The Scarlet Letter "B"
Even before the story of Ashley Todd hit our press, I told a fellow editor that something "smelled funny." Todd is the 20-year-old Texas woman and McCain campaign volunteer who claimed she was robbed at knifepoint and brutally attacked on the streets of Pittsburgh by a big black man who then scratched a letter "B" onto her cheek after seeing a McCain bumper sticker on her car. According to Todd's initial story, the man told her he was going to "teach her a lesson" for supporting McCain, and that she was going to become a supporter of Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. Police had immediate suspicions that the story was false (the backward "B" was a pretty good place to start), and their investigation confirmed that Todd made the whole thing up. Authorities say she has mental health issues and might have inflicted the injuries herself. I had second thoughts about even using the original story, but in the current political climate, some would construe our not using the story as trying to push under the rug something that could be considered as being negative regarding Obama or his supporters. Some conservative bloggers jumped on the story with both feet, and even after it started to unravel, one blogger offered this: "For all we know at this point, Ashley could be a liberal pretending to be a conservative faking a hate crime to discredit perfectly legitimate fears of the thuggery festering just under the surface of Obamania." Oh boy. And according to a story on the Huffington Post site, an official with the McCain campaign in Pennsylvania, in discussions with Pittsburgh television stations, pushed a version of the story that went beyond the facts that were known at the time. There's no indication that the national McCain campaign was involved in this. However, I can't help but think that if Todd's story had been proven true, someone would have tried to make political hay out of it. I also can't help but think that when a political culture is created in which people feel it's OK to scream "Terrorist!" "Muslim!" or "Off with his head!" at public events, you just might encourage a troubled person to think it's fine to make up an incendiary tale.