If You Think the Sony Hack Was a PR Stunt, You’re an Idiot

Anyone who has spent two seconds in Hollywood would die laughing at the idea that any movie studio would be even remotely capable of pulling this off.

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Over the last few weeks, a handful of people have tweeted at me or emailed to ask what can only be described as a preposterously dumb question. They want to know if I’m behind Sony’s marketing campaign for The Interview or if “someone like me” has orchestrated the entire thing as a stunt.

It was funny until the Boston Globe advanced the same idea. So let me say it definitively: I am not responsible. No one is.

And you’re an idiot for even entertaining the notion.

First off, just think about what you’re proposing: Sony Pictures, a company with billions in revenue, fake hacked its own computers and then in real life, leaked to pirate sites five of its most popular movies, released tens of thousands of embarrassing, potentially racist emails, revealed important contracts, contact information, Social Security numbers, and then implicated an unstable, unpredictable foreign government with nuclear capabilities. You’re saying they did this to promote a single movie, even though traditional marketing was and would have worked just fine. Oh, and, you saw through this all so clearly and nailed the conspirators so cleanly that straight up asking one of them (me) on Twitter, is going to bring it tumbling down.

Like I said, “idiot” doesn’t go far enough.

It seems pretty obvious to me what actually happened here. Sony was hacked. Their stuff was leaked. Classless and pathetic reporters spread that stolen material. North Korea was implicated, rightly or wrongly. After a handful of terrorist threats, Sony decided releasing the movie traditionally—despite the attention it had received—was not worth the risk. Now they are considering alternative release plans, due to the movie’s reputation, might actually make it more profitable than the original theatrical launch.

The only work of mine that fits in that universe is the idea that the “obstacle is the way”–that good business leaders find a way to move forward even in crisis. And good for them for doing so—Sony didn’t do anything wrong here and they should try to salvage what they can.

The problem with conspiracy theories is that at their core is a paradox. They posit both extreme competence and incompetence. George W Bush is a moron…who orchestrated 9/11. FDR and George Marshall allowed Pearl Harbor to happen so they could enter WWII, yet for all their meticulously planning, allowed for nearly the entire Pacific Fleet to be destroyed and almost lost the war.

Yeah, ok. Caught ‘em red handed.

Of course, these silly theories always miss the real errors and miss what really should be addressed. In the case of North Korea, the evidence that they’re actually responsible or even capable of a hack like this is scant—this is a country that can’t feed itself and is generally delusional and insane, so how could they possibly pull something like this off? It’s less fun to wrestle with those difficult-to-answer questions than it is to make bold, sweeping, yet simple accusations.

I remember when I was doing press for Trust Me I’m Lying, the Aurora shootings had just happened. During one radio show, a caller asked my thoughts about it being some sort of government-run drill. The same thing popped up around Newtown. They’d rather see government fingerprints than think about the rising problem of gun violence.

It’s appallingly insensitive, yes, and obviously wrong, but you also get the sense that these people are deeply earnest about their beliefs. They’re just not able to think very deeply. Or ironically, they are thinking too deeply about a complex area they don’t have enough experience to understand, and forgetting the wisdom of Occam’s Razor and of Hanlon’s Razor (that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one, and to never attribute to malice what is better attributed to stupidity.)

Most of this is the result of the theorists’ outsider status. They’ve never been in a big company or seen how government works. So they assume that with limitless resources, of course these people could and would engage in deeply covert and manipulative activities.

The reality is that anyone who has spent two seconds in Hollywood would fall on the floor laughing at the idea that any movie studio would be even remotely capable of pulling off something like this.

The people who aren’t earnest are the bloggers and reporters who traffic in things they obviously don’t believe because they understand there is a market for it. The only “stunt” here is the writers trolling for pageviews by trotting out ridiculous speculation. There’s plenty of fake stuff out there–it’s just rarely something this big. Instead it, it’s the articles you see everyday–tweaked and exaggerated to benefit the person who gets paid for every view he receives.

So I’ll tell you straight up—as someone who has created fake controversy around a movie launch and done my fair share of fake “leaks” and hacks, this is almost certainly not a similar play. The movie I did it for had a budget of roughly $5 million—not $45 million. We had to go the black hat route because the alternative wasn’t a possibility. We would have killed for the rollout that The Interview had originally been slated for. But ours was an indie flick, not a major studio blockbuster. It’s utterly implausible that a conservative corporation like Sony would have risked so much to gain so little—even if a company whose only online success has been the also-ran video service Crackle could have pulled it off.

And yet, I know that this article makes very little difference. In fact, my denial may fuel the fire a little. “Of course, he would deny it. They probably asked him to!” So enjoy your conspiracy theories. Just please stop wasting everyone else’s time with them.

Ryan Holiday is the editor at large of Betabeat and the author of Trust Me I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator.

If You Think the Sony Hack Was a PR Stunt, You’re an Idiot