Obama: Sony made a mistake in pulling "The Interview"; Update: Sony exec says they talked to the White House

The clip picks up at around 2:30. “We cannot have a society,” he says, “in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.” Fine words, but where was that spirit of defiance two years ago when Islamist nuts were threatening American embassies over the YouTube video “Innocence of Muslims”? That was their way of trying to get the U.S. government to start censoring Islam’s critics or, failing that, to get those critics to start censoring themselves. Obama explicitly acknowledges the threat of self-censorship created by the Sony hack, as you’ll see. And yet, when this same dynamic of intimidation emerged two years ago, he was less interested in free speech and chilling effects than he was in groveling:

The American Embassy in Islamabad, in a bid to tamp down public rage over the anti-Islam film produced in the U.S., is spending $70,000 to air an ad on Pakistani television that features President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton denouncing the video. 

The State Department said Thursday the embassy had compiled brief clips of Obama and Clinton rejecting the contents of the movie and extolling American tolerance for all religions into a 30-second public service announcement that is running on seven Pakistani networks. Obama and Clinton’s comments, which are from previous public events in Washington, are in English but subtitled in Urdu, the main Pakistani language.

When Terry Jones announced in 2010 that he was planning to publicly burn a Koran, a jittery State Department tried to appease Muslims by condemning him as “un-American.” Two years later, fearful that the Taliban would leverage “Innocence of Muslims” for propaganda in Afghanistan, Martin Dempsey himself phoned Jones to ask him not to promote the film. Obama’s administration has had no qualms in the past about using soft pressure to get controversial speakers being threatened with violence to quiet down for the good of American foreign policy. Why is his approach to “The Interview” suddenly different? Is it because the speakers involved, two popular actors backed by a major corporation, are more prominent and can’t be as easily shamed? Or is it because America’s posture towards the respective targets of the criticism is so different? Obama’s spent five years trying to convince rank-and-file Muslims that the United States isn’t their enemy, a project the Mohammed movie conceivably endangered. Kim Jong-un, by contrast, is a sworn enemy and nobody disputes it so there’s less to lose by siding with Sony. However you want to slice this, the degree of support you’ll get from the Obama White House when thugs overseas threaten to destroy you for criticizing them apparently depends on who you are and who it is that’s feeling butthurt. We can’t have a society like that either. Or at least we shouldn’t.

Anyway. A decent statement of support here from O, replete with a promise that “we will respond,” although I find it odd that he declines the opportunity when asked to say he’ll see “The Interview.” Why not show solidarity by saying, “yeah, sure, count me in”? It can’t be because he’s afraid of antagonizing North Korea; if he was, he wouldn’t have named them publicly as the culprit for the hack. Also, he says at another point that he wishes Sony had spoken with him before they pulled the movie from theaters, a comment some people took to imply that they should have gotten his permission first. I didn’t take it that way; I thought he meant he would have tried to persuade them not to. But if he was that hot to see the movie open, why didn’t he call Sony himself and offer FBI protection at a limited number of theaters to entice the company into giving it a limited release? Why not conference in the governors of California, New York, Texas, Florida and a few other states and coordinate state police protection for theaters in L.A., New York, etc? If he cared that much, he could have picked up the phone. Weird how his administration only gets proactive, a la Dempsey calling Jones, when they want someone to quiet down.

Exit question: Who’s “James Flacco”?

Update: Sony’s CEO watched the press conference and now he’s “disappointed” in Obama. Well, aren’t we all. But that’s not all he said:

[Sony Pictures CEO Michael] Lynton reacted to Obama’s comment that he wished Sony had reached out to them. “We definitely spoke to a senior advisor in the White House to talk about the situation. The fact is, did we talk to the president himself? … The White House was certainly aware of the situation.”

Did Captain Freespeech’s “senior advisor” urge Sony to release the movie? If not, why is Obama claiming that he wishes Sony had consulted with him first?