It had drawn wide local and national -- even political attention, with the McCain and Obama campaigns weighing in -- but now the Ashley Todd story has fallen apart. Police in Pittsburgh have now declared the tale a hoax and the woman, who has confessed, now faces charges for her deed.
Earlier today, John Moody, executive vice president at Fox News, commented on his blog there that "this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election. If Ms. Todd's allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee.
"If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting."
He titled his posting: "Moment of Truth." Indeed.
It started yesterday afternoon with Matt Drudge screaming at the top of his site this afternoon in red type -- but no siren -- that a Pittsburgh campaign worker for McCain, age 20, had been viciously attacked and the letter "B" carved into her face, presumably by a Barack Obama fan. Her name, it soon emerged, was Ashley Todd and she had come to Pittsburgh from College Station, Texas, to help out.
It started to appear overblown (Drudge downgraded it to smaller, black type) as the police noted that it seemed to be a robbery ($60) and she did not seek medical attention. But later press reports said she would visit a hospital, Sarah Palin and maybe John McCain had reportedly called her and Obama has condemned the alleged assault, although McCain/Obama angle to story not yet confirmed.
Still later, conservative columnist Michelle Malkin, and some others, grew skeptical. For one thing, the "B" was carved a little too lightly and perfectly -- and backward, as if done using a mirror. Smoking Gun probed a too-pat "Twitter" angle and Gawker and Wonkette looked at her MySpace page.
Now police say that evidence from the ATM that she reportedly visited did not match her account. And it turns out she changed her story, admitting that her assailant did not see a McCain bumper sticker and adding to her account a sexual assault and losing consciousness. Liberal bloggers poked all sorts of holes in the story, including the fact that the attack allegedly took place in a very public place. Drudge added a link titled "B...or B.S."?
Finally, early this afternoon, came word that she had made it all up. Here is full update.
Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher and its hot new blog The E&P Pub. His latest book on Iraq and the media, hailed by Bill Moyers, Arianna Huffington, Bruce Springsteen and others, is titled So Wrong for So Long.