Friday, October 24, 2008

More Race-Baiting From the GOP?

On the way home from work yesterday I tuned into Sean Hannity on FM 104.7 (mostly because I wasn't interested in the topic on Fresh Air). I remembered that he was going to be in Pittsburgh to cover the most important "battleground state", as identified by the McCain/Palin campaign. Around 3:45PM he interrupted his usual blather with breaking news from Matt Drudge- " MCCAIN VOLUNTEER 'ATTACKED AND MUTILATED' IN PITTSBURGH". Hannity promised to try to get further details. He couldn't believe his luck. After all, he was in town and all-the-way live! More information trickled in, and the blowhard pundit delivered the tale of how a young woman (from Texas) named Ashley Todd (who works at a McCain call center) was mugged at an ATM, and had the letter "B" carved into her face by the hateful perpetrator.

Supposedly the 6'4" black man, who used a knife at her throat to take $60, was walking away when he saw "McCain for President" stickers on her car. He came back and said he was going to "teach (her) a lesson!". Then he mutilated her. It sounds absolutely horrid. And of course the Far Right echo chamber was sent into a frenzy of melodrama and race-baiting. Obama hasn't even lost yet and already black people are rioting! What is society going to be like under an authoritarian, with his jack-booted thugs beating and mutilating dissenters? One blog I visited even compared the incident to what the Nazis did to the Jews. And then the picture was released of the victim. My bullshit meter started to vacillate wildly.

I decided I'd hit some of the blogs and join the dialog. I chipped in with this response: "Call me a cynic… but if I’m going to rob a woman at knife-point in front of an ATM on the busiest street in Bloomfield (which happens to be the almost-entirely-white Little Italy section of town), I’m not going to stick around afterwards to see what bumper stickers she has on her car, and then double-back to carefully scratch (it was certainly not “carved” as some would have it) a very neat backwards (or upside-down) “B” into her cheek (therefore making a political statement), and tell her I’m “teaching her a lesson”. Especially if I know that Sean Hannity just happens to be in town the next day."

As the hours passed more information became available that cast serious doubt on her story. The independent media began to ask questions. We started learning about some contextual information about Ashley Todd. Her profile quote on her MySpace page (now removed, but cached before she had the chance) was especially telling, grammatical errors and all- "Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her cloths off, but its better if you do." Then we found out that Ashley had a twitter page (also removed but cached), and it sure seemed like she was laying the foundations for the story ahead of time. Apparently she had a blackberry (not stolen) in her car (not stolen)... and she thought everyone should know ahead of time that she was looking for an ATM and that she was "pretty sure she (was) on the wrong side of town" (only an outsider could think Bloomfield meets that qualification).

The Pittsburgh Police are evidently suspicious of Todd's account of the "incident". The Pittsburgh Tribune Review is reporting this morning that "her statements about the attack conflict with evidence from the Citizens Bank ATM where she claims the incident occurred". Considering that this is the Richard Scaife-owned conservative rag that originally presented the story in town, this is a substantial development. While any allegations of supposed "hate-crimes" must be taken seriously, investigations by the proper authorities must precede judgment. I'm really not concerned about how this might affect the election (I don't think it will either way), but I am very protective of my hometown. This entire incident could give a "black eye" to a region that has already become a focal point in the last days before the election... and I resent that.

UPDATE: Apparently local talk radio host Marty Griffin (KDKA 1020) isn't buying it either. He's reporting that Ms. Todd called the McCain campaign office before reporting this incident to the police.

UPDATE: Ashley Todd has changed her story. She's now claiming that she was sexually assaulted as well.

UPDATE: Ashley Todd has confessed to making up the whole thing. Police are trying to figure out what charges she will face (Thanks to Ian for the heads-up).

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Blogger SJR said...

Excellent write up. I can only imagine how badly Hannity was frothing at the mouth over this. The fact that she called the McCain campaign office before the police speaks volumes.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous John Morris said...

Well, I gotta give you this one. The chances of this being true are very slim indeed.

Dear Ashley-- next time do better research on which areas really are one the wrong side of the tracks. Also, an ATM has a security camera.

Haven't had the time to follow up and read the details on this.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and the obvious: why the backward "b"? - she scratched it on her own face while looking in the mirror.

11:14 AM  
Blogger NAVAL LANGA said...

To Mr. Merge Divide

You are heartily welcome to my blogs. I am an Indian and write short stories. If you are interested in reading Indian short stories, do visit my blogs.

