In late 2002, then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made a startling comment at the 100th birthday celebration of the late Senator Strom Thurmond. Lott praised Thurmond's service in the Senate, and said, "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years, either." Because Thurmond ran as a Dixiecrat, and explicitly endorsed segregation as a major part of his run for the presidency, Lott's comments later drew much criticism, ultimately leading to his resignation as Majority Leader.
The interesting point in terms of the burgeoning field of digital journalism is that Lott's comments were not picked up by the mainstream media. It was the blogosphere that truly kept the story alive when the mainstream media ignored it.
But more than bloggers, e-mail conversations may have played a huge role in ousting Lott. Blogger Mickey Kaus points especially to Democratic strategist and former Clinton advisor Sidney Blumenthal, who sent out a mass e-mail that reached the offices of the influential online daily, Slate. Slate editor Jacob Weisberg then forwarded the e-mail to blogger Tim Noah, who went on to write a number of blogs on the subject. In this way, it was e-mail, an older form of digital communication than the blog, that led directly to Lott's downfall.
Unlike blogs, e-mails do not typically become public. Short of a willing sender or recipient, a court order or an enterprising hacker, this form of communication will always remain in the shadows. When these e-mails contain information important to the public, however, it may only be a matter of time before they land in the inboxes of individuals willing to post the information for all to see. The days of the corporate media burying a story may be numbered.