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Twenty-year-old Ashley Todd, a volunteer for the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ), tells Pittsburgh police she was attacked, beaten, and robbed by an African-American male who claimed to be a Barack Obama (D-IL) supporter. According to Todd, the man accosted her at a Citizens Bank ATM in Bloomfield, Pennsylvania. He was brandishing a knife, Todd claims. Todd gave him $60. When the man saw a bumper sticker on her car supporting McCain, she says, he punched her in the back of the head, knocked her down, and beat her, saying, “You are going to be a Barack supporter.” He then pinned her down and used the knife to scratch a “B” (for Barack) into her right cheek; she attempted to fight back, but he said he was going “to teach her a lesson for being a McCain supporter” before actually cutting her. He then fled, Todd says. Todd’s left eye is also bruised. The attack happened around 8:50 p.m.; Todd calls the police around 9:30 p.m., after the attack. She initially refuses medical attention. The next day, however, she will receive a full checkup at a local hospital, including an MRI. Todd says she is not a member of the McCain campaign, but went to Washington, DC, in June for training with the College Republicans. She posted pro-McCain and anti-Obama comments on Twitter in the hours preceding the attack, the last one coming just minutes before she alleges she was accosted. She describes her alleged assailant as a dark-skinned black man, 6 feet 4 inches tall, 200 pounds with a medium build, short black hair and brown eyes, wearing dark-colored jeans, a black undershirt, and black shoes. She emphasizes that her assailant is an Obama supporter. Within hours of the alleged attack, Todd posts comments on Twitter about it, along with allegations that she was targeted deliberately by members of the local Obama campaign and exhortations to support McCain in the upcoming elections (see October 23-24, 2008). The Hollywood Grind, reporting on the incident, observes: “Despite the information we’ve gathered above, there are three things that make us skeptical. First, Ashley is a hardcore McCain supporter, as evidenced by her Twitter updates… that show her posting Twitter updates right up until the alleged attack, then the last post three hours after the attack. Second, she initially refused medical attention, but finally got it the next morning. Third, the ‘B’ scratched on her face is backwards, making it look like it was done in a mirror.” (Associated Press 10/23/2008; Hollywood Grind 10/23/2008; Fox News 10/24/2008; Strange 10/25/2008) Todd acts suspiciously almost from the moment the police respond to her complaint. She goes to the house of a friend and fellow College Republican, Dan Garcia, a University of Pittsburgh law student. After being told of the alleged attack, Garcia treats her wounds and contacts the police. When an officer arrives at Garcia’s house, Todd becomes belligerent when asked where the attack took place. “I don’t know!” she shouts, using an expletive. “I’m not from here.” Todd, Garcia, and the officer then drive through Bloomfield, the town where Todd alleges the attack occurred, until they arrive at the Citizens Bank on Liberty Avenue. Todd then tells the officer that the Citizens Bank ATM is where she was attacked. She refuses medical attention offered by the officer, and instead leaves with Garcia to go eat at a diner, apparently making some of her Twitter posts during her time at the diner. It is during this time that Garcia takes the photograph of Todd with the scratched “B” on her face. Garcia then persuades her to go to a nearby hospital. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008) The next day, Todd will admit to lying about the incident, and will admit to inflicting the “B” on herself (see October 24, 2008). It is unclear how much of her story as reported in the press comes from Todd, and how much of it is embellished by a McCain campaign operative (see October 23-24, 2008).
