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Rieder: Clooney emerges as hero in Sony mess

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In a Hollywood saga that has a severe shortage of heroes, George Clooney has covered himself with distinction.

While theater owners and then Sony Pictures Entertainment cravenly buckled to terrorist threats and some news outlets reveled in the gossipy e-mails made public by the Sony hackers, the superstar actor tried valiantly to rally Hollywood to support the besieged movie company.

Before Sony pulled The Interview last week, Clooneycirculated a petition expressing staunch backing for Sony’s refusal — soon to become inoperative — to give in to the hackers and scrap the movie. The FBI has said that the government of North Korea was behind the hack.

The response by the studio chiefs was deeply troubling, but hardly shocking.

Actually, more like lack of response. None of the Hollywood players would sign the petition, Clooney told Deadline.com.

Now this was hardly a radical document. It was a basically a declaration of a solidarity with Sony, words of support for a refusal to capitulate to ransom demands.

In the petition, Clooney, well known for his commitment to social justice, underscored what the situation was all about and why the cowardice of the theater owners and Sony sets such a horrible precedent, opening the door for much future mischief

“This is not just an attack on Sony,” Clooney wrote. “It involves every studio, every network, every business and every individual in this country.”

So true.

The sad fact is that bowing to extortion — the hackers had vowed to attack movie theaters that showed The Interview — sends precisely the wrong message.

President Obama was right to condemn Sony’s decision to pull the plug, as he did at his news conference Friday. “I wish they had spoken to me first,” the president said.

But where was the ringing declaration of support while Sony twisted in the wind by itself? And Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, “We definitely spoke to a senior adviser in the White House to talk about the situation,”

The Interview, a comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco about a plot to assassinate North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un, hardly sounds like the second coming of Citizen Kane. Which matters not at all. Freedom of expression is about all kinds of expression, clunkers and masterpieces, repugnant views and soaring idealism.

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