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Best Of The Web
Best of the Web Today: Benghazi, the Sequel
From the Wall Street Journal of Thu, 18 Dec 2014 16:36:42 EST

(Note: We’re off on vacation and will return Friday, Jan. 2.)

Galling as it may be, the suppression of “The Interview” is the least bizarre part of the whole kerfuffle (about which, if you need to get up to speed, see today’s Wall Street Journal news article). The psychology is simple loss aversion. The Department of Homeland Security might have “dismissed” the threat of violence against theaters showing the film “as lacking credibility,” but for owners of theater chains, it would have been hard to have confidence in that judgment given that the threat was associated with a successful and highly destructive cyber-attack against Sony Pictures, the studio that made the movie.

The risk of attack was no doubt small, but the consequence would be catastrophic. By dropping the film, the theaters had little to lose and possibly a bit to gain. The screens that would have shown “The Interview” will not sit idle but will show some other picture instead. Moviegoers are no less prone to loss aversion, and some would have been scared away from other films by the publicity around the threat.

Not playing at a theater near you.
Not playing at a theater near you. Associated Press

Given the choice between the risk of a ruinous loss and even the certainty of a small one, most people will opt for the latter; thinkers from Blaise Pascal to Daniel Kahneman have recognized as much. And with few theaters willing to screen the film, Sony could hardly be expected to release it on schedule—though one suspects the studio’s execs were relieved to have the excuse.

There is of course another injury here—to America’s character as “a resolute and free people,” as National Review’s Charles Cooke puts it. But that loss is an abstract and diffuse one, not the sort of thing for which ordinary people risk life or livelihood except in conditions of emergency.

“My recommendation would be that people go to the movies,” CNN quotes President Obama as telling ABC News. Compare and contrast with Candidate Obama in 2008: “A lot of you remember the tragedy of 9/11 and how all of the country was ready to come together and make enormous changes to make us not only safer, but to make us a better country and a more unified country. And President Bush did some smart things at the outset, but one of the opportunities that was missed was, when he spoke to the American people, he said, ‘Go out and shop.’ That wasn’t the kind of call to service that I think the American people were looking for.”

As the New York Post’s Kyle Smith noted in a 2011 decennial piece, Bush didn’t actually say that; “it was a snarky paraphrase by a Time magazine writer.” What he said, in a Sept. 20, 2001, address to the nation, was: “I ask your continued participation and confidence in the American economy. Terrorists attacked a symbol of American prosperity. They did not touch its source. America is successful because of the hard work, and creativity, and enterprise of our people. These were the true strengths of our economy before September 11th, and they are our strengths today.”

Obama may not have his predecessor’s eloquence, but at least in this regard his heart is in the right place.

Mitt Romney also weighed in yesterday, tweeting this proposal: “.@SonyPictures don’t cave, fight: release @TheInterview free online globally. Ask viewers for voluntary $5 contribution to fight #Ebola.” Today’s Journal reports that “Sony executives briefly considered alternative options, including releasing it only via video-on-demand or on television,” but a spokesman said the studio has “no further release plans for the film.” There’s no apparent response to the Ebola #NonSequitur.

The most provocative scene from the film—a depiction of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un being assassinated—has already been made available online, apparently by the same people who attacked Sony’s computer systems. It seems Sony is taking countermeasures against the unauthorized release: A video link at TheVerge.com, which earlier showed the clip, now displays a CONTENT UNAVAILABLE message.

Bloomberg reported last week that the purloined emails showed Kazuo Hirai, CEO of the studio’s Japanese parent, Sony Corp., “personally approved scenes” in the film:

In messages to Sony Pictures Entertainment Co-Chairman Amy Pascal, Hirai gave input and ultimately the go-ahead to a toned-down scene depicting the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and he asked the studio executive to make sure the filmmakers didn’t include Kim’s exploding face in versions released outside the U.S.
“I’ve given this a lot of thought and would like to go ahead with a variation of version 337,” Hirai wrote in a Sept. 29 e-mail to Pascal. “It would be much appreciated if you could push them a bit further as you mentioned in your e-mail. Also, please ensure that this does not make it into the international version of the release.” . . .
Pascal and other Sony film executives asked [director and co-star Seth] Rogen to remove some of the gore from the the scene in which Kim dies in a slow-motion fireball. The aim of the cuts was to emphasize the comedic nature of the film and depict the scene in a more cartoonish light.
“In shot #337 there is no face melting, less fire in the hair, fewer embers on the face, and the head explosion has been considerably obscured by the fire, as well as darkened to look less like flesh,” Pascal wrote to Hirai on Sept. 28. “We arrived at this shot (#337) after much cajoling and resistance from the filmmakers.”