Within hours of Pittsburgh resident Ashley Todd’s claim that she was attacked by a black Barack Obama supporter whom, she says, carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her face during the attack (see October 22, 2008), conservative blogs and political Web sites begin an outpouring of enraged and supportive posts and articles supporting Todd and lambasting the Obama campaign and the “liberal media” which, they say, will do its best to cover up the alleged attack. Todd uses her Twitter account, and her connections as a member of the College Republicans and a McCain campaign volunteer, to spread the word about her alleged attack. The photograph of her and her wounds, taken by her friend Dan Garcia and given to police and the College Republicans, is quickly posted on the popular conservative news and gossip site Drudge Report, which calls the attack a “mutilation.” The Drudge article takes the controversy to a national level. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008)
Bloggers Respond - Conservative blogger Glenn Reynolds, writing for the popular blog Instapundit, uses the Drudge article for the basis of his own post (repeating the claim that Todd was “mutilated”), and writes, “This is so serious that I predict it will get almost one-tenth as much national coverage as something some guy may have yelled at a Palin rally once.” He repeats a comment from another blog that says, “But, were it a black woman with an ‘M’ carved in her cheek [presumably for ‘McCain’], we’d be getting 24/7 coverage.” (Glenn Reynolds 10/23/2008) Conservative blogger Ed Morrissey, writing for another popular blog, Hot Air, calls the attack a “maiming,” though he does not blame the Obama campaign for it, instead writing that “this particular criminal sounds like he’s a couple of bricks short of a load even for that crowd.” Morrissey initially resists the idea that Todd may be perpetuating a hoax, writing, “Not too many young women would scar their faces just to create a political hoax,” but later admits that Todd lied and calls her a “very, very disturbed young woman.” (Ed Morrissey 10/23/2008) A blogger for College Politico calls the attack “horrifying” and derides bloggers at the liberal Daily Kos for being “unsympathetic,” citing comments that expressed doubts about Todd’s veracity, calling them “deprived” (apparently intending to call them “depraved”) and saying that the Kos bloggers “have absolutely no reason to doubt her.” He goes on to criticize conservative bloggers who also express their doubts about Todd’s story, calls some of the skepticism “idiotic,” and says the fact that the “B” is carved backwards “MEANS ABSOLUTELY NOTHING” (caps in the original). The blogger later posts updates acknowledging that the story is a hoax, and calls Todd “the lowest level of scum.” (College Politico 10/24/2008; College Politico 10/24/2008) A blogger calling himself “Patrick” for the conservative Political Byline posts the picture of Todd and writes, “So, this is what they do to people who support McCain.” In his title, he says Todd’s attacker is “One of Barry’s fans, I’m sure,” referring to Senator Obama, and calls Obama the “Marxist Magic Negro.” Like the others, he eventually acknowledges that the story is a hoax. (Political Byline 10/24/2008)
Malkin Expresses Doubts - One conservative blogger who does not immediately leap on the Todd story is Michelle Malkin. When the story breaks, she writes of her suspicions about the “B” being carved so neatly into Todd’s face, and carved backwards, and how she finds Todd’s initial refusal to accept medical treatment questionable. Before Todd admits to the fraud, Malkin writes: “We have enough low-lifes and thugs in the world running loose and causing campaign chaos and fomenting hatred without having to make them up. I’ve been blowing the whistle on the real, left-wing rage not on the front page and in-your-face tactics throughout the election season. Hate crimes hoaxes—by anyone, of any political persuasion, and of any color—diminish us all.” (Michelle Malkin 10/23/2008)
Presidential Campaigns Respond - The McCain campaign issues a statement denouncing the attack as “sick and disgusting”; the Obama campaign issues a statement deploring the attack and demanding that Todd’s assailant be quickly brought to justice. Both McCain and his running mate, Governor Sarah Palin (R-AK), telephone Todd with expressions of concern and support. The Pennsylvania communications director for the McCain campaign, Peter Feldman, quickly spreads the story, along with the photo of Todd, to reporters around the state, along with what reporter Greg Sargent will call “an incendiary version of the hoax story about the attack on a McCain volunteer well before the facts of the case were known or established.” Apparently Feldman is the person who first tells reporters that the “B” stands for “Barack.” (Sargent 10/24/2008; Dupuy 10/24/2008; Strange 10/25/2008)
