Robo-harassment hits the big time
    (in a small way)

ABC News’s campaign blog notices the “false-flag” robocalling scandal. But you’d never know the issues were harassment and deception, as opposed to the technology of automated calling.

“False flag” robocall harassment has finally made it into the mainstream media, sortakinda. ABC News’s “Political Rader” has a story; not clear if anything was shown on the evening news.

The story isn’t much use. The General Counsel of the DCCC wrote an incredibly lame “Cease and Desist” letter, which burbles on about noncompliance with FCC regulations without ever making it clear that the calls are (1) intended to harass, (2) intended to deceive, and (3) are in fact deceiving many voters. That allows the RNCC guy to make a superficially plausible “you-do-it-too” response. Someone who had received one of the fake calls and thought it came from a Democrat could read the whole thing and have no idea it applied to the calls he’d received.

I posted a comment on “Political Radar.”

The issue isn’t “robo-calling.” The issue is harassment and deception. The calls paid for by the Republican National Congressional Committee are designed to annoy the people being called, and they’re designed to appear as if they come from Democratic campaigns.

It’s probably worth the effort to post something brief on that site, just to show there’s interest in the story and to ward off the GOP trolls.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

7 thoughts on “Robo-harassment hits the big time
    (in a small way)”

  1. Actually, the letter dosn't look all that lame to me — although I do wish he'd been more specific. He did say that the group sending the phone calls is not identified till the end of the call, and that — without giving a number to prevent call-backs — the senders are free to, and do, repeatedly send the calls. Beyond that point, he really didn't have any LEGAL argument he could make, although he could certainly have expressed his belief that the calls were deliberately intended to fool some listeners into thinking they were from the Democrat.
    I'd like to know who thought this scheme up. At any rate, it's been in effect for a long time. I myself was carpet-bombed with calls of exactly this sort in the CA-4 district for about a month before the election, and there was a period of about 3 days last week when they were arriving like clockwork once a day at about 7 PM.

  2. CNN has some video coverage as well, but it's pretty weak brew. I'm following the issue, and I can't tell what the story is. The local articles in PA and NH are better, but it's only been front page material in NH.

  3. Mark: Making repeated telephone calls, solely to harass, is a federal felony carrying a two-year maximum sentence. 47 U.S. Code sec 223(a)(1)(E). A consiracy to make such calls (are you listening, RNCC?) is a five-year felony. 18 U.S.C. sec 371.

  4. If the calls consisted of loud music and the screams of rabbits being slaughtered, or something else equally devoid of intellectual content and political salience, you might be able to make the case that they are intended "solely to harass". In as much as they consist of disparaging statements about the Democratic candidate, they sound an awful lot like something called a "campaign advertisment", and I'm betting that they're intended solely to defeat the Democratic candidate, with any harassment being incidental.

  5. The robo calls finally made it into the mainstream media, with the NY Times' headline reading, "Repeat Calls Spur a Debate Over Tactics" (instead of "Republicans Engage in New Dirty Tricks"). Who is "debating" these tactics? Did a NY Times headline in 1944 read, "Implementation of the 'Final Solution' Stirs Debate"?

  6. Ah, yes; Calls saying things about Democratic candidates that you'd rather not be said about them, and that identify their source only at the end, are the moral equivalent of the holocaust.
    Election day hysteria is in full swing. LOL!

  7. Brett, if you're referring to my posting, I do not think that it can reasonably be construed to imply any moral equivalence. In fact, it would be ridiculous to construe it to do so. It drew an analogy in order to make more stark the way that the New York Times' concern for false objectivity overrides its concern for telling the truth.

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