George Clooney: No one in Hollywood would sign my letter of support for Sony Pictures

I’m glad he spoke up, not only because he’s right, not only because a little public shaming from an A-lister might get others to rethink, but because that tribute to Hollywood’s bravery that he gave a few years ago at the Oscars would have looked even more embarrassing in hindsight if he’d kept quiet about this.

Nothing fancy about the logic of his petition: “We know that to give in to these criminals now will open the door for any group that would threaten freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together.” Literally no one wanted in.

DEADLINE: I’ve been chasing the story of the petition you were circulating for a week now. Where is it, and how were these terrorists able to isolate Sony from the herd and make them so vulnerable?

CLOONEY: Here’s the brilliant thing they did. You embarrass them first, so that no one gets on your side. After the Obama joke [This one. — ed.], no one was going to get on the side of Amy, and so suddenly, everyone ran for the hills. Look, I can’t make an excuse for that joke, it is what it is, a terrible mistake. Having said that, it was used as a weapon of fear, not only for everyone to disassociate themselves from Amy but also to feel the fear themselves. They know what they themselves have written in their emails, and they’re afraid…

DEADLINE: You said you won’t name names, but how many people were asked and refused to sign?

CLOONEY: It was a fairly large number. Having put together telethons where you have to get all the networks on board to do the telethon at the same time, the truth is once you get one or two, then everybody gets on board. It is a natural progression. So here, you get the first couple of people to sign it and … well, 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. Quite honestly, this would happen in any industry. I don’t know what the answer is, but what happened here is part of a much larger deal. A huge deal. And people are still talking about dumb emails. Understand what is going on right now, because the world just changed on your watch, and you weren’t even paying attention.

Tort law is part of the problem, he notes. If you’re a theater owner and you show “The Interview” knowing that hackers have threatened to bomb the screenings, you’re arguably guilty of negligence or recklessness if a bomb goes off. State legislatures could theoretically fix that by absolving proprietors of liability when they act in defiance of an attempt at extortion; trial lawyers and their Democratic friends will squeal, but that’s less of a problem after the big red wave in state elections last month than it used to be. Another interesting tidbit, per Clooney: Amy Pascal, one of the Sony execs whose e-mails (including the e-mail about Obama) have been leaked, supposedly wants to release “The Interview” anyway. Think she’ll get her colleagues to go along? I don’t.

The hackers behind a devastating cyberattack at Sony Pictures have sent a new message to executives at the company, crediting them for a “very wise” decision to cancel the Christmas day release of “The Interview,” a source close to the company told CNN…

The hacker message is effectively a victory lap, telling the studio, “Now we want you never let the movie released, distributed or leaked in any form of, for instance, DVD or piracy.”

It’s going to leak anyway and the hackers will blame Sony, so Sony might as well own it and earn back some public goodwill by formally releasing it themselves. Maybe doing that will jar something loose in the industry and rally people to their side. Or maybe other studio execs are prepared to back Sony anyway but are lying low for now while they frantically upgrade their own cyberdefenses. Either way, if you won’t believe Clooney that there’s strength in numbers, believe a guy who has firsthand experience with being threatened for defending western norms of free speech. Flemming Rose, editor of Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper that published the Mohammed cartoons: “I have changed my stance. I thought nine years ago that mine was a big influential newspaper in Denmark. I thought we could change the situation and win this battle. Now I understand you need growth and support in society in order to fight intimidation. You need thousands and thousands [of artists] to do the same thing in order to counter that fear.”

Here’s Alan Dershowitz describing the Sony hack as the cyber-equivalent of Pearl Harbor for the First Amendment. Exit question: Are we … sure North Korea is behind this? The feds seem pretty darned certain at this point, even suggesting that China may have played a part, but I keep seeing rumblings of doubt. Cybersecurity experts told BuzzFeed that there’s nothing fancy about the software that the hackers used; what distinguishes this hack is how well the hackers seemed to know their way around Sony’s online infrastructure. Fox News reporter Adam Housley has sources telling him there may be an “inside element” to the hack — which doesn’t mean the NorKs weren’t involved, just that they might have had help from someone closer to Sony than everyone thinks. Anything’s possible, I guess, but I read somewhere that the hackers appear to have spent months probing Sony’s systems; production on “The Interview” also started many months ago, of course. Couldn’t it be that North Korea found out early about the movie, then broke into Sony’s servers and spent months quietly casing the place before making their move in time to coincide with the film’s release?

Update: The FBI makes it official: The NorKs did it.

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