Monday, October 27, 2008

'Nightmare' for GOP as Attack Story Is Exposed as a Racially-Motivated Hoax


Spokesman for McCain's Pennsylvania Campaign Comes Under Fire for Making a Racially Inflammatory Statement After White Supporter of McCain Admits She Faked Story About Being Attacked by a Black Supporter of Obama and Is Charged With Making False Report to Police; College Republican Group That Employed Her Is Also Implicated in Hoax




Ashley Todd, a 20-year-old Texas student and a volunteer for the McCain/Palin campaign, is led away by investigators of the Pittsburgh Police Department (top photo) after she admitted to police Friday that she faked her story of being attacked by a black man whom she said was a supporter of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. Hours before the hoax was exposed, a spokesman for the McCain campaign in Pennsylvania told local media in Pittsburgh that the backwards letter "B" on Todd's face (bottom photo) stood for Obama's first name -- triggering a firestorm of controversy and accusations that the McCain camp was deliberately stoking white voters' fears of Obama, whose election would make him the nation's first black president. (Photos: Top: Keith Srakocic/AP; Bottom: Dan Garcia via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)


(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Monday, October 27,2008)

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SPECIAL NOTICE TO READERS -- NO THURSDAY EDITION THIS WEEK

Dear Readers:

There will be no Thursday edition of The 'Skeeter Bites Report this week. I am recovering from a weather-related traffic accident I had Tuesday night. My car skidded off an ice-slicked road during Tuesday's early-season winter storm in the Northeast and ended up in an embankment -- missing a utility pole by mere inches. Fortunately, I wasn't injured and my car is still in one piece. But there are few things more frightening than losing control of your car in the darkness of the night during a winter storm. Hopefully, I should be back to normal in time for next Monday's edition.

-- Skeeter Sanders, Editor & Publisher, The 'Skeeter Bites Report

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By SKEETER SANDERS

Ever since he secured the Democratic presidential nomination in August, supporters of Barack Obama have fretted about the possibility of race becoming an issue in his historic run for the White House -- and a barrier to the African-American senator from Illinois.

The issue finally erupted front and center late last week and simmered over the weekend. But rather than pose a threat to Obama, the race issue has instead blown up in Republican presidential candidate John McCain's face -- and now threatens to destroy both his campaign and the Republican Party amid accusations of deliberate race-baiting.

A spokesman for the McCain campaign in Pennsylvania is now in the hot seat, under fire for making a racially inflammatory statement after a white supporter of McCain admitted she faked a story about being attacked by a black supporter of Obama outside a bank in Pittsburgh.

The spokesman told the local media in Pittsburgh an incendiary version of the faked attack hours before the hoax was exposed -- even telling reporters that a backwards letter "B" carved into the "victim's" cheek stood for the Democratic nominee's first name, Barack, according to a report by TalkingPointsMemo.com (TPM), citing multiple sources.

The alleged attack on Wednesday prompted a Fox News Channel executive to predict on Thursday that McCain's quest for the presidency would be over -- "forever linked to race-baiting" -- if it turned out to be a hoax.

That prediction by John Moody, executive vice president of Fox News, in a blog posting on the conservative-leaning network's Web site has now come true -- creating the political nightmare McCain has feared the most and has tried very hard to avoid.

It turns out that the photographer who took the widely-disseminated photo of the battered face of Ashley Todd, a 20-year-old college student from Texas, gave copies of the picture only to the Pittsburgh Police Department and to his employer -- the College Republican National Committee, of which Todd was also employed as a field representative.

The photo was posted on the Drudge Report Web site -- a favorite of Republicans and conservatives -- setting off "a storm of media attention," according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, apparently hours before the police released its copies of the photograph to the media.

MCCAIN SPOKESMAN CLAMS UP AFTER MAKING RACIALLY-CHARGED ACCUSATION

The McCain spokesperson was identified as Peter Feldman, the campaign's Pennsylvania communications director. TPM reported that Feldman made the assertion about the backwards "B" to two Pittsburgh television stations, KDKA-TV and WPXI-TV. Both stations posted Feldman's statement on their Web sites, only to pull them later -- but not before TPM snapped a screen shot of the KDKA story and posted it on its own site.

John Verrilli, KDKA-TV's news director, confirmed that Feldman gave one of his reporters a detailed version of the attack that included a claim that the alleged attacker said, "You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson."

