• by Ken Fuller

Had it not resulted in tragedy and untold loss of life for so many countries, one might say, only half in jest, that US foreign policy has been run by comedians for years. Now, however, we have clear evidence that the lunatics have taken over the asylum — or, more accurately, that comedians have taken over the White House.

I refer, of course, to the controversy over the Hollywood movie The Interview, a “comedy” concerning the assassination of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

To recap: Sony, the Japanese corporation involved in the production, was hacked and many confidential e-mails purloined, leading to major embarrassment for several of its executives. Then, following an alleged threat to the safety of moviegoers, and a consequent refusal by major theater-chains to show the movie, after a barrage of criticism the company agreed to release the movie online and to show it in a limited number of independent theatres.

Washington wants desperately to believe that Pyongyang was responsible for both the hacking of Sony and the issue of the threat. When a group calling itself the Guardians of Peace claimed responsibility, it was fairly easy for commentators to shrug and say, “Oh well, North Korea obviously outsourced the job.” Then the Federal Bureau of Investigation claimed that its investigation had found that Pyongyang had indeed been responsible for hacking into Sony’s computers.

Trouble is, many cyber experts disagree. Kurt Stammberger, senior vice-president of Norse, a cybersecurity firm, told CBS News: “We are very confident that this was not an attack master-minded by North Korea and that insiders were key to the implementation of one of the most devastating attacks in history.”

According to Stammberger, a woman who left Sony in May, having worked for the company in Los Angeles for a decade, was probably responsible for the attack. He says that while there “are certainly North Korean fingerprints on this… when we run all those leads to ground they turn out to be decoys or red herrings.”

The CBS News story points out a crucial fact, since ignored by most media: at first, the hackers made absolutely no mention of The Interview, and instead were demanding money. That would hardly have been the action of North Korea. Some of the online comments on A.O. Scott’s review of the movie in the New York Times took an even more cynical view, accusing Sony of creating the hype itself in order to conjure up a market for a distinctly lame movie. “Greatest hoax since Orson Welles’ radio presentation of The War of the Worlds,” said one.

But, regardless of who was responsible for hacking Sony or issuing the threat to theaters, and regardless of what one may think of Kim or the North Korean regime, the major question, it seems to me, remains unaddressed.
As soon as this story hit the headlines, my immediate thought was, “What would have been Washington’s response if North Korea had made a movie about the assassination of Barack Obama or (more credibly) George W. Bush or Dick Cheney?” I wouldn’t mind betting that drastic measures involving rather more loss of life than the hacking of a few computers would have been taken.

At the time of writing, few in the US appear to have asked themselves this question. One who has is Justin Moyer, who posed it in his Washington Post column, observing that this is the first time that the make-believe death of a current foreign leader has been featured in a Hollywood movie, and that even Charly Chaplin’s satirization of Adolf Hitler in 1940’s The Great Dictator fictionalized the character.

Rather than recognizing, let alone condemning, the crossing of a line previously considered unthinkable, most commentators have complained that the hackers, whoever they were, violated the filmmakers’ right of free speech and “artistic expression” (that’s a joke in itself) under the First Amendment, apparently believing that Americans have the inalienable right to insult, ridicule and offend anyone in the world, even if they are foreign heads of state.

This view seemed to be shared by moviegoers on Christmas Day, many of whom seemed to think that they were undertaking a deeply patriotic act by paying to see this piece of detritus. “This is freedom,” said one customer, holding his ticket up to the camera.

Obama accepted the FBI report on North Korean culpability and tailed the film-makers, who therefore have been empowered to make US foreign policy.
Talking of the film-makers, it should be pointed out that co-director, co-writer and co-star Seth Rogen hardly fits anyone’s definition of “progressive,” having last year publicly supported Israel’s murderous assault on Gaza.

The Interview marks a new low in world diplomacy and a new high in US arrogance.

While all this was going on, South Korea banned the left-wing United Progressive Party, kicked its five MPs out of their seats and froze its assets on the grounds that it supported North Korea’s ideology. Did you read of Washington’s outraged protest at this assault on democracy? No, neither did I.

Ken Fuller writes in the Philippines Daily Tribune

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