Last week, anonymous hackers targeted Sony Pictures Entertainment and exposed private email conversations between the company’s Co-Chairman, Amy Pascal, and a producer named Scott Rudin. The incident immediately garnered national attention, although it wasn’t because of the gross invasion of privacy by anonymous hackers; indeed, most of the outrage has been directed toward the content of the stolen emails.
According to various media sources, the emails were written before a breakfast with President Obama, hosted by head of Dreamworks Animation and major Democratic donor Jeffrey Katzenberg. Included in the exchange between Pascal and Rudin were complaints about attending the event, and the two jokingly speculated about the President’s movie preferences. Pascal suggested Obama might enjoy Django Unchained, and in subsequent emails put forth additional movies with a majority African-American cast, including The Butler and Think Like A Man. Rudin responded with his own suggestions, naming 12 Years a Slave and guessing that the president favored films featuring black comedian Kevin Hart. Other controversial comments included mild insults and complaints about Hart, as well as other celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Tom Cruise.
Once the emails leaked, celebrities and media personalities alike unleashed heavy criticism of the employees’ jokes. Many described the contents as racist, while ‘Civil Rights leader’ and perpetual race-baiter Al Sharpton, on a break from exploiting the Ferguson and Eric Garner decisions, compared Amy Pascal to disgraced former LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Sharpton went on to demand that Pascal’s studio make the necessary steps to “respect the African American community,” suggesting she “reflect that respect” in her “hiring and business practices.” Very shortly after the leak, the pressure prompted both Pascal and Rudin to issue apologies, and Pascal even telephoned both Al Sharpton and Reverend Jesse Jackson personally to express her regret. Naturally, Sharpton rejected her apology, but agreed to meet with her in order to “decide whether her [emails] warrant calling for her resignation”–because the future of her career should be up to him now, apparently.
Now, obviously the jokes made by Pascal and Rudin were written in poor taste and represent ignorant ideas. But whether it’s fair to allege that the emails are actually tantamount to racism–or that the writers themselves are racist because of their brief exchange–is, I think, up for debate. There exists no evidence to suggest that either of the Sony employees have ever discriminated against anyone, in the workplace or elsewhere, and the emails themselves produced absolutely no tangible harm to anyone. Would there be similar outrage and allegations of bigotry if Pascal and Rudin had instead suggested that Mitt Romney only watched movies starring Mormons? Or if they had speculated that George Bush only liked movies with white actors? For some strange reason, I doubt it. What’s ironic is that Pascal is actually an Obama donor–she pledged $5,000 to his 2012 re-election campaign, and even donated $30,000 to the Democratic National Committee. Unfortunately, her past political support for Obama–the butt of her trivial jokes–has been conveniently ignored by those who would rather continue attacking her and exploiting the situation.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the reaction to the Sony hack, however, is the fact that virtually no one has sympathized with Pascal and Rudin; indeed, it seems as though we’ve all forgotten that these individuals are the victims here, the targets of a malicious invasion of privacy.
Recall another major hacking incident from earlier this year: “Celebgate,” wherein hackers leaked a number of nude photos featuring a long list of popular female celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, Gabrielle Union, and Hayden Panettiere. Recall also the reactions to that scandal, particularly how many in the media positively tripped over themselves to protect and excuse the victimized celebrities. Amanda Hess of ultra-liberal Slate described it as “both a criminal act and a widespread attack on female sexual agency,” claiming it was the “digital equivalent of approaching a woman on the street, pulling down her shirt, snapping a photo, and passing it around.” The victims themselves expressed similar outrage; Jennifer Lawrence, for instance, called the act a disgusting “sex crime,” while Gabrielle Union likened it to a “hate crime” and described it as another instance of “specifically women of color” having had “the power over their own bodies taken from them.” Notably, not a single victim took responsibility for anything, nor did any of the women express any regret for their sexting. Indeed, anyone who dared suggest that these women could have avoided the unwanted exposure by not taking nude photos in the first place–or perhaps not storing them on iCloud–was immediately targeted by the masses, labeled a victim-blamer, and made to apologize, even though their thoughts were entirely rational.
Although the reactions to these two hacking incidents are dramatically different, the circumstances are much the same. If Celebgate was equivalent to harassing a woman on the street, taking pictures of her and then distributing them, then the Sony hack was equivalent to harassing Amy Pascal and Scott Rudin on the street, stealing their phones or perhaps reading their minds, and then indiscriminately sharing the contents. In both instances, the victims had their privacy invaded and had a part of themselves–in one case their bodies, in the other their thoughts–exposed without their consent. Yet in this instance, Pascal and Rudin–the victims–are the ones forced to apologize for one very stupid and inconsequential conversation that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, while their critics are praised and even granted a certain level of authority over the situation.
You might be thinking, “but what they said was racist, and deserves to be criticized!” The fact that the content of a stolen conversation contains something that people take offense to should in no way increase the blame or accountability of the victims, just as it shouldn’t diminish the culpability of the hackers. If anything remotely offensive to anyone automatically merited exposure and criticism, then the news media would quickly devolve into an endless, unproductive circus of finger-pointing. Besides, I’m sure there were many people offended by the fact that young female celebrities would take naked pictures and upload them to their computers–especially mothers and fathers with daughters who look up to those famous women.
Perhaps you’re also thinking, “well, they were stupid to joke so crassly over email. They should have expected someone else to find it.” The exact same thing could be said about the victims of Celebgate. Especially in today’s technological age, where internet surveillance runs rampant and anyone with adequate IT knowledge can access remote parts of the web, it would be wise for everyone to exercise extreme caution before projecting themselves in any manner online.
So if the circumstances are so similar, why is it that the media collectively rushed to aid of one set of victims yet targeted the other? The answer, I think, has something to do with our society’s obsession with being politically correct, especially in regard to our beloved, media-protected President. Many figures in the news media are already quick to throw around the “r-word” when it really doesn’t apply, and on top of that there exist prominent opinion leaders like Sharpton and Jackson, who actively profit from exploiting racial tension. Why not create a false narrative that extrapolates the insensitivity in the emails and depicts them as a symptom–or a consequence–of a larger ‘race problem’ plaguing Hollywood? Why not even use them further and allege that the entire nation is collectively racist?
In any case, it’s rather ironic how members of the liberal media will abhor victim-shaming one day, then be the first to point to finger at the victim when it suits their agenda. Whether or not you take offense to the contents of Pascal’s and Rudin’s emails, it’s important to be consistent in the treatment of victims of such scandals, and recognize when opinion leaders and individuals who control the news fail to do so.