Obama: Sony 'made a mistake' in pulling 'The Interview'

At his final press conference of the year, President Obama discussed his decision to restore ties with Cuba, the Sony hack, the Keystone pipeline, and race in America.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters
President Barack Obama responds to a question at his end of the year press conference in the briefing room of the White House in Washington Friday.

President Obama stated flatly that Sony was wrong to cancel the release of “The Interview,” after hackers threatened violence against theaters that planned to screen the film.

"Yes, I think they made a mistake," Mr. Obama said Friday at his last press conference of the year, before heading to Hawaii on vacation.

The president also said he wished Sony had talked to him first before canceling the film’s release. “I would have told them, ‘Do not get into a pattern where you’re intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks,’” Obama said.

The film, a low-brow comedy about a plot to kill the president of North Korea, was to premiere on Christmas Day. Now its future is up in the air. Shortly before Obama’s press conference, the FBI announced it had concluded that the North Korean government was behind the cyber-attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Obama also chided the North Korean government for its reaction to a Hollywood creation.

“I think it says something about North Korea that it decided to mount an all-out attack about a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen,” he said.

“I love Seth. And I love James Flacco [Franco]. But the notion that that was a threat to them” was ridiculous, Obama said to laughter from reporters packed in the White House briefing room.

On a more serious note, the president promised a US government response to the cyber-attack, but declined to get specific.

"We will respond proportionally, and we'll respond in a place and time and manner that we choose," Obama said.

Friday’s press conference was noteworthy for the president’s choice of reporters: He called only on women – all from wires, print newspapers, and radio outlets – and ignored the television reporters who dominate the front row in the briefing room. As the trend became clear, the Twitterverse lit up with commentary.

“With 8th & last question, it's fact: Obama called only on women at press conf. Women long chafed at dominance of front-row male TV reporters,” tweeted Jackie Calmes of The New York Times.

Other highlights from Obama’s press conference:

On his decision to restore diplomatic relations with Cuba: “I share the concerns of dissidents there and human rights activists that this is still a regime that represses its people,” Mr. Obama said.

“I don’t anticipate overnight changes, but what I know deep in my bones is that if you’ve done the same thing for 50 years and nothing’s changed, you should try something different if you want a different outcome.”

He said he hopes to visit Cuba someday, but has no immediate plans to do so.

On the controversial Keystone XL pipeline: It’s “not even a nominal benefit for US consumers,” Obama said.

The president said it would mainly benefit Canadian oil companies, which seek to pipe tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico. More jobs would be created by investing in US infrastructure than from building and maintaining the pipeline, the president said.

Obama has grown increasingly negative toward Keystone in public comments, suggesting he’s inclined to reject it. Come January, the Senate’s Republican leadership plans legislation approving the pipeline as its first order of business.

On race: "Like the rest of America, black America in the aggregate is better off now than it was when I came into office," Obama said.

On the recent controversies over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of law enforcement, Obama said the nation has had “a healthy conversation.”

"These are not new phenomena,” he said. “The fact that they are now surfacing – in part because people are able to film what have just been in the past stories passed on along a kitchen table – allows people to make their own assessments and evaluations and you're not going to solve the problem if it's not being talked about."

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