TPM said there was no evidence that anyone from McCain's national campaign headquarters had anything to do with Feldman's statement. But it nonetheless is likely to inflict major -- perhaps fatal -- damage to McCain's chances of winning the White House.

Feldman has refused all subsequent requests for comment to either confirm or deny that he made the statement and his future with the McCain campaign remained unknown as this edition of The 'Skeeter Bites Report neared its late Sunday night deadline.

INCIDENT REVEALS HOW LOW SOME MCCAIN SUPPORTERS ARE WILLING TO GO TO STOP OBAMA

TPM, citing unidentified sources, reported that KDKA-TV removed references to Feldman's assertions from its online story on the incident after the Obama campaign protested that the station was allowing the McCain camp spin a racially-charged version of the story before the facts had been established. WPXI-TV quickly followed suit.

Feldman's claim -- combined with the quick dissemination of the Todd photo to the Drudge Report before the police released it to the media -- strongly suggests that some supporters of McCain are willing to go to extraordinary lengths in stoking the fears of white voters uncomfortable with the thought of a black man becoming president of the United States.

The conservative, pro-Republican Drudge Report, which has made no secret of its disdain for Obama, posted the Todd photo with a huge red banner headline, "MCCAIN VOLUNTEER ATTACKED AND MUTILATED IN PITTSBURGH" with the sub-heading, "MUGGER CARVED A 'B' ON ME. . ." -- before downgrading the story after the hoax was exposed.

"Part of the appeal of, and the unspoken tension behind, Senator Obama’s campaign is his transformational status as the first African-American to win a major party’s presidential nomination," Fox's Moody wrote in his Thursday blog posting. "That does not mean that he has erased the mutual distrust between black and white Americans, and this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election...

"If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain’s quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting," Moody continued. "For Pittsburgh, a city that has done so much to shape American history over the centuries, another moment of truth is at hand."

WHY DID STUDENT CONCOCT STORY OF BEING VICTIM OF ATTACK THAT NEVER HAPPENED?

Todd, a student at Blinn College in Brenham, Texas, was held in the Allegheny County Jail Friday night on $50,000 bond after her video arraignment before a local judge. Allegheny County District Court Judge John Bova requested that she undergo an evaluation by the jail's behavior clinic. Todd is scheduled to return to court on Thursday.

Police, who believe that Todd has a history of mental problems, said she would face at least a charge of filing a false report with police and would not be released until she had a mental health evaluation.

"We don't feel she should be able to walk out onto the street," said Pittsburgh Assistant Police Chief Maurita Bryant. "We wouldn't want any further harm to come to her."

Todd, a native of College Station, Texas, told Pittsburgh police she was attacked by a tall black man Wednesday night.

Todd told investigators she was attempting to use a bank's automated teller machine when the man approached her from behind, put a knife to her throat and demanded money. She told police she handed the assailant $60 and walked away.

But the investigators became skeptical after Todd told them she suspected the man became angry after he noticed a McCain/Palin bumper sticker on her car and allegedly punched her in the back of the head, knocking her to the ground and telling her, "you're gonna be a Barack supporter!"

Todd said the man continued to punch and kick her while threatening "to teach her a lesson for being a McCain supporter," police said. She said he then sat on her chest, pinned her hands down with his knees and scratched a backward letter "B" into her face with a dull knife.

BACKWARDS 'B' CARVING PROMPTED POLICE SKEPTICISM

It was the fact that the B was carved backwards that aroused police skepticism -- combined with Todd's apparent failure to seek medical attention. Todd told police she instead went to a friend's apartment nearby and called police about 45 minutes later.

Adding to the cops' skepticism was the fact that Todd later changed her story, admitting that there was no McCain bumper sticker on her car and adding to her account a sexual assault and losing consciousness.

Even before Todd changed her story, police said they had found inconsistencies in it. Investigators had her undergo a polygraph test to determine her truthfulness, but did not release the test results. They also reviewed photographs and videotapes taken by the bank's security cameras and found they did not back up Todd's story -- in fact, nothing out of the ordinary was recorded.

"We have robbers here in Pittsburgh, but they don't generally mutilate someone's face like that," said Bryant. "They just take the money and run."

Police said after she admitted that her story was false, Todd could not explain why she made up her story, nor could she explain how the "B" could be carved backwards on her right cheek -- although investigators believe Todd may have carved it herself while using a mirror.

