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Maher, O'Donnell, and Extortion

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According to this post at Politico, Bill Maher said to Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, after showing a embarrassing video clip:

"You need to come on this show. If you don't come on this show, I'm going to show a clip every week. I'm the only one who has them. I hoarded them.
"I'm just saying Christine, it's like a hostage crisis. Every week you don't show up, I'm going to throw another body out."

Mr. Maher may wish to seek counsel regarding 18 U.S.C. ยง 875(d), which provides:

Whoever, with intent to extort from any person, firm, association, or corporation, any money or other thing of value, transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to injure the property or reputation of the addressee or of another or the reputation of a deceased person or any threat to accuse the addressee or any other person of a crime, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.

Are services (appearing on a television show) a "thing of value"? Maybe.  Services have been held a "thing of value" under other federal criminal statutes.  See, e.g., United States v. Croft, 750 F.2d 1354, 1361 (CA7 1984).  I have not yet found any authority specifically on this statute.

3 Comments

BOR did the same thing but not as overtly.

There is no way on earth that statute is constitutional as-applied. The conflict with the First Amendment is clear as day. How about we construe Glen Beck's demands for President Obama to do what he wants as something of value. Trying to compel the choices of the US President seems far more valuable than an interview from a 'famous-only-cause-she's-crazy' Senate candidate in Delaware. Or what about any protest, at all, anywhere in the US, with the aim of trying to convince the government to do something. Are Fox liable for extortion for broadcasting a Tea Party?

bhaal --

Whether legal or not, this sort of behavior in a political campaign in a way proves O'Donnell's point, and what I take to be one of the main points of the Tea Party movement. The point is that old-style politics, both its process and its results, has gotten out of hand. Is it not sufficent to attack O'Donnell on her stance on the issues?

This is not a political blog, and for these purposes I take no position on O'Donnell or her candidacy. Nonetheless, I have said here many times that culture is more important than law. A culture as thuggish and venomous as the one revealed by Maher's behavior cannot possibly be a welcoming place for the development or enforcement of wholesome law. Or wholesome anything, now that I think of it.

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