Saturday, October 3, 2009

Should Extortion be a Crime?

In the recent scandal involving David Letterman, an employee at CBS threatened to publicize Letterman's sexual liasons with CBS staff members unless Letterman paid $2 million dollars.

Set aside whether Letterman's relations with these women violated sexual harrassment law or CBS policy.

My question is, why should extortion be a crime? Why isn't this just a matter between Letterman, CBS, and the employee making the accusations?

20 comments:

Clifford said...

I do not believe that it is the employee of Letterman that is making the claim. But as to the questions why extortion is a crime, I think we have made a judgment as a society that civil and criminal remedies are best handled in a peaceful way by use of our courts. Thus, if you have a civil cause of action against someone you may pursue that. If you know that a crime has been committed you may report it to an appropriate agent of the criminal justice system. The problem with extortion are (1) once money get involved the civil and criminal remedies are corrupted and tainted (2) issues of unjust enrichment, and (3) the allegations are made in a setting where there is no process or rules. Also, do we really want people who specialize in making these type of claims??

Matt said...

We already have people that specialize in making these claims they are called politicians. Extortion is their bread and butter. It is how they get bills passed.

Anonymous said...

It does meet the Mills criterion -- harm done to others -- and every instinct I have says yes, blackmail ought to be a crime. But if it's not a crime to take the news of adultery to the tabloids (and if it were, those who want morally upstanding leaders could not discuss politics) and it's not a crime to take money from the tabloid (and if it were, one could not be a professional journalist) then it seems somewhat perverse to ban the exchange that would lead to the lesser evil.

Thing is, we're not all David Letterman. No one outside of my family cares if I have an affair. But if I were to do so indiscreetly, extortion then becomes someone's opportunity for profit. That profit corresponds to social loss, not gain. And it seems more in the category of a stick-up than a trade. So yes, I will vote with my instinct -- this should stay illegal.

--Michael

Anonymous said...

This isn't extortion. It doesn't involve physical force.

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