Acton Institute Powerblog

George Clooney is Right: Here’s How to Fight Terrorist Threats to Free Speech

George-Clooney-recalls-post-Golden-Globes-prank-on-Tina-Fey-and-Amy-PoehlerThis is a sentence I never could have predicted I’ve ever write: George Clooney has offered a wiser assessment of a political problem than many of my fellow conservatives.

A group of cyber-terrorist behind a recent high-profile hacking incident of Sony Pictures have threatened a 9/11 type attack on movie theaters that screen the upcoming film, ‘The Interview.’ In response, many of the country’s largest movie chains (AMC, Regal, Cinemark, and Cineplex) issued a statement saying the film would not be played in their venues. A few days later Sony Pictures said the movie would not be released at all. Currently, the studio has no plans to even release the film on DVD or video-on-demand.

The reaction by most conservatives and libertarians has been that the threat should lead everyone to watch the movie (assuming it’s ever released). A representative example is Rebecca Cusey’s article at The Federalist, “Here’s Why Every Freedom-Loving American Must See ‘The Interview’.” As the sub-hed says, “What do a free people do when a thug says they can’t watch a terrible movie? Damn well watch ‘The Interview.’”

Well, no. That’s just silly. Freedom-lovers don’t have an obligation to watch some lame raunchy comedy simply because it was threated by terrorists associated with North Korea. Besides, watching the movie would have no real impact on anything (other than Sony Pictures bank account).

Even Cusey’s alternative option (“Maybe send the price of a movie ticket to an organization that helps Korean refugees or American troops.”) does nothing but make people feel good for having “done something” when they actually haven’t done anything to change the problem. We often mock this sort of ineffectual activism when it comes from the left (Tweet this hashtag to save the world!)—and rightly so. We should instead focus on seeking solutions that will actually fix the problem.

And that is where George Clooney offers some insight. On many issues, the left-leaning activist-actor supports positions that would put him on the opposite side of conservatism. But in a recent interview Clooney explained the root of the problem in a way that conservatives should agree with:

Sony didn’t pull the movie because they were scared; they pulled the movie because all the theaters said they were not going to run it. And they said they were not going to run it because they talked to their lawyers and those lawyers said if somebody dies in one of these, then you’re going to be responsible.

Exactly. The fear of trial lawyers is greater than the fear of terrorists. A terrorist armed with a pipe bomb may have the ability to blow up a movie theater; but a trial lawyer armed with a class action lawsuit can blow up a movie studio.

As HotAir’s Allahpundit says,

If you’re a theater owner and you show “The Interview” knowing that hackers have threatened to bomb the screenings, you’re arguably guilty of negligence or recklessness if a bomb goes off. State legislatures could theoretically fix that by absolving proprietors of liability when they act in defiance of an attempt at extortion; trial lawyers and their Democratic friends will squeal, but that’s less of a problem after the big red wave in state elections last month than it used to be.

Instead of sitting in theaters watching an unfunny movie, we should be lobbying our legislators to modify the liability laws so that corporations wouldn’t be beholden to such acts of terroristic extortion.

If we truly want to defang the North Korean terrorists we have to start by taking away the incentive for lawyers to profit from their carnage. That takes a bit more effort than sitting glassy-eyed in front of a movie screen. But in the long run it could limit the effect of terrorist threats and empower freedom-loving Americans, rather than trial lawyers, to determine how we should respond.

Joe Carter

Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).