On Thursday, Missouri House Speaker John Diehl, 49, abruptly resigned from his leadership post and from the Missouri House of Representatives over a flirtatious series of texts that he exchanged with Katelyn Graham, a 19-year-old Missouri State Southern University student. Graham was one of four MSSU students participating in a Capitol internship program. The intern program was abruptly shut down by MSSU last month over a still-unspecified “incident,” more than four weeks before it was scheduled to end.
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Diehl’s fall from power was sudden and swift. The story broke publicly on Wednesday, May 13 in The Kansas City Star, which reported that it had received numerous screen shots of messages exchanged between Diehl and a then-unnamed Capitol intern (Graham has since identified herself as the intern in question).
After first refusing to comment on The Star’s story, Diehl issued a statement on Wednesday night that suggested that he was going to soldier through the controversy:
I take full responsibility for my actions and am truly sorry to those I let down. I apologize for the poor judgment I displayed that put me and those closest to me in this situation. I also regret that the woman has been dragged into this situation. The buck stops here. I ask for forgiveness. I will begin immediately working to restore the trust of those closest to me, and getting back to the important work that is required in the final days of session.
Less than 24 hours later, however, Diehl announced that the work of the Legislature would be going forward without him:
I have acknowledged making a serious error in judgment by sending the text messages. It was wrong and I am truly sorry. Too often we hear leaders say they’re sorry but are unwilling to accept the consequences. I understand that, as a leader, I am responsible for my actions and I am willing to face the consequences.
I appreciate those who have stood beside me and the overwhelming number of caucus members that have offered continued support; but for the good of my party, the caucus, and this state, I’m not going to further jeopardize what we have accomplished this year and what can be accomplished in the future. Therefore, I will be resigning the position of Speaker of the House and the office of State Representative in a way that allows for an orderly transition.
Diehl was replaced as Speaker by Poplar Bluff Republican Todd Richardson.
There is a variety of lenses through which one can view the recent events in Missouri. Here are a few that I find particularly interesting:
- American Privacy: Given the number of high-profile politicians who have gotten into trouble for misusing their cell phones (Anthony Weiner, anyone?)
- Computer Forensics: Diehl and his office initially attempted to rebut The Star’s story by producing personal and business cell phone records that only reflected a half-dozen text messages between Diehl and Graham (and of course, those records only contain metadata — time, numbers involved, duration — and not the actual content of the messages. But as The Star pointed out, the messages exchanged between the two messages were sent using Apple’s iMessage. Since iMessages are sent over the Internet using WiFi or a cellular data connection, they do not create a cell phone record entry. Had Diehl and Graham routinely deleted their messages, the exchanges would have been fair difficult to recover. Alternatively, they could have used one of the new apps being developed (such as Confide) that essentially turn messages into read-once, gone-forever exchanges.
- The Court and the Cross: The rise of the religious right and its overwhelming influence in some sections of the country is disturbing in many ways, but perhaps most so in the evident belief of too many politicians that the combination of their election and their faith entitles them to stand in Judgment of their constituents. From Matthew, a reminder:
1 Judge not, that ye be not judged.
2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Many blogs on the political left hear the karma bell ringing over Diehl’s downfall, as the married representative has been an active and powerful proponent of a socially conservative legislative agenda. As Speaker, he co-filed an amicus brief in defense of Missouri’s anti-gay marriage amendment (earning him the gratitude of the MO branch of the Family Research Council and the Southern Baptist Convention, which praised his support of “biblical marriage”), led an effort to override a veto by Gov. Jay Nixon of a bill that would have allowed businesses to cite religious belief as a basis for denying birth control coverage, and also pushed through an override of Gov. Nixon’s veto of a mandatory 72-hour waiting period for an abortion.
, you’d think the messages would have gotten through: 1) Don’t misbehave; and 2) If you really, truly can’t resist misbehaving, don’t misbehave digitally. As I constantly remind lecture audiences, “If it is digital, it can be copied and it probably will be (particularly if it has anything to do with sex or other types of official naughtiness).
Obviously, no one who voted for William Jefferson Clinton should be feeling too terribly smug about all this; sexual peccadilloes are sadly bipartisan. The only question, really, is whether politicians and other public officials will ever truly appreciate just how durable digital stupidity can be.