Even if the film had been released, then, it would have been in a form designed to smooth the rough edges in the interest of appeasing the North Koreans. (As to the obvious question, we do not know if Amy Pascal is related to Blaise.)

The most bizarre part of the story, however, is the involvement of the U.S. State Department. The Daily Beast’s William Boot reports that “at least two U.S. government officials screened a rough cut . . . in late June and gave the film . . . their blessing,” according to stolen emails between Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton and RAND Corp. analyst Bruce Bennett:

An email from Bennett to Lynton—as well as several other forwarded emails—revealed that Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues, was helping to consult on the film . . . through Bennett and addressed the June 20 threat by North Korea.
“Michael, I talked with Amb. King a few minutes ago,” wrote Bennett. “Their office has apparently decided that this is typical North Korean bullying, likely without follow-up, but you never know with North Korea. Thus, he did not appear worried and clearly wanted to leave any decisions up to Sony.”
(A spokesman for the U.S. State Department later admitted that Daniel Russel, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, had a conversation with Sony executives but vaguely denied having any direct influence on the creative direction of The Interview.)

What a strange sequel to Benghazi. In that case, Obama and the State Department denounced an amateur anti-Islam video production, “Innocence of Muslims,” that had sparked protests and riots in Cairo and other Arab capitals.

We noted at the time that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood was demanding that the U.S. government apologize for the film and prosecute the filmmaker and argued that Obama and then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should have responded with a vigorous defense of free expression. “Innocence of Muslims” was a product of an individual exercising that right; the best way to disavow it would have been to note that the U.S. government cannot control individual expression.

But now it seems the State Department green-lit a Hollywood movie at the request of a studio concerned about its political implications. Evidently the officials who did so misjudged those implications, but why in the world did they ever entertain the request in the first place? That they approved the scene means they could have disapproved it, so that they assumed the role of censor.

The incident also reinforces foreign expectations, like those of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012, that the U.S. government is accountable for individual expression. All of which is a lot more disturbing than the loss-averse theater owners’ chickening out.

Out on a Limb
“ANALYSIS: Hillary Clinton Is a Terrible Politician”—headline, Washington Free Beacon, Dec. 17

We Blame George W. Bush

  • “Tony Abbott Blames Forgetting Reporter’s Name on Being Hungover”—headline, Independent (London), Dec. 18
  • “Nobody Taking Blame for Restaurant’s Raw Sewage”—headline, KREM-TV website (Spokane, Wash.), Dec. 17
  • “The Unified Ted Cruz Blame Theory Goes Up in Flames”—headline, RedState.com, Dec. 17

We Blame Global Warming
“The Mass Exodus of 2014: Is Chicago Losing Its 30-Somethings to the Cold?”—headline, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 17

Lowball Estimate
“One in Five People Who Write for Rolling Stone Are Morons”—headline, Ann Coulter syndicated column, Dec. 17

Make That 11

  • “10 Ways to Make Your Relationship With Your Co-Founder a Success”—headline, Chicago Tribune, Dec. 18, 2014
  • “Adams, Jefferson Friendship Traced”—headline, Palm Beach (Fla.) Post, Oct. 2, 1966

Make That 9

  • “How to Be a Better Negotiator: 10 Top Tips”—headline, Daily Telegraph (London), Dec. 18
  • “Rubio: Obama ‘Conceded Everything’ ”—headline, TheHill.com, Dec. 17

Problem and Solution—I

Problem and Solution—II

Problem and Solution—III

  • “15-Foot Python Found at Restaurant”—video title, WPTZ-TV website (Plattsburgh, N.Y.), Dec. 18
  • “Workload: ‘And Finally, Monsieur, a Wafer-Thin Mint . . .’ ”—headline, OthmarsTrombone.wordpress.com, Oct. 27

It’s Duck Season!
“Hare Calls for Lessons of Past to Aid Future”—headline, Albany (Ore.) Democrat-Herald, Dec. 17