The US Election has generated huge interest among the Indian people, too. And yes, you have rightly observed that the election news should be read with a filter, as they can play a hoax.

I have gone though some of your posts. I would like to read you more.

Naval Langa

11:32 AM  

I also have this story posted on my blog. If it turns out to be untrue I will post that as an update. I do believe the truth will be available soon. I see similarities here with the Duke University lacrosse rape allegation. The alleged victim's story changes, but her supporters keep supporting her to the end, despite evidence that shows her story is likely false. Race is not an indicator of honesty, as we have seen more than once. --

12:07 PM  
Blogger goffchile said...

I'm from Pittsburgh as well and and this incident occurred one block from where I used to live. I use that ATM regularly.

Aside from the contradictory statements and the odd choice of carving a backward B (like looking in a mirror?) into a person's face--a few things I find fishy.

That intersection is extremely busy--there is an active Catholic Church on one corner, a popular restaurant/bar on another corner, an excellent Thai restaurant on the other corner and the bank. In both directions their are a number of busy coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores. There is a ton of foot traffic in the evening. The neighborhood is working class and heavily Italian, and Pearl Street is densely residential. I honestly don't see how it is possible that an African American male could mug someone, chase them down, beat them up, sit on them and carve a perfect, yet backwards B, on someone's face at 9pm without a sole noticing.

She may have been mugged, but the rest of the story...doesn't add up. But of course, I don't expect the national media to investigate such things when sensationalism is so much more fun

1:10 PM  
Blogger ian said...

May I be the first to post a reference to Ashley Todd's confession?

Now what? Take it all back?

1:55 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Polly said...

You covered this really well. I'd like to add that scratching or cutting themselves seems to be part of the culture of young American women now; anyone who's lived in a dorm in the past twenty years is likely to know at least one girl who did it. I knew several. So the horrible inevitably six foot four inevitably black mugger used a remarkably girly technique on this poor creature.

From the first, this story has smelled to High Heaven.

2:09 PM  
Anonymous sabrebutt said...

What an idiot. I hope this woman is charged to the full extent of the law for making a false report. Thanks for your excellent coverage!

2:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for tipping me off to your column. John Hamilton

2:49 PM  
Blogger Jetpacks said...

I want to hear Hannity eating shit today, but I'm at work. I believe he goes on the air in five minutes. My guess is he won't touch it. Stick to his talking points, the ones fed him by Rove and Gingrich.

3:03 PM  

You were right on this one...

I've corrected the story on my blog,

HOAX & UNTRUE: McCain Worker Attack Was A Lie!

I will say that the backwards "B" had me a bit suspicious. If you used a mirror to do it, the B would probably end up backwards! I don't have time today to research the latest news on this, but I will post an update over the weekend. It appears this woman will be charged for filing a false report. I will post an update when all the details become available. —

3:49 PM  
Blogger Hamster said...

The Conservatives were all set to make Ashley Todd the next big "Ashley the Victim". Along with “Joe the Plumber” they would take her on the campaign stump so she could tell sympatric throngs how she was assaulted and robbed by a black Obama supporter…and that a vote for Obama was a “vote for my attacker”
As soon as they heard about the incident , McCain and Palin rushed to make personal calls consoling the “victim” and promising her full support.
Right wing bloggers were getting set with headlines that would scream : BLACK OBAMA SUPPORTER RAPES WHITE MCCAIN SUPPORTER
The McCain campaign was going to have a field day. The argument would go something like this: Obama’s campaign has encouraged their supporters to “get in the faces” of anyone supporting McCain. This led to black criminal elements in the Obama campaign taking things too far. Obama needs to rein in his people before someone gets killed. He’s running a Mafia like campaign to intimidate white voters.
Bloggers were complaining online that the Sarah Todd assault story wasn’t getting enough play in the liberal media.
Then, 48 hours after the “assault” whole incident came crashing down in a heap
"Ashley the Victim" became “Ashley the Liar” when she admitted to police that she had made the entire story: No black man, No knife , No knocking her in the back of the head., No “feeling up her shirt”, No "B" for Barrack carved into her face, No $60 dollars , No McCain bumper sticker...”Nothing, Nada, Zippo”
Now all the McCain camp has left is a stinking pile of embarrassing manure
But because they made such a big stink about the incident in the first place Everyone is talking about Ashley Todd….The McCain campaign worker who lied.
So here’s my question: “Is there so much hatred and loathing of Obama among McCain supporters that they have to resort to concocting “Willy Horton” type stories complete with fake assaults, robbery and facial disfiguring to frighten white voters to cast their vote against a black man.
The woman could very easily have said she was attacked and robbed by an Obama supporter. Why throw a 6’ 4” 200 lb knife wielding black man into the mix. Does it add to the drama. Does it play to every white woman’s fears of dark alleys with strange black men?
We are all relieved that this incident never happened. It would have been one more divisive wedge in a country where race and bigotry are still alive. Fortunately for us all, at least one McCain’s campaign worker can’t carve the letter “B” correctly.

