President Obama says Sony Pictures Entertainment made a "mistake" in canceling its planned release of the movie "The Interview" following a destructive cyber attack the U.S. government says was launched by North Korea.
"Sony is a corporation. It suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I’m sympathetic to the concerns that they faced," Obama said. "Having said all that, yes I think they made a mistake."
"We cannot have a society in which some dictator in some place can start imposing censorship in the United States," Obama said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
"I wish they'd spoken to me first," Obama said of Sony. "I would have told them: Do not get into the pattern in which you are intimidated."
Michael Lynton, CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, responded to Obama's comments in an interview with CNN, saying the president was "mistaken."
"The movie theaters came to us one by one over the course of a very short period of time ... and announced that they would not carry the movie," Lynton said. "At that point in time, we had no alternative but to not proceed with the theatrical release."
He added, "We have not caved. We have not given in. We have preserved. And we have not backed down."
And in a statement Friday afternoon, Sony said, "Let us be clear -- the only decision that we have made with respect to release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after the theater owners declined to show it. ... After that decision, we immediately began actively surveying alternatives to enable us to release the movie on a different platform. It is still our hope that anyone who wants to see this movie will get the opportunity to do so."
The FBI formally fingered North Korea as being responsible for the attack, calling it unprecedented for its "destructive" and "coercive" nature.
Authorities said it disabled "thousands" of Sony's computers and "significantly disrupted the company's business operations." Obama said there was no indication that North Korea was working with another country to launch the attack.
"We’ve been working up a range of options that will be presented to me," Obama said of a potential U.S. response. "I will make a decision on those based on what I believe is appropriate and proportional to the nature of this crime."
The White House has declared the Sony hacking case a “serious national security matter" but has been trying to walk a fine line with its reaction. Administration officials say they are acutely aware that a public act of retribution could further give the hackers and the North Korean regime the kind of attention they seek. Some U.S. actions, they suggest, could be covert.
“I don't anticipate that we'll be in a position where we're gonna be able to be completely forthcoming about every single element of the response that has been decided upon,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Thursday.
The FBI said that it believes North Korea sought to inflict "significant harm on a U.S. business and suppress the right of American citizens to express themselves." But the Obama administration stopped short of calling it a "terrorist" act.