The day after her story of a politically-motivated assault made headlines around the nation, coverage pushed relentlessly by McCain-Palin campaign officials, a McCain campaign worker admitted she made it all up. Ashley Todd, 20, told Pittsburgh police on Wednesday night that she had been held up at an ATM, and the mugger, a 6' 4" black male, had become enraged once he saw a McCain bumper sticker on her car. Todd claimed her assailant had then pinned her to the ground and used a dull knife blade to carve a "B" into her cheek, after telling her, "you are going to be a Barack supporter."
The most appalling part of this episode was the McCain team's reaction. Desperate for a turn of events that would paint their opponents in a negative light, they rushed to disseminate the story to media outlets before all the facts were known. McCain's Pennsylvania communications director Peter Feldman actually peddled a version to reporters that was far more incendiary than details confirmed by police at the time. Feldman claimed the attacker told Todd, "You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson," and that the carved "B" definitely stood for "Barack."
But it was all a hoax. Friday morning, police stated that "we have learned that the victim's statement has a few inconsistencies in it and her statement has changed." A few hours later, police said Todd had confessed that there was no robbery or attacker, and would be charged with filing a false police report. She also told police she had prior mental health problems.
According to one of the actual police reports documenting the charade's unraveling, Todd says she can't remember whether she mutilated her own face, or had someone else do it. And Todd now claims she can't explain why she invented the story, but her motivation behind staging the incident seems clear from details in the police report - to smear Obama supporters.
Todd said she was driving around in her car, looked in her rear-view mirror, saw a "B," and the first thing she thought of was Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama, according to a police report obtained by WTAE Channel 4 Action News.
Todd, from College Station, Texas, had been campaigning in Pennsylvania for the past few weeks. She was volunteering through the College Republican National Committee to recruit other college students to volunteer for McCain-Palin. CRNC executive director Ethan Eilon told FOX News that Todd had taken a year off from Blinn College in Texas to work on the campaign. She is also apparently a former Ron Paul volunteer.
Todd with Ron Paul at campaign appearance in February, 2008
Police doubted her story from the beginning, said Maurita Bryant, the assistant chief of the police department's investigations division:
"We have robbers here in Pittsburgh, but they don't generally mutilate someone's face like that," Bryant said. "They just take the money and run."
Bryant confirmed that police were also suspicious as to why the "B" on Todd's cheek was backward.
This tale faced a skeptical public from the moment it hit. Even rabidly far right blogger Michelle Malkin pointed out numerous holes in Todd's hard-to-believe account of being the victim of a political hate crime.
The entire mess is a tragic development, and I hope this young woman gets the mental health treatment she needs.
Yet a double standard is obvious based on the amount of coverage this incident received prior to any suggestion that it might be a hoax. The story was pushed hard by the Drudge Report, and most conservative talking heads ran with it. Sean Hannity devoted most of his Thursday afternoon talk radio broadcast to the topic, broadcasting live from Pittsburgh. Local news stations around the country featured the story on Thursday night's evening and late night newscasts.
Compare this with how little attention has been paid to a recent wave of politically-motivated, violent acts perpetrated by McCain-Palin supporters, several of which occurred in North Carolina and were covered on HuffPo earlier this week.
The crucial difference is that Obama and Biden are not traveling the country stirring up hatred among their supporters that would incite violence, while McCain and Palin clearly are. But let loose the spectre of a scary, hulking black criminal knifing up a poor, defenseless white girl, and predictably, the media lights swarmed.
Thankfully, McCain and Palin's disgraceful attacks on Obama have backfired, contributing to their meltdown in the polls. And the McCain camp's shameful eagerness to exploit hurtful situations like this hoax for political gain helps explain the revulsion that decent citizens have developed for the GOP ticket's increasingly desperate, unbalanced campaign.
Erik Ose is a veteran of Democratic campaigns in North Carolina and blogs at The Latest Outrage.