Variety: Obama threw gasoline on the Sony fire

Barack Obama has until recently enjoyed the nearly-unalloyed fervor of the entertainment industry. Hollywood has been the President’s ATM machine for the past seven-plus years, the one bastion of billionaires which had marched in lockstep to fund his campaigns and the outside groups supporting his agenda as he grew increasingly unpopular nearly everywhere else. Obama may find his Hollywood popularity a little dimmed these days too, if the most important trade journal in the entertainment business gives any indication. In a signed editorial, Variety’s co-editor in chief gives Obama a surprisingly sharp slap for throwing Sony under the bus during Friday’s press conference — and accuses Obama of attempting to distract from the fact that he’s got no real response to the North Korean hack:

Just when things couldn’t have looked any worse for the studio, President Obama turned sharply critical of Sony in a news conference Friday, second-guessing its decision to withdraw “The Interview” from theaters.

Why he bothered to pass judgment on Sony at all may have come as some surprise at a time when assembled reporters were likely more interested in hearing more about the investigation into North Korea’s involvement, as well as the U.S. response.

Cynics might suggest that targeting Sony gave Obama something to distract from the precious little he offered on what he knew or planned to do next. Blaming the studio also shifts already mounting criticism that the U.S. lacks any coherent cyber-security strategies despite the growing number of attacks pounding not only the government but many other corporations.

In other words, think of the Obama subtext thusly: “Cut me some slack on not defining what exactly the ‘proportionate’ response to North Korea will be because, hey, it’s not my fault (cue finger-point at Sony).”

Andrew Wallenstein wonders at the end why Obama even singled out Sony for this fingerpointing. After all, Sony was still willing to release the film even after the threat — but the theater chains refused to show it. It was only after that refusal that Sony announced they would pull the film from release. Why not blame the cinema chains instead of one of Hollywood’s largest studios — and Obama backers?

Don’t expect this to turn Hollywood into cheerleaders for Republicans. The only movement Sony execs have made politically is to thunder into Al Sharpton’s studios for making tasteless jokes in private about Obama’s cinema preferences. (They should apologize for greenlighting a Sabrina the Teenage Witch rehash instead.) Perhaps this will just allow for a smoother transition from Hopenchange to Clintonostalgia in the next two years. Their cash will still go to progressive causes and Democratic Party stalwarts.

Still, the scales seem to have fallen from the eyes at least momentarily at Variety, which is what happens when Obama’s foreign-policy fecklessness gores one’s own ox instead of someone else’s. Obama has tossed more than a few people under the bus to cover for his own policy failures. It’s just this time, though, that he’s done the underbus toss with his major benefactors.

Meanwhile, Obama wants China to take action against North Korea, a request that’s likely to be met with smirks in Beijing:

Administration officials asked the Chinese Embassy in Washington in a meeting Thursday to block Pyongyang’s access to Internet routers and servers based in China, to expel North Korean hackers living in China and to pressure the Kim regime to end its cyberoffensive against companies in the United States, according to one official.

Most of North Korea’s telecommunications traffic runs through China’s infrastructure, although some of it also is routed through Russia and North Korea’s own limited networks.

The request was part of an effort by the White House to develop options for what President Obama has called a “proportional response” to the activities of which North Korea is accused. …

“We have discussed this issue with the Chinese to share information, express our concerns about this attack, and to ask for their cooperation,” said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities. “In our cybersecurity discussions, both China and the United States have expressed the view that conducting destructive attacks in cyberspace is outside the norms of appropriate cyber behavior.

“We have reached out to a number of our partners around the world to seek their support and cooperation,” the official said. “Several countries have already stated that this conduct is unacceptable.”

Ahem. Until the Sony hack, our concerns over cyberwarfare focused on China and Russia as the most malevolent actors in the field. A federal grand jury handed down indictments in May against five Chinese military officers for hacking into US corporations and one trade union to steal data and trade secrets — exactly the same behavior as the hackers who attacked Sony. The Free Beacon described their attacks at the time of the announcement:

The hackers are part of the PLA’s General Staff Third Department, the electronic intelligence agency known as 3PLA, and its Unit 61398.

The 56-page indictment states that they used sophisticated technology and traditional fake emails to fool targeted Americans with access to corporate secrets into providing access points inside company networks.

The hackers then methodically stole key commercial secrets, such as technical design details for Westinghouse nuclear reactor sales and solar panel technology. Internal communications containing valuable economic data were also stolen and provided by the PLA to Chinese state-run competitors.

The activities began around 2006 and continued at least through April. The companies hit by the cyber attacks include Westinghouse Electric Co., SolarWorld AG, United State Steel Corp., Allegheny Technologies Inc., the United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial, and Service Workers International Union, and Alcoa. All are located in Pennsylvania. The indictment was issued May 1 in the U.S. District Court in Western Pennsylvania.

Yes, I’m sure that China is very concerned about cyber security. Theirs, not ours. If that’s the extent of the “proportional response,” then Wallenstein’s right about Obama’s attempt to shift the focus at the press conference. Maybe a few people in his industry will wake up as a result, but don’t bet on it.