Obama Campaign Demands Explanation, Corrections - Todd soon admits that she lied about the attack, and though she claims her memory does not well serve her, says she probably scratched the “B” into her cheek herself (see October 24, 2008). When the national press learns that Todd lied about her attack, the Obama campaign becomes incensed, demanding that the McCain campaign explain why it was pushing a version of the story that was, in Sargent’s words, “far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.” The Obama campaign also pressures some news outlets, including KDKA-TV and WPXI-TV, to rewrite their reports to remove the inflammatory and “racially charged” information concocted by Feldman, including claims that the alleged attacker told Todd he would “teach [her] a lesson” about supporting McCain, and that the “B” stood for “Barack.” There is no evidence of the national McCain campaign becoming involved in promulgating the falsified Todd story. (Sargent 10/24/2008)
'Okay Obama Frame-Job. ... I'd Give You a 'B' - After the story is exposed as a fraud, many post irate or sarcastic rejoinders on Twitter, using the hash tag ”#litf08” to ensure their viewing on the College Republican Twitter account, “Life in the Field,” where Todd made many of her Twitter posts. A former blogger for the Senate campaign of Christopher Dodd (D-PA), Matt Browner-Hamlin, asks: “Anyone know which Rove protege is responsible for #litf08? Because they lack the execution skills of the man himself.” Browner-Hamlin is referring to former Bush administration campaign manager Karl Rove. Another commenter writes: “Hmm, it was an okay Obama frame-job, just a few inconsistencies snagged you. Overall I’d give you a ‘B.’” And another commenter asks, “Do 50 College Republicans [the description of the ‘Life in the Field’ volunteers] try this kind of stunt often?” College Republicans executive director Ethan Eilon claims his organization “had no idea” Todd “was making this story up.” (Wired News 10/24/2008)
Pittsburgh Councilman Demands Apology from McCain Campaign - The Reverend Ricky Burgess, a Pittsburgh City Council member, will demand an apology from the McCain campaign for deliberately spreading a story it had not confirmed, and for embellishing it to make it even more racially inflammatory. “That one of your campaign spokespersons would spread such an incendiary story before any confirmation of the facts is both irresponsible and runs counter to our nation’s constitutional guarantee that no one be denied life, liberty, or property without due process,” Burgess writes. He demands an apology for “inflaming the divisions of this country,” and later says: “I don’t know why they chose to push this story. But it just seems suspicious to me that they would target this story, which has a fictional African-American person harming a non-African-American person in this city.” A McCain campaign spokesman initially derides Burgess and his source, the progressive news blog TPM Election Central, writing: “The liberal blog post that the councilman cites has no basis in fact. The McCain campaign had no role in this incident. We hope the young woman involved in the incident gets the help that she needs. It’s disappointing that Pittsburgh law enforcement time and resources were wasted by her false allegations.” (WTAE-TV 10/27/2008; Burgess 10/27/2008 ; Burgess 10/27/2008 )
Ashley Todd, the Pittsburgh woman who told police she was beaten by an African-American Obama supporter who carved a “B” (for “Barack”) into her face (see October 22, 2008), admits she lied about the incident. She was never attacked, she admits, and cut the “B” into her right cheek herself, though she says her memory is faulty on the subject.
Serious Inconsistencies Lead to Polygraph, Questioning - Though Pittsburgh police began by treating Todd as the victim of a crime, they noted serious inconsistencies in her story from the outset. Originally she told a story of being mugged by a black man who, after threatening her with a knife, then struck her in the back of the head with an unknown object and knocked her to the ground, where he punched, kicked, and threatened to “teach [her] a lesson” for being a McCain supporter before kneeling and scratching the “B” into her face. Police administered a polygraph test to Todd, though they have refused to release the results of that test; police spokeswoman Diane Richard says Todd’s story began to change after the polygraph was administered. Photographs from the Citizens Bank ATM that she claimed was the site of the attack do not verify her claim. Lieutenant Kevin Kraus, who heads the major crime squad for the Pittsburgh Police Department, says, “She told lie after lie, and the situation compounded to where we are right now.” He says Todd is being kept in custody for her own protection, and says the police are considering whether she may need a psychiatric evaluation. “We don’t feel she should be able to walk out onto the street,” says Pittsburgh Assistant Police Chief Maurita Bryant. “We wouldn’t want any further harm to come to her.” Kraus says: “She hasn’t really shown any obvious remorse. She’s certainly surprised that it snowballed to where it is today.” Kraus says she is angry with the media for blowing the story out of proportion (see October 23-24, 2008). Bryant says: “The backwards ‘B’ was the obvious thing to us when we first saw her. Something just didn’t seem right. And, first of all, with our local robbers, they take the money [and flee]. They’re in and out. They’re not stopping to do artwork.