7:27 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

I'd like to thank all of you that posted on this thread today. I'm especially proud that I have a readership that avoided the nasty sort of rhetoric that I've seen around the Net over the last 36 hours.

Thanks again.

9:49 PM  
Blogger meldonna said...

Great post -- and thanks for bringing the hometown perspective to this episode. I think it's likely this young woman needs some serious medical help; the reaction by some members of the media, however, has been reprehensible. Just another distraction from the actual issues.

11:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said... was on the news and Hannity was just reporting the news. Who knows why this women did what she did ?

3:37 AM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...

Hannity wasn't just "reporting the news". He was parroting an unsubstantiated tale that Drudge was peddling with a large headline at the top of his site. That headline read:

Do you know the difference between "news" and agitprop?

10:42 AM  
Blogger ian said...

I'm very tired for having tried to follow this story and its web manifestations. This was an ideal opportunity to witness and appraise the real-time base reactions to a painfully divisive story, and I spent much of yesterday peering into blogs and news sources and their comment threads. I found it nearly impossible (or requiring greater discipline and patience than my own) to genuinely measure the reactions. The following are some of my humble observations:

* Leading up to Todd's confession, there were many right-wing (RW) posts urging calm until the police release more information. These posts were outnumbered at least 20 to 1 by posters certain of her veracity, and were consistently and viciously attacked by posters for doubting it. Those attacks usually became personal.

* Leading up to the confession, the numbers of RW posts far exceeded the numbers of LW posts when comparing "similar" websites. LW posts generally expressed shock or were skeptical of Todd's claims. RW posts were generally furious, describing fear of more violence in coming weeks, and blaming Obama's "get in their faces" remarks for the "attack." The most common post on any site had something to say about the backwards B.

* Many RW posters were pointing out that the major "liberal" news sources were ignoring the incident, and speculating that had the story been reversed, they would have been "all over it." Some who were hesitant to accept Todd's claim predicted that the major media will be covering this if it turns out to be a hoax, and covering it up if genuine.

* Frequent news searches early on Friday produced no results from sources like the New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, CBS News, etc., while there were many hits from smaller sources, right-wing sources, and a number of international sites. The AP covered the story throughout the day and with regular updates. By Friday afternoon, after the confession, all the major sources had a version of the story posted.

* After news of the confession was released, the RW comments came almost to a complete halt. The types of remarks that persisted were expressions of deep anger with Todd, calls for her prosecution, and ugly personal insults. There were many claims that this type of hoax is ten times more prevalent on the left. And an interesting note: a search of "Ashley Todd" on Rush Limbaugh's website produced absolutely nothing at 11pm on 10/24, ten hours after publication of the confession. Fox News carried the story last night, but oddly I couldn't access the many pages of comments. Today, 10/25 at 2:30pm, the same search on produces nothing - zero hits. The story is erased from their history.

What is important to retain from this exercise is the widespread degree of very strong anger that the false accusation provoked, as was seen most vividly in the Drudge Report and reiterated in the RW comment threads. I suspect that anger will neither subside nor be redirected by news of the hoax, but will blend into the larger angry picture that RW Americans feel toward Obama/Liberals/Democrats/etc. I will also retain memory of the difficulty I had in assembling an even-handed assessment of public comment because of my own preconceptions and fascinations.

2:56 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Thanks for the recap and follow-up. No doubt the Far Right will quickly forget this ever happened.

7:49 PM  
Blogger Danielk said...

It's been a couple of days for the right - Ashley Todd turns out to be a fake, then Friday night a judge threw out the request to rule on Obama's citizenship, pointing out that there was ample evidence that Obama is an American Citizen.

So there's only two more weeks to go... what do you think they'll throw back in first: Obama is the Anti Christ, or Obama is Rev. Wright?

8:16 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


If I had to guess, I'd say that they are going to ride out the "Obama is a socialist" message for the remainder of the campaign.

1:57 AM  

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