Amy Pascal is proof that Sony’s scandal wouldn’t be over until someone took a fall

Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Amy Pascal.
Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Amy Pascal.
Image: Reuters/Kevork Djansezian
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Ever since Sony went ahead with plans to distribute The Interview, both in theaters and online, in the face of increasing ominous threats by the hackers who breached its systems in November, everyone had been waiting for retaliation from the group that called itself Guardians of Peace—but none ever came. The hackers, who had been releasing new stolen Sony data on an almost daily basis in early December, had suddenly fallen silent, and still haven’t been heard from since.

It turns out there was no need for further action—be it threats or additional leaks. After all, their work was already done; it just took another six weeks for the other shoe to drop. That happened today (Feb. 5), as Sony announced that its embattled co-chairman, Amy Pascal, would be stepping down and launching a production company at the studio (which is standard operating procedure for almost all departing movie and TV studio and network chiefs).

“I have spent almost my entire professional life at Sony Pictures and I am energized to be starting this new chapter based at the company I call home,” Pascal said in a statement. “I have always wanted to be a producer…I am so proud of what we have all done together and I look forward to a whole lot more.”

That was pretty standard corporate speak for a departing chief, but no amount of spin can disguise the reality of what happened: Pascal is stepping down not because of some longing to become a producer, but because of the fallout from the hacking scandal, most notably the career-scorching leaked emails that were at the center of the maelstrom that enveloped the company for much of December. The only surprise about Pascal’s departure was that it didn’t happen sooner.

It’s also the latest reminder that whenever there is a huge scandal at a company, especially a global media corporation like Sony, someone always has to take the fall. The only question is who is made the scapegoat.

In Pascal’s case, any chance of throwing another exec under the bus went out the window once the hacked emails were leaked and publicized in early December. Once the head of a company is on record criticizing the studio’s biggest stars like Angelina Jolie, Kevin Hart and Adam Sandler, and cracking racial jokes about what kind of films President Obama likely enjoys, no amount of apology can undo that damage. (That didn’t stop her from trying in her Dec. 11 mea culpa, saying that the emails “are not an accurate reflection of who I am…I accept full responsibility for what I wrote.”)

Given the odds, Pascal weathered the storm pretty admirably in the weeks since the scandal had seeming died down. She managed to squeeze out more than $46 million from The Interview—more than $40 million of that via online and Video on Demand—though that’s only a fraction of what the wide holiday theatrical release that had initially planned would have brought in. And even the stars mentioned in the emails seemed to have forgiven her: Hart told reporters last month that things were “all good” between him and the studio.

In the end, it didn’t matter. Her fate was sealed the moment those emails were released. The hackers might have lost the battle when The Interview was released, but today they won the war. The story isn’t over until someone takes the fall.