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The extraordinary story of Ashley Todd

About the author
Thomas Ash built openDemocracy's site, and now runs PhilosoFiles

A remarkable story has been unfolding (or should that be unraveling?) over the last few days in Pennsylvania. It is the story of Ashley Todd, a local McCain campaign volunteer who on Thursday claimed that she had been mugged by a looming African-American who then spotted her McCain bumper sticker and proceeded to beat her up and cut the letter 'B' into her cheek, telling her "you're going to be a Barack supporter". Here is a picture of her after the alleged attack:
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Todd's story soon crumbled as the police found she was nowhere to be seen on the CCTV camera covering the ATM where she claimed the mugging took place, and administered a damning polygraph test. On Friday, she confessed that the whole tale was a hoax, designed to damage Obama. This was not the first such hoax she had pulled: in the primary season, she had been a supporter of Ron Paul, and claimed that in retaliation for this her car's tires had been slashed. She seems to have a history of mental illness, and perhaps our judgement on her should not be too harsh.
The more interesting judgement to make is whether we should blame conservatives for jumping on this story as eagerly as they did. Both McCain and Palin called Todd with their sympathies before her lie was exposed, and their campaign pushed the story on the media, with its Pennsylvania communications director confidently relaying a dramatic version of the story to reporters complete with imagined dialogue from the black assailant ("You're with the McCain campaign? I'm going to teach you a lesson.") that he seems to have contributed. Prominent conservative blogger Ace of Spades initially claimed confidence in the story on the basis of Todd's extremely sketchy evidence.
This is all pretty embarassing for those concerned. But I don't think such gullibility is an exclusively right-wing problem. We shouldn't forget the scores of hoaxes that America's left has fallen for, including the recent Duke University lacrosse team rape scandal. The real lesson of Ashley Todd is to remind us of something both sides of the political spectrum really should have learnt a long time ago: there are plenty of disturbed people out there, some of them will make wild allegations, and when they do we should wait until getting some real evidence before believing them, however much they tickle our political fancies.


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