Investigators were struck "that it was a superficial, pristine 'B,' which seemed highly inconsistent with the story she reported that it was a violent attack, basically in which she was fighting for her life," Pittsburgh police lieutenant Kevin Kraus told the Post-Gazette.

Once she had told the story to police, "she told lie after lie and the situation compounded to where we are right now," Kraus continued, adding that Todd showed no remorse for her actions but was angry with the media, saying they blew the story out of proportion.

AN EXPLOSION OF FURY FROM COMMENTATORS ON THE RIGHT

Dan Garcia, the photographer who took the picture of Todd's battered face, told the Post-Gazette that he distributed copies of the photo only to the Pittsburgh Police Department and to the College Republican National Committee.

The Drudge Report's founder and editor Matt Drudge would not say who furnished him with the Todd photo, but the fact that he posted it on his Web site hours before the police released its copies of the picture to the media raises suspicions that Drudge may have obtained his copy of the photo from the College Republicans.

Conservative commentators were furious about the hoax. Commentator Michelle Malkin, in a Thursday posting on her Web site, suspected the attack was a hoax all along.

"Throughout my career, I’ve covered dozens of fake hate crimes — campus hate crime hoaxes, Muslim hate crime hoaxes, fake noose hangings, etc., etc., etc. Most were perpetrated by liberals, but there have been some shameful ones on our [conservative] side of the aisle as well. . .

"She [Todd] refused medical treatment after reporting the incident to police. Why on earth would she do that?" Malkin wrote.

When the hoax was confirmed on Friday, Malkin wrote, "Can I say I told you so? I’ve covered hate crimes hoaxes long enough to know one when I smell one. Those of you who trashed me in comments might want to think twice before doubting my instincts next time."

Ethan Eilon, executive director of the College Republicans National Committee, said the group had "no idea that [Todd] was making this story up."

Eilon forwarded a statement from the group's communications director, Ashley Barbera, that read: "When Ms. Todd initially contacted us claiming to have been attacked, our first reaction was obviously to be concerned for her safety. We are as upset as anyone to learn of her deceit. Ashley must take full responsibility for her actions."

The CRNC promptly fired Todd. Attempts by The 'Skeeter Bites Report to reach the CRNC for comment about how Drudge obtained his copy of the Todd photograph were unsuccessful.

TODD CAUSED TROUBLE FOR RON PAUL CAMPAIGN DURING GOP PRIMARIES

This isn't the first time that Todd has aroused controversy within Republican circles. She apparently also caused trouble for the Ron Paul campaign during the GOP primaries, the Post-Gazette reported.

In March, Todd was asked to leave a grass-roots group of Ron Paul supporters in Brazos County, Texas, group leader Dustan Costine told the newspaper. Todd allegedly posed as a supporter of former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and called the local Republican committee seeking information about its campaign strategies.

"She would call the opposing campaign and pretend she was on their campaign to get information," Costine told the Post-Gazette. "We had to remove her because of the tactics she displayed. After that we had nothing to do with her."

About a month earlier, Costine said, Todd sent an e-mail to the Ron Paul group saying her tires were slashed and that campaign paraphernalia had been stolen from her car because she supported Paul.

"She's the type of person who wants to be recognized," Costine said.

TODD BRANDED 'THE WHITE TAWANA BRAWLEY'

Other conservative commentators compared Todd to Tawana Brawley, an African-American woman who, in a highly publicized, racially-charged case in New York, accused six white men of raping her in 1987, when she was a 15-year-old teenager.

The Brawley case deeply polarized New Yorkers along racial lines and first brought the Reverend Al Sharpton into national prominence.

After hearing evidence, a grand jury concluded in October 1988 that Brawley had not been the victim of a forcible sexual assault and that she herself may have created the appearance of an attack.

Steven Pagones, the assistant district attorney for Dutchess County, New York -- whom Brawley accused as one of her alleged assailants -- successfully sued Sharpton and two other advisors to Brawley, attorneys Alton Maddox and Vernon Mason, for defamation.

Brawley converted to Islam in 1994 and changed her name to Maryam Muhammad. Now 36, she still adamantly denies making up the rape story. Her parents have called on New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to reopen the case.

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Volume III, Number 70
Copyright 2008, Skeeter Sanders. All rights reserved.







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