Ruminations

Sony's Skeletons

In addition to discussions about the potential for this crossover film, the Guardians of the Peace obtained thousands of other private emails, from fiendish Sony execs Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal to the unintentionally hysterical star Channing Tatum.

Once made available online, these emails were swiftly picked up by the press. The first I heard of the scandal came in the form of a Tweet enticing me with the knowledge that someone important in Hollywood considered Angelina Jolie "a spoiled brat with a rampaging ego." 

The reaction to these emails being publicized has been divisive. Gossip mongers are excited to see the curtain pulled back on their favorite stars and yellow journalism sites are delighted to feed this frenzied crowd. Some journalists, however, are also concerned about the ethics of sharing such private details, though that does not necessarily stop them or their publications from reporting on these matters. And those who were featured in the emails, whether they wrote an email or were simply discussed in someone else's, are angry, their privacy clearly violated. 

Anne Helen Petersen, a Buzzfeed writer who styles herself as just a quirky girl with a "Ph.D. in gossip," wrote about the ethical issues from the new media perspective. In her article "The Messy Media Ethics Behind the Sony Hack," she ultimately defends the decision of Buzzfeed News and others to "report" on these emails, saying that if they didn't, less qualified reporters and less reputable news sources would take up the torch. 

The new role of journalists, for better or for worse, isn’t as gatekeepers, but interpreters: If they don’t parse it, others without the experience, credentials, or mindfulness toward protecting personal information certainly will.
— Anne Helen Petersen

Aaron Sorkin, creator of "The West Wing," argued the opposite in an op-ed in The New York Times this morning. In his piece "The Sony Hack and the Yellow Press," Sorkin berates the press, calling their actions "demented and criminal." With Sorkin-ian flair, he pits Guardians of the Peace against the American press, ultimately choosing the Guardians. "At least the hackers are doing it for a cause," he writes. "The press is doing it for a nickel." 

Both of these articles tiptoe around crucial questions. Petersen's piece poses the dilemma of what makes a journalist a journalist. What separates a true reporter from any old blogger in their mother's basement? Sorkin's piece, meanwhile, pokes and prods at the ultimate purpose of the press. What is newsworthy and why? Furthermore, what is the difference between gossip and real news? Does it matter? 

I certainly don't have any of the answers. While I can understand Kevin Roose of Fusion's belief that these documents could potentially be "valuable and important to democracy and industry," I also know the truth in Sorkin's statements about the fundamental difference between reporting on the private emails of Enron employees, who intentionally set about harming the American people, and Sony affiliates, who were minding their own damn business.

While the Sony hack and subsequent coverage will be debated for decades to come, what we know now is this: Asking and answering these questions and ones like them is essential if we are to maintain, support, and reap the rewards of a freer and more noble press. 

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