In Praise Of Blackmail

Society – civilized society at least – is never very ready to believe anything to the detriment of those who are both rich and fascinating. The Picture of Dorian Grey

On Wednesday I puzzled over areas of life where:

People seem to insist quite firmly that they do not want to hear lies, where the consequences of believing lies are substantial, where the costs to reliably determine if a lie happened could be low, and yet where lies are legal.

Today the Post reminded us that the puzzle is much bigger.  Not only don’t we use public law to punish many big lies, we actively prevent private parties from punishing them:

David Letterman … announced that he’d had sex with female “Late Show” staffers and that someone had tried to extort $2 million from him to keep quiet about the relationships. … The man who attempted to extort the money was … arrested Thursday on charges of attempted grand larceny in the first degree. … [He] had threatened to go public with the details if the late-night host did not pay …

Instead, Letterman said that he took the matter to the Manhattan District Attorney’s office and that he was told by authorities to issue the person a phony check. That ruse reportedly led to the arrest … Letterman said on camera. “Would it be embarrassing if it were made public? Perhaps it would.”  He added, however: “I feel like I need to protect these people. I need to certainly protect my family.”  Letterman and longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko married in March.

Yes, good thing the public-spirited Letterman risked himself to save us all from such horrid criminals, those who would seek financial gain by exposing celebrity sex lies.  Good thing we also have whistle blower laws giving large financial rewards to heroic citizens who expose drug companies who tell docs truths about drugs.  So many good things to be thankful for.  Sigh.

I would favor overturning anti-blackmail laws.  If we did this, these would be the main consequences:  Rich celebrities would lose money, do fewer illicit things, lie about them less, and trust their associates less.  They’d be more often exposed for lying about doing illicit things.  People would try a little less hard to become such rich celebrities.  The associates of rich celebrities would be a little richer, and people would try a little harder to become such folks.  Fans would not be able to idolize their celebrities quite as much, and would be less often offered roles as illicit activity partners.   Which of these consequences do we fear so much that we forbid blackmail?

Added 11:30a: These concerns expressed so far all apply to whistleblowers as well: privacy, info could be false, threatened folks could resort to murder, non-rich people may be effected, we don’t trust our rules to be reasonable, no wealth is created by the financial transfer, and most parties have done something that looks illicit.   So why promote whistleblowers but ban blackmail?

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