Saturday, October 25, 2008

PITTSBURGH POLICE UNCOVER MCCAIN HOAXER

Pittsburgh Post Gazette - Almost from the start, Pittsburgh police were skeptical about a young woman's claim that she had been mugged and a "B" carved into her cheek by an attacker who was provoked by the sight of a John McCain bumper sticker on her car. Yesterday, their doubts were confirmed when 20-year-old Ashley Todd, a McCain volunteer from College Station, Texas, admitted that she made the whole thing up. There was no black man with a knife, no robbery, no physical assault. . .

First among the problems with her story was the fact that the "B" scratched on her face was backwards -- as it might be if she had done it herself using a mirror. "The backwards 'B' was the obvious thing to us when we first saw her. Something just didn't seem right," Assistant Chief Bryant said. "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."

Additionally, said Lt. Kevin Kraus, 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.". . .

Ms. Todd underwent five hours of questioning at police headquarters on the North Side Thursday night and submitted to a polygraph. Her story kept changing -- the attack happened before she got to the bank machine; 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 had sexually fondled her. . .

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

In March, Ms. Todd was asked to leave a grass-roots group of Ron Paul supporters in Brazos County, Texas, group leader Dustan Costine said. He said Ms. Todd 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," Mr. Costine said last night. "We had to remove her because of the tactics she displayed. After that we had nothing to do with her."

About a month earlier, he said, Ms. 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 Mr. Paul. "She's the type of person who wants to be recognized," Mr. Costine said. . .

"I don't know why she would do this," Mr. Garcia said yesterday, after learning that she had fabricated the story. "I would think that she needs help. . . Now Mr. Garcia says he is furious that Ms. Todd deceived him. He has cut off all contact with her, he said.

On her MySpace profile, where her screen name is "Italian Pajamas," Ms. Todd gives her occupation as "Being a badass." 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 off," but adds to it "but itsbetter if you do." Among the books she lists as favorites: "The Scarlet Letter."

TPM - John McCain's Pennsylvania communications director told reporters in the state 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 -- and even told reporters outright that the "B" carved into the victim's cheek stood for "Barack," according to multiple sources familiar with the discussions.

John Verrilli, the news director for KDKA in Pittsburgh, told TPM Election Central that McCain's Pennsylvania campaign communications director 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."

Verrilli also told TPM that the McCain spokesperson had claimed that the "B" stood for Barack. According to Verrilli, the spokesperson also told KDKA that Sarah Palin had called the victim of the alleged attack, who has since admitted the story was a hoax

The McCain spokesperson's claims -- which came in the midst of extraordinary and heated conversations late yesterday between the McCain campaign, local TV stations, and the Obama camp, as the early version of the story rocketed around the political world -- is significant because it reveals a McCain official pushing a version of the story that was far more explosive than the available or confirmed facts permitted at the time.

The claims to KDKA from the McCain campaign were included in an early story that ran late yesterday on KDKA's Web site. The paragraphs containing these assertions were quickly removed from the story after the Obama campaign privately complained that KDKA was letting the McCain campaign spin a racially-charged version of the story before the facts had been established, according to two sources familiar with the discussions. . .

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