A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS
by Meg White
Last week, a troubled young woman handed the McCain campaign a Willie Horton-style race card, and the media helped them play it.
The attack of a 20-year-old college student was seized upon by the Drudge Report as a "mutilation," and other conservative Web sites as fodder against the surging Obama campaign. Ashley Todd filed a report with the Pittsburgh Police Department alleging a 6'4'' black man robbed her, then carved up her cheek and sexually assaulted her because he saw that she was a McCain supporter. It turns out the story was made up, and that Todd's black eye and the backwards B scratched into her cheek were most likely self-inflicted.
Something was missed in the reporting of the story, however. Though Todd was an employee of the College Republican National Committee (CRNC) -- as confirmed today to BuzzFlash by a representative there named Ethan Eioln -- nearly every report demoted her to the role of volunteer. In fact, she was hired by the CRNC and promised a contract wage of $3,600 from August until Election Day. After she was charged by police for filing a false report, her employment with the CRNC was terminated.
The CRNC separated from the Republican National Committee in 2001, becoming a Section 527 organization. But as recent experience with 527s shows, that doesn't mean that significant ties were cut. The Center for Public Integrity called it one of the most successful youth-oriented fundraisers in the country, noting the more than $10.6 million it raised in a span of two years. The CRNC is clearly a major player for the Republican National Committee, receiving $25,000 from the RNC in 2002. The Center for Public Integrity also notes that most of the money raised by the group is spent on direct mail efforts and paying field representatives such as Todd.
The insistence by Drudge and others that Todd was a volunteer seems to be a calculated move to distance Todd from both the CRNC and the McCain campaign. There is no proof of any collusion between Todd and the CRNC or the McCain/Palin ticket. But it is clear that the campaign saw it as an opportunity, and ran with it.
Several reporters complained about the McCain campaign pushing the story, with a Pennsylvania communications director for the campaign going as far as to fabricate details of the attack, presumably to make for a juicier news story. He told reporters the B on the young woman's cheek stood for "Barack" and that the attacker told the woman, "You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson."
The campaign later denied that the communications director made up the quotes, saying they came from police and were attributed incorrectly by sloppy reporters. But several members of the media defend their statements with their notes. One even reported that police could not corroborate the claims made by the campaign.
Columnist and Washington Post associate editor Eugene Robinson called the actions of the communications director "reprehensible," and added that they represent an "eagerness to incite a kind of racial backlash against the Obama campaign in a part of Pennsylvania where race can be a very raw and divisive issue to this day, and I don't think there's any other way you can look at it."
Lies aside, there was a concerted effort to get this story out into the public eye before it was revealed to be a hoax. NBC's Brian Williams seemed downright bitter when he reported, "The McCain campaign steered reporters' attention to the story."
Todd's actions alone show that she is clearly disturbed, and police say she has a history of mental illness. Both her Twitter account and MySpace page (captured here, note the "headline") show her as a person for whom lying is not a moral issue. The fact that an organization would hire someone to be their representative who has such issues is problematic.
Even more problematic, however, is the fact that the McCain campaign would twist and promote the story. On top of that, several journalists abandoned their integrity, playing along after Todd was exposed by downplaying her role to "volunteer," when she was actually a paid employee of the CRNC. The idea of Todd as an unstable volunteer minimizes the relationship between her and Republicans supporting McCain.
Either way, you can bet John Moody, executive vice president of FOX News, will do his best to cover what he wrote in his blog before Todd was revealed to have made the whole thing up:
"If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting."
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ANALYSIS