So, Sony has pulled The Interview—its upcoming comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong Un by James Franco and Seth Rogen—due to threats of violence. A bunch of hackers who appear to be affiliated with North Korea warned of a 9/11-style terrorist attack if the release went forward. Many people (including myself) are not thrilled by the development and have called the studio cowardly for kowtowing to a gout-riddled tinpot dictator with a horrible haircut presiding over “a nation of racist dwarfs.”
Others responded, rightly, that Sony and the theater chains engaging in this cowardly behavior would be sued out of existence if screenings went ahead and such an attack were to go down. Jonathan Chait suggested the United States should promise to make whole any organization that was sued as a result of an (incredibly unlikely) attack. That’s not a terrible idea. I’d like to focus my attention, briefly, on this entirely accurate, utterly insane sentence of Chait’s, however:
In the unlikely (but far from impossible) event that terrorists carried out their threat to attack a showing of the film, the legal liability to Sony would be immense.
This is totally true. The legal liability to Sony would be immense. They would be inundated by lawsuits. We’re talking about hundreds of millions in potential liability, probably. Consider that Cinemark is still dealing with a lawsuit related to the mass shooting that happened at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Returns—a shooting for which there was no warning ahead of time, no reason to expect violence. There are trial lawyers out there who will sue whomever has the deepest pockets on whatever flimsy pretense they can muster because, hey, dolla dolla bill y’all!
This is also totally and completely bonkers.
Think about this for a second. What we are saying—nay, what we have accepted, as a society—is a situation in which a totally blameless third party would be held responsible for the evil committed by an irresponsible actor. Sony and the theater chains are being punished for the mere potential of a terror attack against them.
I joked with a friend that tort reform immediately became my number one concern for 2016. He pointed out, rightly, that this is a much larger issue. Tort reform? That’s just futzing around at the edges. Our problem runs much, much deeper than concerns over insurance costs for doctors. Our true problem is that, again, we have accepted, as a society, that it’s okay to sue a party for the bad behavior of a second party even if the first party has no role whatsoever in the malfeasance.
That’s the saddest part of all this. Yes, Sony and the theater chains have acted cowardly and without honor throughout this ordeal. But it’s not their fault. It’s ours. We made this world. They’re just living with the rules we adopted.