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Obama Says Sony Made A 'Mistake' In Cancelling 'The Interview'


President Obama says Sony Pictures Entertainment made a mistake when it decided not to release the movie "The Interview" after a hacking attack. The FBI said today it has linked that attack to the North Korean government. And that hack was one of several topics the president took on at his end of year news conference this afternoon. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith has more.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: The president didn't hold back when asked about Sony's decision to cancel the December 25 release of the movie "The Interview."

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Sony's a corporation. It, you know, suffered significant damage. There were threats against its employees. I am sympathetic to the concerns that they faced. Having said all that, yes, I think they made a mistake.

KEITH: Obama says he wishes they would have asked him first. Sony's networks were hacked with embarrassing emails released on the internet. Then, the hackers threatened to attack theaters that showed the film.

OBAMA: We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship here in the United States.

KEITH: The movie is a satire about an assassination plot against the North Korean President Kim Jong-un.

OBAMA: I think it says something interesting about North Korea that they decided to have the state mount an all-out assault on a movie studio because of a satirical movie starring Seth Rogen.

KEITH: And actor James Franco - their previous films include the totally crude but funny "Pineapple Express" and "This Is The End."

OBAMA: I love Seth. And I love James. But the notion that that was a threat to them I think gives you some sense of the kind of regime we're talking about here.

KEITH: Obama says the U.S. will respond, though he didn't say precisely how. He says his administration is working up options, and he will choose something proportional. The president was also asked about his announcement this week that the U.S. would begin normalizing relations with Cuba. Many have praised the move, but criticism has also been scathing. Republican Senator Marco Rubio says Obama's policy is naive and dangerous. Obama told reporters this approach has to be better than a 50-year embargo that hasn't worked.

OBAMA: The whole point of normalizing relations is that it gives us a greater opportunity to have influence with that government than not.

KEITH: But he says he's under no illusion getting Cuba to address human rights violations and other U.S. concerns will be quick or easy.

OBAMA: I think it'll happen in fits and starts. But true engagement, we have a better chance of bringing about change than we would have otherwise.

KEITH: Obama said he had no immediate plans to travel to Cuba.

Throughout the press conference, the president was upbeat - playful at times. He said he's energized and excited about the next two years.

OBAMA: My presidency is entering the fourth quarter - interesting stuff happens in the fourth quarter. And I'm looking forward to it.

KEITH: In 2015, the political dynamic that has existed for the past four years in Washington will change dramatically. Republicans have expanded their majority in the House, and come January, will control the Senate as well. President Obama indicated he wants to work with Republicans where he can. And he'll use his veto pen where he can't. Tamara Keith, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.
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