10.28.2008

Salzman ripples

Don't send fake letters to newspapers: it's California law

Here's a little bit of wackiness from the California Penal Code:
538a. Every person who signs any letter addressed to a newspaper with the name of a person other than himself and sends such letter to the newspaper, or causes it to be sent to such newspaper, with intent to lead the newspaper to believe that such letter was written by the person whose name is signed thereto, is guilty of a misdemeanor.
Obviously, we don't want impersonations of other people, but at the same time this might impact people who are playing harmless pranks using completely made-up names. Of course, in that case the defense might be that if there's someone by that same name it was just a coincidence.

In any case, my foray into the morass was occasioned by the story "Consultant used others' names in letter-writing blitz to local newspaper":
Activist and political consultant Richard Salzman liked to sound off about his causes in letters to the editors of Eureka-area newspapers. Other local residents, like R. Trent Williams, Dick Wyatt, and R. Johnson, often backed him up, praising Salzman's points and echoing his jabs at political foes.

Salzman made a name for himself last year by helping Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos defeat a recall attempt backed by the timber industry. Salzman also worked on other successful campaigns in the area.

But his star quickly dimmed when a newspaper revealed that all of those like-minded letters penned over several months actually came from Salzman himself. Now, he's under investigation by local authorities and could face criminal charges for violating a state law that makes it a misdemeanor to send phony letters to newspapers...
On a slightly related note, see "In letters to the editor, too many copycats?"