The Campaign Spot

How Much Did the State Department Consult on The Interview?

A disturbing wrinkle in the controversy over the comedic film The Interview:

CEO Michael Lynton showed a rough cut of the movie to U.S. officials before moving ahead. Now hackers are threatening to bomb any theater that shows it.

The Daily Beast has unearthed several emails that reveal at least two U.S. government officials screened a rough cut of the Kim Jong-Un assassination comedy The Interview in late June and gave the film — including a final scene that sees the dictator’s head explode — their blessing.

The claim that the State Department played an active role in the decision to include the film’s gruesome death scene is likely to cause fury in Pyongyang. Emails between the Sony Entertainment CEO and a security consultant even appear to suggest the U.S. government may support the notion that The Interview would be useful propaganda against the North Korean regime.

According to the e-mails, the government officials are “someone very senior in State” and “Robert King, U.S. special envoy for North Korean human-rights issues” who “was helping to consult on the film.”

Hollywood and government officials working together isn’t, by itself, ominous and menacing. Michael Bay’s relationship with the Pentagon ensures all of those glamorous shots of military hardware in the Transformers movies, and we know how closely members of the administration worked with the makers of  Zero Dark Thirty, with one of the producers getting access to a CIA awards ceremony with then–CIA director Leon Panetta in attendance.

The e-mails suggest everyone involved had good intentions — the producers didn’t want to depict something that would spur a violent response from Pyongyang, and the government officials attempted to give their best assessment of how North Korea would respond. But what if the State Department officials had said parts of the film were a bad idea and would be too provocative to depict? Doesn’t this amount to giving the U.S. government de facto creative control over the film?

The point may be moot, as North Korea has learned the lesson of the Mohammed cartoons and demonstrated that they can restrict American freedom of expression through threats.

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