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Thu04242014

Opinion

Former Congressman’s Craigslist scandal shifts old racial and sexual politics to hyperspeed

One of the best things about on-line dating is that the process is fairly simple. You go on-line create a profile and hope that nobody knows what you’re exaggerating or lying about.
 
 Dr. Jason Johnson

One of the best things about on-line dating is that the process is fairly simple. You go on-line create a profile and hope that nobody knows what you’re exaggerating or lying about. Since everyone assumes that there is a little exaggeration on a first date, and that’s in person, you’re even more likely to run into some colorful additions when you on-line date.

The profile that reads “Architect who went to Yale, opened for Genuine and opened up a homeless shelter for African refugees” will probably turn out to be a construction worker who met Genuine at an after party and has a sponsor child through Sally Struthers.  That’s all normal. What isn’t normal is when simple online dating becomes a whirlwind of racial and gender stereotypes that puts an innocent young woman in the crosshairs of the occasionally insensitive press.

That is the story of Yesha Callahan, a 34-year-old professional woman and single mother who put a dating ad on Craigslist out of sheer boredom and the slight hope that she’d get some funny responses. After receiving about 30 hits she emailed a few guys and asked them to exchange pictures. One of them, Chris Lee, told her that he was a 39-year-old divorced father of two who was a lobbyist in Washington D.C. After asking that he send her a picture that “didn’t look like a JC Penny advertisement” Lee sent her a topless photo a-la Bishop Eddie Long. Surprised by his boldness Callahan and her friends decided to look the guy up through his email and it took them to his Facebook page, which revealed more than his topless photo.

Chris Lee wasn’t a 39-year-old divorced lobbyist; he was a 46-year-old married Republican Congressman from New York. You know something like this couldn’t stay quiet for long and even though Callahan had sat on the exchange for weeks, a friend of a friend gave a “tip” about her exchange to a media outlet. Within 3 hours of the story appearing on the Gawker online gossip site Lee had resigned and Yesha went from anonymous on-line dating woman to the subject of curiosity, scorn and investigation. And while she did only two interviews, on TheLoop21 and Washington Post, the story seemed to focus entirely on her, not the former Congressman, or any of his other potential pursuits.

To quote Danielle Belton, managing editor of TheLoop21 and the first woman to interview Callahan, “This is a sex scandal without any sex.” While getting exposed as a guy who sends topless pictures to women on Craigslist is embarrassing you’re not going to resign over that unless you have plenty more skeletons in your closet. And considering that Lee had already been warned by GOP top dog John Boehner last fall about his extracurricular activities it might’ve only been a matter of time before he got caught.

However, in the midst of this scandal it has amazed me the amount of attention and eventual criticism that has been heaped upon Callahan for doing nothing other than being approached by a married guy online. Even exposing Lee’s behavior to the press was more a pre-emptive move to avoid being outed by another media outlet than a stab at 15 minutes of fame. Radar Online and dozens of other message boards have accused her of trying to entrap the Congressman, being a prostitute and some Republican operatives have begun digging up her background to smear her.

So let me get this straight: single black woman tries to date online, married white Congressman tries to go out with her and gets exposed and she’s the villian? It’s the same old racial and sexual politics of America just played out in hyper-speed due to the Internet. It’s like Janet Jackson gets her top torn off by Justin Timberlake and she’s the slut, like Gabriel Aubry denies having a “black daughter” and Halle Berry is crazy. It seems that no matter what moral, political or legal morass white men can fall into publicly if there is a black woman involved she will be blamed by a significant portion of the population for either bringing it on herself or “enticing” said white man into his downfall.

A word of advice to the critical press and armchair social commentary quarterbacks out there. When there is a “sex scandal” it’s best to start with the person who was actually cheating rather than the innocent bystander who got caught up in their lies.

(Dr. Jason Johnson is an associate professor of political science and communications at Hiram College in Ohio, where he teaches courses in campaigns and elections, pop culture, and the politics of sports. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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