President Obama said Sony erred when it acceded to hackers' demands that the movie studio pull a movie that depicts the fictional assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. Speaking Friday at a White House press conference before leaving for a Hawaiian vacation, the president also touted progress on the economy, health care and relations with Cuba.
"Sony is a corporation, it suffered significant damage, threats against employees, sympathetic to concerns they faced," Obama told reporters. "That said, I think they made a mistake."
Obama said the administration would respond to the massive hacking attack against Sony, which the FBI said Friday was carried out by the North Korean government. Obama did not specify what the response would be. And he said there was no evidence that any other government was involved in the hack.
"We cannot have a society in which some dictator some place can start imposing censorship here in the United States," Obama added. "Because if somebody is able to intimidate folks out of releasing a satirical movie, imagine what they start doing when they start seeing a documentary they don't like or news reports they don't like. "
"I wish they had spoken to me first. I would have told them: 'Do not get into a pattern in which you're intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.'"
Obama went on: "I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen and James [Franco]. I love Seth, and I love James, but the notion that that was a threat to them, I think, gives you some sense of the kind of regime we’re talking about here."
Sony CEO Michael Lynton told CNN in an exclusive interview on Friday that the "president, the press, and the public are mistaken." He said that contrary to what the president said, Sony did reach out to the White House to discuss the hacking situation. "We definitely spoke to senior advisors ... whether we spoke the president himself ... the White House was definitely aware of the situation," he said.
“We have not caved, we have not given in. We have persevered, and we have not backed down. We have always had every desire for the public to see this movie,” Lynton added.
In an official statement released later on Friday, Sony said they remain "strongly committed to the First Amendment."
"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. Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice," Sony said.
At a press conference at which all the reporters called on were women, Obama, appearing loose and confident, also responding to concerns that his announcement that the U.S. will seek to normalize relations with Cuba could make life harder for Cuban dissidents still fighting the regime on the island.
"I share the concerns of dissidents there, and human rights activists, that this is still a regime that represses its people," Obama said. "And I don’t anticipate overnight changes. But what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and it hasn’t worked, you should try something different."
"Through engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change than we would have otherwise," the president added.
Separately, Obama touted the economic recovery and his health care law. He said 2014 was the strongest year for job growth since the 1990s, and that the uninsured rate is at a near record low. And the president said he's ready to work with the GOP Congress on areas where there's agreement.
"America's resurgence is real," Obama said.
Asked whether he’d sign a potential bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, Obama was eager to downplay the controversial project's benefits. He said the savings to consumers at the pump would be negligible, and that investments in infrastructure would be a more effective approach to creating jobs. “There are a lot more direct ways to create well-paying American construction jobs."
The president also addressed concerns among black Americans about unfair treatment by law enforcement. "This is a legacy of a troubled racial past – Jim Crow and slavery," he said. "We should be willing to provide people a hand up – not a handout."
And he closed with an assessment of the issue that might serve as a statement of his governing philosophy.
"People are basically good and have good intentions. Sometimes our institutions don’t work as well as they should … But if you offer practical solutions, I think people want to fix these problems."