That’s Certainly Cause for Paws
“Are Your Gloves Made Out of DOG Skin? Barbaric Slaughterhouses in China Use the Hide of Pets Slaughtered for Food to Make Leather Goods - and They Are Already in UK High Street Stores, Campaigners Warn”—headline, Daily Mail (London), Dec. 18

The Lonely Lives of Scientists
“Martian ‘Farts’ Exciting NASA Scientists . . . Signal New Prospects for Finding Life”—headline, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Dec. 16

Hey, Kids! What Time Is It?
“It’s Time to Give Up the Most Loaded, Least Understood Word in Urban Policy: Gentrification”—headline, Washington Post website, Dec. 17

Question and Answer—I

  • “Could Obama Go to Cuba?”—headline, CNN.com, Dec. 17, 2014
  • “Cuba Golf Project Gets Green Light”—headline, BBC website, May 13, 2013

Question and Answer—II

  • “Do the Multiracial Count?”—headline, Salon.com, Feb. 15, 2000
  • “Grimes Pledges Legal Challenge if Paul Attempts Simultaneous Races”—headline, WHAS-TV website (Louisville, Ky.), Dec. 18

Question and Answer—III

Question and Answer—IV

  • “When You Lose Weight, Where Does the Fat Go?”—headline, University of New South Wales press release, Dec. 16
  • “Water Company Warning on Fat Disposal This Christmas”—headline, Carrick Gazette, (Girvan, Scotland), Dec. 17

Look Out Below!
“Will a Comet Shower end Life on Earth? Rogue Star Could Send Icy Rocks Hurtling Into the Solar System . . . in 240,000 Years”—headline, Daily Mail (London), Dec. 18

It’s Always in the Last Place You Look
“As Washington and Havana Talk, a Question: Where Is Fidel Castro?”—headline, Miami Herald, Dec. 18

Bottom Story of the Day
“Online Magazine Ranks El Paso No. 38 of 40 Top U.S. Cities for Food”—headline, El Paso Times, Dec. 17

She Loves to Hate Hate
In These Times—a publication we never thought would outlive the New Republic—published an article the other day titled “It’s Okay to Hate Republicans.” It originally had a different title, and now it has a different one again, with an explanation owing to the prodding of National Review’s Katherine Timpf:

Editor’s note: This article was originally titled “We Can’t All Just Get Along” in the print version of the magazine. The title was then changed, without the author’s knowledge or approval, to “It’s Okay to Hate Republicans.” The author rejects the online title as not representative of the piece or its main points. Her preferred title has been restored. We have also removed from the “Comments” section all threats to the author’s life and personal safety.

We guess “Okay” was too tepid for the author, Susan Douglas, whose very first sentence reads: “I hate Republicans.” Douglas, a professor of communication, explains that hating Republicans is—what, obligatory? awesome?—because of science:

A series of studies has found that political conservatives tend toward certain psychological characteristics. What are they? Dogmatism, rigidity and intolerance of ambiguity; a need to avoid uncertainty; support for authoritarianism; a heightened sense of threat from others; and a personal need for structure. How do these qualities influence political thinking?
According to researchers, the two core dimensions of conservative thought are resistance to change and support for inequality. These, in turn, are core elements of social intolerance. The need for certainty, the need to manage fear of social change, lead to black-and-white thinking and an embrace of stereotypes. Which could certainly lead to a desire to deride those not like you—whether people of color, LGBT people or Democrats. And, especially since the early 1990s, Republican politicians and pundits have been feeding these needs with a single-minded, uncomplicated, good-vs.-evil worldview that vilifies Democrats.
So now we hate them back.

That inspires a joke. Feel free to borrow it for your holiday gathering:

“When I was an undergrad at the University of Michigan, one of my professors told me: ‘There are two kinds of people in the world. There are the ones who engage in black-and-white thinking. And there are those of us who hate them.’

“I asked her: ‘So what’s the other kind?’ ”

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(Carol Muller helps compile Best of the Web Today. Thanks to Michele Schiesser, Mark Zoeller, Irene DeBlasio, Eric Jensen, Rod Pennington, Ethel Fenig, Don Undis, Macrena Sailor, Debbie Wells, Tony Lima, Alan Kuska, Ralph Mackiewicz, Rick Wiesehan, Michael Throop, Kyle Kyllan, Russell Hilleke, David Hallstrom, Jarrett Skorup and Robert Neal. If you have a tip, write us at opinionjournal@wsj.com, and please include the URL.)



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