AirTalk for July 20, 2011

Half-hearted death threats are repugnant but not illegal in Obama case

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Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at a campaign rally in Colorado during his campaign for the presidency on October 26, 2008.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has overturned a conviction of a California man who said that someone should "shoot the [racist slur]" Barack Obama in 2008. Walter Bagdasarian posted a rant on a Yahoo.com site when Obama was running for president. The postings were reported to the Secret Service who tracked down Bagdasarian and found he was also in possession of guns and ammo. He was convicted for violating a statute prohibiting threats to kill, kidnap or do bodily harm to a major presidential candidate. Yesterday's 2-1 ruling states that no reasonable person would have taken seriously Bagdasarian's statements. So what constitutes a "true threat?" How can law enforcement distinguish between a serious intent or incitement of violence from mere hyperbole? The Internet is a font for political vitriol, so how can it be policed and when does it cross the line?

Guests:

Peter Scheer, Executive Director, First Amendment Coalition

Barry McDonald, Professor of Law at the Pepperdine University School of Law


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