Why We’re Not Covering Scoops From the Sony Hack

     December 15, 2014

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About a week ago our own Adam Chitwood, who is an incredibly hard worker and is very mindful about the impact of what he does, posted this piece.  I don’t blame him at all for posting it.  If I was online, I would have done the same thing.  After all,  you have to make insanely fast decisions in order to bring readers news in a manner that remains competitive with the countless other outlets vying for their eyes, and it’s sourced from the Wall Street Journal, and contains exactly – and I mean exactly – the type of content that we’re known for bringing to our readers (not to mention a variety of that content that gets a lot of hits).  Except it came from the Sony hack.

We won’t be posting anything like it again.  This is not to say that we won’t post news about the Sony situation.  But we feel that the real news lies in the fact that the studio and its employees are the victims of a massive invasion of privacy and that the contents of that invasion themselves are not news.  In fact, the exposure of these materials is the very thing that the criminals who perpetrated this attack were using as leverage.  And they were counting on our willingness to publish this stuff to back them up.  We did not let them down, but we won’t help them again.  Hit the jump for why.

sony-hack-amy-pascalIt’s hard to imagine that it was only a week ago that we, and many other online outlets, began wrestling with the dilemma of what to do in the wake of the hack.  The “movie news” component of this thing was initially a little bit less cut and dry than the wholesale publishing of gossip-y emails, but in retrospect we believe that any kind of action that brings us monetary gain as the result of an ongoing criminal endeavor would be wrong.  Especially when the information stemming from it is of such little actual benefit to the public and there’s so much else at stake, like the personal information of hundreds of Sony employees.  Instead of citing “hazy moral ground” as an excuse for doing the wrong thing, we’d rather take a beat and make sure we’re doing the right thing.  Even if it means losing money (personally, I would leave this site – which supplies a good portion of my income – if we started regularly reporting this kind of information).

That doesn’t mean that reporting on this information is illegal.  It may not be.  Some people are citing Bartnicki v. Vopper (Supreme Court case 532 U.S. 514) as precedence for publishing illegally obtained documents.  And they could very well be right that this case buys them the legal standing to engage in such reporting.  But is it right?  We feel that this is a misunderstanding of the intent of that case, which itself cites New York Times Co v. United States (Supreme Court case 403 U.S. 713) which “upheld the press’ right to publish information of great public concern.”

Let’s be clear: Spider-Man, 23 Jump Street and Ghostbusters 3 are not of “great public concern.”  These are movies, not the Pentagon Papers (which were the actual subject of 403 U.S. 713).  In addition, a few (but, fairly, not all) of the headlines and “stories” that have tumbled out of this information often seem to be built on a willful, almost comically epic, distortion of facts, or at the very least a fundamental misunderstanding of how the industry actually works (which is nothing new).  For example, one exec emailing another with casting suggestions does not mean “These 5 actors are up for this role.”

22-jump-street-jonah-hill-channing-tatumFurther, catty emails are also not of “great public concern.”  To be fair, I have tried to avoid clicking on anything gossip-y pertaining to the hack in an effort to avoid monetizing it on my end, so I’m not incredibly well-educated on every nook and cranny of these people’s private lives, but what I’ve been able to gleam has been far from shocking.  (Full disclosure: the one document I have seen – via an image on Twitter – was the Sony exec payroll sheet and I found it utterly unsurprising).  While I don’t necessarily endorse off color jokes I would honestly like a show of hands from anyone who is genuinely taken aback by the fact that an industry populated with creative, volatile and occasionally power hungry personalities generates a few nasty emails (and boy do these seem tame to the stuff I came across daily in my agency days).

Some people have cited this leak as being a watershed, an exposure of Sony’s corrupt corporate culture.  I don’t buy this reasoning, which isn’t to say that Sony is innocent.  Does the studio have an overabundance of white male executives?  Yes.  Is this bad?  Yes.  But this is an across-the-board problem at every studio and at the majority of American corporations.  It’s also not a fact you need a hack to get to the bottom of it, since I’m fairly certain a glance at IMDBpro, Studio System, or the company directory can provide you with a general idea of the demographic that makes up the highest paid echelons of their workforce.  America has a huge problem with latent (and, in light of Ferguson, not so latent) racism.  Equal pay for women is also a hugely important topic that absolutely needs to be addressed until it’s no longer an issue, but I feel like we’re beyond the discovery phase of this problem (at least how it pertains to Sony).  It’s a problem, so let’s solve it.  Having a meltdown about the fact that an illegally obtained document states what we already knew only wastes time and energy and muddies the moral ground we need to stand on to effect any significant societal change.  The only thing shocking here seems to be the amount of people who went to sleep one night assuming that Hollywood was built on altruism.

When the “#GOP” hacked into Sony’s network on Monday, November 24th they threatened to release all of this information unless their demands were met.  Who were they counting on to disseminate this information?  Who could they rely on to carry out this terror and humiliation?  Oh, that’s right:  Us.  Let’s not do their work for them.

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