from the a-story-in-three-acts dept
What is it with federal government officials and their weird belief that being questioned by the public — even with dumb questions — is a criminal offense? Does it take three stories to make a trend? Perhaps. Let’s do these one at a time.
Scene One: Guy faces criminal charges for asking Senator if his daughter was kidnapped
I’m sure that in some recesses of Simon Radecki’s mind, the following stunt was a good idea. I’m sure, when he came up with it, it seemed like a clever way to create a feeling of panic within a Senator’s mind that might — just maybe — make him reconsider the panic his policies might be causing millions of people. And yet, still… this seems like a really dumb stunt:
After thanking Mr. Toomey for appearing, Mr. Radecki said, ?We?ve been here for a while. You probably haven?t seen the news. Can you confirm whether or not your daughter Bridget has been kidnapped??
The ensuing four-second pause was punctuated by Mr. Toomey uttering ?uhhhh,? before Mr. Radecki added, ?The reason I ask is because that?s the reality of families that suffer deportation ??
See? You can totally see the thought process that would lead to such questioning, even if most of us would also quickly realize what a dumb line of questioning it was and would never let it out of our heads. But dumb questions aren’t illegal. But… that hasn’t stopped the police from going after Radecki and charging him with “disorderly conduct.” Toomey’s staffers didn’t help matters by saying that the question was “inherently threatening.” Except, that’s not even remotely true under the law. And there’s a fair bit of First Amendment law on what counts as a “true threat.” And a hypothetical to make a point is not considered a true threat.
Scene 2: Charges dropped against reporter for asking Health Secretary questions too loudly
The questioning in this case happened back in May and got some attention. West Virginia reporter Dan Heyman, a reporter for the Public News Service, was arrested and charged with “willful disruption of governmental process” for the truly audacious act of yelling questions at Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Of course, that’s kind of his job as a reporter. For the past four months Heyman has been dealing with a set of completely bogus charges because he was doing his job, asking questions of public officials.
Thankfully, now, common sense has prevailed, as prosecutors have dropped all charges and admitted that Heyman was just doing “aggressive journalism” that “was not unlawful and did not violate the law with which he was charged.” It’s just unfortunate that he still had to be arrested and have criminal charges hanging over his head for four months.
Scene 3: White House lawyer promises to send the Secret Service after aggressive questioner
Sensing a pattern yet? The recently hired lawyer in the White House, Ty Cobb (note: not the dead baseball player) appeared to threaten a questioner with a Secret Service visit for asking pointed questions. Here’s the exchange, as posted over at Business Insider:
“How are you sleeping at night? You?re a monster,” Jetton wrote to Cobb’s White House email account on Tuesday night.
“Like a baby … ” wrote Cobb, who was brought in to the White House to oversee Trump’s legal and media response to the ongoing Russia investigation.
The conversation escalated quickly, with Jetton attacking “the havoc” Cobb and his “ilk are causing.”
“I, like many others, lay awake, restless, my mind dissecting countless scenarios of how bad this could get, what new thing you have dreamt up to pull us down a pathway to hell,” Jetton wrote. “You remind me less of a grumpy baseball player and more of that horrid clown from the Stephen King novel.”
Cobb replied: “Enjoy talking to the Secret Service. Hope you are you less than nine years old as you seem to be … ”
As an aside: Cobb appears to have difficulty not responding to any random email that comes his way — having also been completely and totally fooled by a guy who literally used the domain emailprankster.co.uk to send emails pretending to be other White House officials, eventually leading Cobb to threaten the prankster with possible felony charges.
Either way, absolutely nothing in the exchange above deserves (or is likely to get) a Secret Service visit.
Look, this isn’t that hard. Being a government official — whether elected or appointed — is not a fun gig. You have lots of people questioning you and second guessing you all the time. And some of those people are mean. Possibly really mean. But, that’s kinda part of the territory when you live and work in a mostly open democracy, rather than an authoritarian dictatorship. People get to ask questions — even stupid, annoying or scary ones. And we don’t arrest them and throw them in jail.