Friday, February 11, 2011

A Scandal Opens and Closes in Internet Time

You may have wondered why I included Gawker on my Mass Media links page. An answer came this week, when a Gawker story led to the resignation of a GOP House member. It is a classic case of cyberscandal, starting with Craigslist, continuing through emails, and exploding on a celebrity site.

Politico reports:

Top House Republicans insist they did not force out Rep. Christopher Lee, whose sudden resignation on Wednesday night after an extraordinarily brief Internet sex scandal set off a scramble among potential candidates who want to take over his western New York seat.

Lee announced his immediate departure from Congress just hours after the website Gawker posted a story saying he had e-mailed a topless photo of himself to a woman he contacted through Craigslist. Lee is married with one child.

Lee was apparently attending a House GOP policy retreat in Baltimore when he sent the late-night photo, according to e-mail records released by Gawker.

The stunning fall from grace for the junior New York Republican was a lesson in the power of the Internet scandal. A controversy can turn into a frenzy in minutes or hours, and some pols — such as Lee and former Republican Reps. Mark Souder of Indiana and Mark Foley of Florida — choose to bail out immediately rather than stand and fight.

There is a puzzle here. Lee's actions were embarrassing to his party and hurtful to his family -- but they were not illegal. There are more than a few sitting lawmakers who have done worse things in their private lives. So why did he quit so fast? The recipient of his emails has a reasonable speculation:

I wouldn't have thought he'd resign, over a few pictures and a few emails. I think maybe there's a bigger story behind his resignation. I'm sure there are other women out there he's met. My theory is, you don't get caught your first time out.


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