Filed under: Crime
This Lizzie Widdicombe piece in the New Yorker is kind of cute, but it’s also slightly sophomoric. I’m frankly surprised that Jamie Lindgren, the Northwestern professor who kicks off the article, finds it such a paradox that blackmail is illegal:
Lindgren is the author of a paper called “Unraveling the Paradox of Blackmail,” which raises the question: why is blackmail considered a crime? The thinking goes like this: It’s perfectly legal for 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?
This is the kind of thing that average people wonder about the law when they have a naive view of the law as a set of technicalities that can be outfoxed with clever word games. There are all kinds of legal activities that become illegal when you put them together, for quite obvious reasons. It’s legal for me to put hydrochloric acid in a bottle, and it’s legal for me to put a label that says “Grape Soda” on a bottle. It’s illegal for me to put a label that says “Grape Soda” on a bottle full of hydrochloric acid. A closer analogy: it’s legal, though immoral, for me to get up in front of a bunch of elementary school kids and say “Smoking is great for you!” But it’s illegal for me to accept money from a cigarette company to get up in front of a bunch of elementary school kids and say “Smoking is great for you!”
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