Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The case for blackmail

It’s perfectly legal for [Robert Joel] Halderman to write, or threaten to write, a screenplay (or an e-mail to TMZ) exposing the fact that David Letterman had flings with “Late Show” employees. It’s also legal for Halderman to ask Letterman for money as part of a business transaction. So why are the two things illegal when you put them together? In other words, [law professor James] Lindgren said, “Why is it illegal to threaten to do what you can do legally anyway?”
--Lizzie Widdicombe, New Yorker, on the puzzling illegality of blackmail

1 comment:

bchoi said...

But isn't part of the problem with blackmail, and extortion more generally, the fact that there is no foreseeable end to the threat? A business transaction is consummated once the deal closes. At the other extreme, a terrorist threat is always present and lends itself to escalating demands. So it seems plain to me that blackmail is properly illegal because it is closer on the spectrum to terrorism than it is to ordinary business transactions.