The LA Times announced Wednesday afternoon that Congressman Christopher Lee resigned following the publication of flirtatious e-mails and a photo sent in response to a personal ad in January.
Correspondence and a photo allegedly sent to the poster of an ad on Craigslist under the “Women Seeking Men” category in January came to light late Wednesday afternoon. Though the e-mail used for the Craigslist correspondence admittedly belonged to the Congressman, Lee’s spokesman stated the e-mail account in question was hacked, though the date of the alleged hacking occurred after the Craigslist correspondence is said to have taken place. Most condemning is the PG-rated photo, showing a shirtless Lee, sent from a Blackberry phone.
The days of Watergate and the mysterious tape recordings were arguably a portent of the ways in which technology can bring about the ruin of a politician. With new technology comes a new traceability. Text messages, e-mails and cell phone calls now leave non-erasable records that can surface years later, bringing about scandal and downfall.
In June of 2009, The State, a newspaper published in South Carolina, ran an article with full reprints of e-mails between Gov. Mark Sanford and his Argentinean mistress, causing Mrs. Sanford to file for divorce later that year. Despite the scandal of the affair, the Governor narrowly escaped impeachment proceedings and financial scrutiny, with rumors of a possible bid for the presidency in 2012 being bandied about.
New forms of communication have helped shine a light on hypocrisy. A conservative Republican with a strong history of anti-gay legislation, Mark Foley resigned in 2006 after sexually suggestive instant messages to former teenage congressional pages surfaced. The scandal is also widely believed to have been a cornerstone cause for the loss of congressional control in 2006.
Not all politicians tripped up by technology are at the highest levels of government. In 2002, Kwame Kilpatrick, the mayor of Detroit, initially denied having an affair with one of his aides while under oath during a trial in 2007. In 2008, more than 14,000 messages between Kilpatrick and his aide surfaced, many sexual in nature, with their dates showing a clear contradiction to his sworn testimony. As a direct result, Kilpatrick faced indictments of perjury and obstruction of justice, and eventually pleaded guilty to three charges brought against him. Kilpatrick was also forced to resign office and give up his law license.
In spite of the incidents mentioned above, not all communications that come to light from cell phones and e-mails are bound to produce scandals. Consider the oddity of Finnish foreign minister Ilkka Kanerva. As noted on ABC News Nightline, when racy text messages between Kanerva and an exotic dancer were made public, the foreign minister’s popularity soared. Eventually, he did apologize after a week, though it seemed unnecessary to the Finnish people.
While technology has brought immediacy of communication for the masses, it has undoubtedly brought a larger potential for damaging evidence for those in the public eye to surface at any time, with Congressman Lee being the most recent victim.
LA Times, Western New York State Congressman Christopher Lee Resigns
The State, Exclusive: Read E-Mails Between Sanford and Woman
Wikipedia, Kirkpatrick and Beatty Text Messaging
Wikipedia, Mark Foley Scandal
ABC Nightline, Text Messages Sink U.S. Politicians, Save European Ones