Aaron Sorkin Misfires in Criticism of Media Reporting on Sony Hack
It seems like a daily occurrence now for new information to come out regarding the massive hack on Sony Pictures, a digital break-in that constitutes the largest of its kind in history. Terrabytes on terrabytes of data were swiped by a group known as the Guardians of Peace (GOP), with each bit being gradually leaked to media outlets regularly. Evidence of Sony’s negligently weak firewalls, a vast gender and race disparity in executive hiring, and a look behind the curtain of the filmmaking process are all things we’ve seen reported in the wake of the hack. So why is Aaron Sorkin telling us this information shouldn’t be disseminated?
In an op-ed for The New York Times, Newsroom and West Wing writer Sorkin lit into online publications running stories with the information given to them by GOP. He goes on to levy the following accusation:
I understand that news outlets routinely use stolen information. That’s how we got the Pentagon Papers, to use an oft-used argument. But there is nothing in these documents remotely rising to the level of public interest of the information found in the Pentagon Papers.
So how does Sorkin define “public interest” in his op-ed? To him, it’s “anything that can help, inform or protect anyone.” Sounds reasonable enough. This of course begs the question: Is Aaron Sorkin actually reading the stories being published right now about the Sony hack? For every “Jonah Hill loves the idea of a Men in Black and 21 Jump Street crossover”, there’s a “Sony made no attempt to protect the private information of thousands of its employees.” Sure, not everything getting published right now falls in the “public interest” category, but a fair amount of the information taken from hackers gives us a very necessary glimpse inside our modern film industry.
Take for example the lax cyber security of Sony that allowed for this massive hack in the first place. Information leaked to the media paints a vivid picture of a company that played fast and loose with its firewalls, allowing GOP to waltz into their servers. In an article published by Gawker (one of the outlets receiving the hacked data), we see just how little Sony cared about protecting the sensitive information of its employees:
We’ve already seen how lax Sony’s security standards are — the company was storing its secret passwords in giant, obviously titled text files, and just this year decided to not inform the victims of a February server breach. This newly discovered document from 2011 shows that not only is Sony’s security bad, but Sony knows its security is bad. It’s one big admission of ineptitude.
If this doesn’t fall in the realm of “public interest,” it’s hard to know what does. Given that there was a breach in February that victims weren’t made aware of, it seems logical that people be made aware that their data had been compromised due to this weakness (Gawker goes on to claim that “millions of private records were stored without any encryption”). When you’re providing an employer with things like the routing number to your bank account, your social security number, and your home address, the understanding is that such information will be safe. Sony employees were clearly not provided with that safety, and they (and transitively we) deserve to know.
Sorkin’s tirade against the media continues with him branding them as “morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable” in the wake of publishing the leaked data. Even so, one could say Sony’s executive hiring practices detailed by Fusion are also “spectacularly dishonorable.” Fusion notes that “the upper pay echelon of Sony Pictures is 94% male, and 88% white,” making for a vast gender and race disparity that makes it easy for a white male like Sorkin to feel as though information like that isn’t relevant to the general public.
That’s not to say all the information in the Sony hack should be published. But Sorkin’s argument exists in a First Amendment environment, with much of the data that’s being reporting falling very firmly in the “need-to-know” category. Sony’s dirty laundry is getting aired to the world because they didn’t protect the data of their employees, and now they’re paying the price for that. When a major corporation isn’t keeping sensitive data like social security numbers safe, it’s irresponsible for a news organization to not run with that story. Given that Sony is trying to mitigate the disaster by cease-and-desisting its way around the Internet according to Bloomberg Businessweek, it’s become a clear-cut corporation vs. media battle, not the hackers vs. common man culture war in which Sorkin seems to be living.
It remains to be seen what other information will come to light in the coming days, but it’s clear that while the Sony hackers are far from heroic, they’ve shown us a corporation that cared far too little for its private data for far too long. The long and short of it is that the media has been given data worth reporting on, and Sony has no one to blame but themselves.