Friday, October 24, 2008

Crying Wolf

The now infamous photo of Ashley Todd, proven to be a hoax

It was Thursday when I got an email about a woman who claimed she had been mugged and mutilated by a supporter of Barack Obama. Ashley Todd, a 20-year-old white campaign worker of John McCain, alleged that late Thursday night she was attacked by a 6'4" black male who robbed her in front of a bank ATM in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburg. According to Todd, the politically astute attacker, upon seeing a McCain-Palin sticker on her car, became so enraged he punched her in the back of the head, knocked her to the ground and then proceeded to carve the letter "B" (an allusion to Sen. Barack Obama) into her face with a dull knife.

The story was shocking, sensational and threatened to perhaps upend the presidential campaign. Except for one problem. Turns out as of this afternoon, the alleged victim has confessed that her story was a complete HOAX.

The Scarlet "B" story made internet headlines as the Drudge Report, in its usual propaganda fashion, sent it rocketing out with blaring red capital letters. Right-wing blogs went full lynch mob, as political rage quickly turned into blatant race-mongering. The story emphasized the attacker's "blackness" and went so far as to make Jim Crow Era allusions to sexual molestation. The Pres. of the College Republicans called the attack a "disgusting act of violence" and a "hate crime." The McCain-Palin campaign released a statement
saying they were "shaken" and "sickened" by the crime, and both candidates called Todd to express their sympathies. Realizing the racially-driven sh*t storm that could come their way, the Obama-Biden camp quickly sent out their own sympathies and prayers, hoping the perpetator would be brought to justice.

But to some, including the Pittsburg police, the story seemed fishy from the beginning. For one, the site of the alleged attack is a well known busy street. And many from Bloomfield found it shockingly-odd that no one had witnessed the crime. Todd herself baffled police when she refused to seek medical attention--after a stranger supposedly used a foreign object to mutilate her face. Still, the usual culprits like FOX News ran the story as if it was settled. Some members of the McCain campaign even embellished the story to reporters, seeming eager to exploit it to their gain. And others like CBS and CNN, while not delving in head-first, still blared it across their tickers and donated brief time to it.

Surprisingly, one of the most sane voices through the entire affair came from the usually rabid right-wing pundit Michelle Malkin. As early as Thursday Malkin was beyond skeptical, claiming of the story "it smells awfully wierd," and warned her fellow conservatives not to buy into it. I'm officially filing that under my "hope springs eternal" category.

What can't be expressed enough is the importance of the blogosphere. Because if not for them, this story could have run around and done a bit of damage in its near 24-hour life cycle before it was proven a hoax.

On many liberal and left-leaning blogosphere there was shock at the story, and immediate suspicion. In addition to the oddity that the alleged victim denied medical attention, many pointed out the "B" etched into her face was backwards--as would happen if it was self-inflicted through the use of a mirror. There were immediate suspicions raised about Todd's black eye, which was dark but not in the least bit swollen. Some openly called it a hoax from the first glance; others voiced their doubts and waited to see what would happen.

Of course, the henny-pennys and handwringers made their appearances. Worried about "piling-on" the victim, they cautioned restraint. Some of them expressed outright doubt that anyone would do this to themselves, and warned Obama supporters should be prepared for a rough couple of days that could shake up the presidential race.

On numerous blogs and other forums mostly inhabitated by African-Americans, there was little doubt that this story was completely conjured up. Many pointed to the American historical phenomenon of the brute caricature, that conjures up black males as dangerous rapists and attackers of white womanhood. Others needed go no further than Susan Smith or Charles Stuart, to see the brute caricature in practice.

By midday Friday however, Todd's story was falling apart under police questioning. And after being administered a polygraph test, like a character from Law & Order, she broke down and confessed the entire sordid tale had been concocted. There was no 6'4" black male attacker. No mugging. No crime of any kind. And the B carved onto her cheek? Todd claimed she wasn't certain how it had gotten there--that she looked into a mirror and then it was just there, so now she thinks she *must* have been the one to do it.

By Friday night, the right-wing bloggers and news outlets who had been taken in by Todd had either expressed their sadness that they had been duped--or seemed sad the story wasn't true after all. Others never recanted, and simply went silent on the topic--returning to their usual attacks on ACORN, Obama, and whatever other liberals can be assigned blame. Most left leaning blogs simply shook their heads at the madness of it all, and hoped Ashley Todd (under an Obama administration) would be able to get the mental healthcare she seems to so desperately need.

Not everyone was willing to let by-gones be by-gones so easily. On more than a few blogs, there were calls to find out just how much the McCain camp had pushed and fanned the flames of this story. Others, noting the danger of racial fear-mongering Todd had unleashed, demanded she be charaged with a hate-crime. For many black blogs and forums, Todd was not only making a risky political manuever, but playing a dangerous game which in the past had resulted in blacks being intimidated or even murdered.

And more than a few, pointed to John Moody, executive vice president at Fox News, who had made the following comments before Ashley Todd's confession:

"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."

According then to Moody, by today and for the next week up to the election, we should see the FOX News station bemoan the downfall and end of the McCain campaign--a victim of Ashley Todd's reckless, fear-mongering and racially polarizing hoax. Riiiiggght.

So, just over a week from the presidential campaign, the "mavericky" crew at McCain-Palin have managed to once more make their campaign look like the bizarre and freakish side-show of the species Politicus americana that it has become.