… We suspect she may have inflicted the injuries herself. We don’t think anyone else is involved.” Bryant says that Todd’s story changed more than once while she was with police. During points in the questioning, she said, among other things: she was attacked before, not during, her visit to the ATM; she was hit from behind and rendered unconscious; she didn’t know she had been cut or robbed until she went to the apartment of a friend, Dan Garcia; the attacker sexually fondled her. “After a while, she just simply stated that she wanted to tell the truth,” Bryant says. Under questioning, Todd abandoned her story of being brutalized by a black Obama supporter, and then told police she was driving alone, looked in the rearview mirror, saw her black eye and the “B” on her face, and didn’t know how they got there. She assumed she could have done it herself, she said, and then she made up the story about the attacker as she was driving to Garcia’s house. “She saw the ‘B’ on her face, and she immediately thought about Barack,” Bryant says. Kraus says the letter’s appearance made him instantly suspicious, both because of it’s being backwards—as if it were done by Todd while looking in a mirror—and because of its unusual neatness. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Fox News 10/24/2008; Hollywood Grind 10/24/2008; WTAE-TV 10/27/2008) Richard says: “Miss Todd stated she made up the story, which snowballed and got out of control. Miss Todd stated she was not robbed and there was no 6-foot-4 black male attacker.” (WTAE-TV 10/27/2008) Garcia says while he initially supported Todd, he is now furious with her and wants no more contact with her. “I don’t know why she would do this,” he says. “I would think that she needs help. I had red flags going up, but I didn’t think it was prudent of me to ask the truth. I wanted to make sure she was OK.” (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008)
Area of Alleged Attack Heavily Traveled - The area at Liberty Avenue and Pearl Street where Todd had said the attack took place is heavily traveled in the daytime, full of traffic, pedestrians, restaurants, and stores. Doug Graham, a local resident, says it is unlikely any such assault at the Citizens Bank would go unnoticed, as Todd originally claimed. “There ain’t no way nobody saw that,” he says. “It’s always hopping up there. Something fishy, I knew the first second I saw [her story]. Something fishy.” (Fox News 10/24/2008)
Huge Waste of Money, Man-Hours - Bryant says Todd’s false report created “a huge waste of time, with many man-hours and people coming in on overtime just to get to the bottom of this as quickly as possible.” Kraus adds: “It created intensive national and international attention. We’ve had detectives working around the clock since she made the bogus allegation. The cost to the city of Pittsburgh has been many, many dollars and resources.” (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008)
Todd a McCain Campaign Employee - Ethan Eilon, executive director of the College Republican National Committee, acknowledges that Todd is working as a field representative on behalf of the McCain-Palin presidential campaign, and has taken a year off from her studies at Blinn College to work on the campaign. (Fox News 10/24/2008) Ashley Barbera, the communications director for the College Republicans, says: “We are as upset as anyone to learn of her deceit. Ashley must take full responsibility for her actions.” McCain-Palin campaign spokesman Peter Feldman says in a statement: “This is a sad situation. We hope she gets the help she needs.” (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Fox News 10/24/2008) However, it later emerges that Todd is not just a volunteer, but a paid campaign worker earning a stipend of $3,600 from the College Republican National Committee (CRNC). The CRNC will announce Todd’s employment in a statement announcing her termination from the organization, but will later remove the statement from its Web site. The liberal news and opinion Web site Buzzflash will preserve a portion of the CRNC’s statement. (Buzzflash 10/24/2008)
Previous Incidents - In March 2008, Todd was asked to leave a group of Ron Paul (R-TX) supporters in Texas after using dishonest campaign tactics (see March 2008).
'MySpace' Description - Todd has a MySpace profile under the screen moniker “Italian Pajamas.” She lists her occupation as “Being a bad_ss.” Next to her picture, she references the title of a song by the group Panic at the Disco, “Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her cloths [sic] off,” but adds to it “but its [sic] better if you do.” She lists as one of her favorite books The Scarlet Letter. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008)
Faces Charges of Filing False Police Report - Police say that Todd faces criminal charges for making a false police report, and is being held in the Allegheny County Jail in lieu of a $50,000 bond. (Fuoco, Sherman, and Gurman 10/24/2008; Fox News 10/24/2008) The next day, Todd is charged (see October 25-30, 2008).
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