Obama White House stands by free speech in Sony hacking scandal

Updated

The U.S. government has yet to reveal what evidence they have of a “linkage” between North Korea and the Nov. 24 hacking attack on Sony Entertainment but they are considering a “range of options” in response, according to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson.

The hack attack had previously divulged personal email exchanges, crucial details about upcoming film projects, and intimate information about Sony employees, such as medical records and social security numbers. The “Guardians of Peace,” the shadowy organization claiming credit for the breach, eventually made violent threats against the company and theaters which screened their comedy film “The Interview,” which depicts a fictional attempt to assassinate North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

On Wednesday, Sony pulled the film from distribution after five of the biggest theater chains in America said they wouldn’t screen the film on its scheduled Christmas Day premiere.

RELATED: North Korea is behind attack on Sony

Johnson told mnsbc’s Andrea Mitchell on Thursday that his department considers the hacking a “very serious attack.” During his remarks he referenced the controversial 2006 British film “Death of a President” – which only played on a few hundred U.S. screens amid widespread condemnation. That film, which was shot in the style of a faux documentary, depicted the killing of President George W. Bush and the potential political impact of the event. It was largely dismissed by critics as sensationalist and exploitative.

“Let me say this – insofar as the movie is concerned, I recall about seven years ago there was movie about – it was a fictional account of an assassination of a U.S. president. I saw the movie. I didn’t like the movie. I was offended by the movie. But people in this country have the right to produce all sorts of different fictional accounts of things that we do not attempt to restrain in any way.  And so this attack, as I said, represents not only an attack on a company and its people, but also on basic freedoms we have in this country,” added Johnson.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest also spoke on the Sony hacking at his presidential briefing on Thursday. He cautioned that the U.S. wants to have a “proportional response” to avoid getting provoked into a response that the perpetrators might have been seeking.

“The president and the administration stand squarely on the side of artists and other private citizens who seek to freely express their views,” Earnest added. ”Sometimes those viewers can be laced with criticism, or are sometimes intended to provoke either some kind of either comedic response or one that is intended to be some element of pretty biting social commentary. All of that is appropriate and well within the right of private citizens to express their views.”

RELATED: ‘Unprecedented:’ Sony pulls film over cyber-attacks

The White House officials’ remarks come one day after President Obama weighed in on the controversy during an interview with ABC News. The president said that if there was evidence of a “serious and credible” threat, the government would alert the public. He added that his ”recommendation would be that people go to the movies.”

Conservatives were swift to slam Sony for backing down against what they considered to be a “terrorist threat.” Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney urged the studio to reconsider its decision while donating the films’ proceeds to fight Ebola. And outspoken former candidate and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called the alleged involvement of North Korea an “act of war.”

Meanwhile, the entertainment industry is still reeling from Sony’s decision to withdraw the film. Screenwriter Aaron Sorkin, one of the victims of leaked emails, lambasted the studio in a statement released Wednesday. “Today the U.S. succumbed to an unprecedented attack on our most cherished, bedrock principle of free speech by a group of North Korean terrorists who threatened to kill moviegoers in order to stop the release of a movie,” Sorkin said. “The wishes of the terrorists were fulfilled in part by easily distracted members of the American press who chose gossip and schadenfreude-fueled reporting over a story with immeasurable consequences for the public – a story that was developing right in front of their eyes.”

Sony has not said whether “The Interview” will be distributed in another format or at a later date. Its stars, Seth Rogen and James Franco, have canceled scheduled media appearances to promote the film and not commented publicly on the fallout. And at least one theater had floated the idea of screening “Team America: World Police” – a 2004 comedy which spoofs Kim Jong Un’s father Kim Jong Il – instead of the controversial film.

“We’re just trying to make the best of an unfortunate situation,” the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema’s creative director said Wednesday to the Hollywood Reporter. But the theater soon reversed its decision.

“We can confirm that the screening of TEAM AMERICA was cancelled as the film was pulled from release,” a spokesperson told msnbc on Thursday. “We are issuing refunds to those that purchased tickets.”

Hollywood, Jeh Johnson, North Korea and Sony

Obama White House stands by free speech in Sony hacking scandal

Updated