers and “their right to free expression.”

One can quibble here. Apparently, the company didn’t care a hoot about the filmmakers’ right to free expression because it caved — and properly so — in the face of pressure against that very free expression. I’d have left that line out.

“Sony Pictures has no further release plans for the film,” a Sony spokesperson said when asked about a digital or VOD release.

The movie, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen, is a comedy about a supposed interview with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un which the CIA adapts to an assassination.

Obviously, North Korea did not see that as funny.

The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs and Crisis and Reputation Management at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the East. Learn more about EMA at mowerpr.com/crisisready. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.

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About steveoncrisis

The content is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It comes from Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and as managing editor and editorial page editor at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower and Associates, one of the nation's largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agency with six offices in the Northeast and Southeast.
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