LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - President Barack Obama told CNN that North Korea's hack attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment is an act of "cyber vandalism," not an act of war.
Despite the tens of millions of dollars in damage to the studio's business operations and threats of violence, the president said he wished that Sony had not canceled the Christmas release of "The Interview."
"If we set a precedent in which a dictator in another country can disrupt through cyber, a company's distribution chain or its products, and as a consequence we start censoring ourselves, that's a problem," Obama said in an interview with CNN's Candy Crowley on Sunday's "State of the Union."
North Korea was incensed that "The Interview" depicts a successful assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un. In retaliation, it reportedly leaked internal Sony emails, salary details and film budgets creating a firestorm of media coverage. In a message this week, hackers evoked the memory of 9/11 while threatening theaters that showed the film and moviegoers who bought tickets to the picture.
"The Boston Marathon suffered an actual grievous attack that killed and maimed a number of people and that next year we had as successful a Boston Marathon as we've ever had," Obama said. "Sometimes this is a matter of setting a tone and being very clear that we're not going to be intimidated by some cyber hackers."
In his own CNN interview, Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton expressed disappointment with the president's comments about the cancellation.
"We have not caved. We have not given in. We have persevered," the studio chief told CNN's Fareed Zakaria, adding, "Let us be clear - the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it."
Obama said he wished he had the opportunity to plead the case for releasing the film to exhibitors.
"I was pretty sympathetic to the fact that they have business considerations that they got to make," the president said. "Had they talked to me directly about this decision, I might have called the movie theater chains and distributors and asked them what the story was."