Sony CEO Defends 'Interview' Decision: 'We Have Not Caved'

"I think actually the unfortunate part is, in this instance, the President, the press and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened," Michael Lynton says

A poster for the movie 'The Interview' is taken down by a worker at Carmike Cinemas after the chain decided not to screen it. Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton says the studio did not cave to cyber-terrorist threats. Credit: David Goldman/AP

Michael Lynton, the CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, says that the situation surrounding the studio's decision to cancel the release of The Interview is more complicated than it seems, according to The Hollywood Reporter. In an interview with CNN that will air later tonight, the exec said that the public was unaware of the amount of resistance Sony was getting on a large scale, regarding the movie's release in the wake of cyber-terrorist threats.

"I think actually the unfortunate part is, in this instance, the president, the press and the public are mistaken as to what actually happened," he said. "We do not own movie theaters. We cannot determine whether or not a movie will be played in movie theaters."

He then broke down the series of events, as he saw it, that led up to President Obama criticizing Sony in a recent speech. "We experienced the worst cyber-attack in American history and persevered for three and a half weeks under enormous stress and enormous difficulty," he said. "The movie theaters came to us one by one over the course of a very short time – we were very surprised by it – they announced that they would not carry the movie. At that point in time, we had no alternative to not proceed with a theatrical release on the 25th of December.... We have not caved. We have not given in. We have persevered."

When pressed about alternative ways to release the movie, Lynton said that there is still hope yet. "There are a number of options open to us and we have considered those and are considering them," he said. "As it stands right now – while there have been a number of suggestions that we go out there and deliver this movie digitally or through VOD, there has not been one major VOD – video on demand distributor – one major e-commerce site that has stepped forward and said they are willing to distribute this movie for us. Again, we don’t have that direct interface with the American public so we need to go through an intermediary to do that."

Earlier today, Obama called Sony's decision to cancel the Christmas Day release "a mistake," saying that as a society, we should not bow to the demands of a dictator. "I'm sympathetic that Sony, as a private company, was worried about liabilities and this and that and the other," the President said. "I wish they'd spoken to me first. I would have told them, 'Do not get into a pattern in which you're intimidated by these kinds of criminal attacks.'"

Yesterday, Sony released a statement that said it had "no further plans" to release the picture.

On Wednesday, after a group calling itself Guardians of Peace – which was responsible for hacking into Sony's e-mail system and is linked to North Korea – hinted at a 9/11-style attack on theaters that screened the movie, Sony decided to cancel the release of The Interview, which depicts an assassination attempt on North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

The decision followed an offer on the part of Sony for theaters to decide not to screen the film. After five major theater chains backed out, Sony pulled the plug. "We respect and understand our partners' decision and, of course, completely share their paramount interest in the safety of employees and theatergoers," the company said in a statement.

Lynton's full interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria will air on Anderson Cooper 360 tonight at 8 p.m. EST.

In addition to Lynton's statements, the company has released a new statement, addressing criticism that it it censored itself as well as its plans about a possible future release. It reads in full below via Buzzfeed:

"Sony Pictures Entertainment is and always has been strongly committed to the First Amendment. For more than three weeks, despite brutal intrusions into our company and our employees' personal lives, we maintained our focus on one goal: getting the film The Interview released. Free expression should never be suppressed by threats and extortion.

"The decision not to move forward with the December 25th theatrical release of The Interview was made as a result of the majority of the nation's theater owners choosing not to screen the film. That was their decision.

"Let us be clear – the only decision that we have made with respect to the release of the film was not to release it on Christmas Day in theaters, after theater owners declined to show it. Without theaters, we could not release it in the theaters on Christmas Day. We had no choice.

"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."