Ashley Todd mugging hoax
In October 2008, Ashley Todd, a volunteer for the U.S. presidential campaign of Republican John McCain, falsely claimed to have been the victim of robbery and politically motivated physical assault by a supporter of McCain's Democratic opponent Barack Obama. The story broke less than two weeks before the 2008 United States presidential election on November 4. Todd later confessed to inventing the story after surveillance photos and a polygraph test were presented. She was charged with filing a false police report, and entered a probation program for first-time offenders.
Initial claim and political commentary
Todd had worked as a field representative for the College Republican National Committee since August 2008 and had come to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in mid-October to recruit college students. On October 22, 2008, Todd claimed that she was robbed at knifepoint by a "six-foot-four African American of medium build, dressed in dark clothes wearing shiny shoes" at a Citizens Bank ATM in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. She also alleged that after the robber saw a McCain bumper sticker on Todd's car, he assaulted her, cut a reversed letter B into her cheek, and told her "you are going to be a Barack supporter."
Todd's story received international attention, including prominent coverage on Drudge Report and Fox News. John Moody, executive vice president at Fox News, commented in a blog on the network's website that "this incident could become a watershed event in the 11 days before the election," but also warned that "[i]f the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain’s quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting."
According to journalism website Talking Points Memo, McCain's Pennsylvania campaign communications director told reporters about several aspects of the story before the facts were known or established. John Verrilli, news director for Pittsburgh television station KDKA-TV, told TPM that the McCain spokesman "gave one of (Verrilli's) 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 said that the spokesperson had claimed the "B" on Todd's face stood for "Barack". On October 24, a McCain spokesman denied that those quotes had come from the campaign, claiming that "they came from the police and were attributed to the McCain camp because of sloppy reporting." Keith Olbermann noted that same night, "... that doesn't explain why two television stations both quoted the McCain campaign ... KDKA Pittsburgh specifically followed the McCain quotes with ... 'Police, however, have not confirmed that.' ... the reporter from the other station, WPXI ... says he got those quotes first, 4:08 p.m. yesterday from McCain's Pennsylvania communications director."
Hoax exposure and aftermath
On October 24, Todd confessed to inventing the story after police reviewed surveillance camera photos and administered a polygraph test. She now said that she had seen the backwards 'B' on her face while driving, and though she did not remember how she got it, assumed that she herself had done it because she had had previous episodes of memory loss. According to police, Todd provided no explanation of why she provided them the story about the mugging instead.
Todd was charged with filing a false police report, a misdemeanor charge with a maximum jail sentence of two years. While jailed, Todd underwent a court-ordered psychiatric examination and was deemed to be competent to stand trial, but in need of further counseling. On October 30, she agreed to a deal in which she was released from jail, but must undergo psychiatric counseling as condition of her release. Upon her formal arraignment in January, Todd would enter a probation program for first-time offenders, after which her record would be expunged if there had been no further offenses. Continued mental health counseling would also be a condition of the probation period. The deal did not require Todd to enter a plea.
Prior claim by Todd
According to an October 25, 2008 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in February 2008, Todd had claimed that her car's tires had been slashed and campaign material had been stolen from her car because of her support for Republican politician Ron Paul, an opponent of McCain for the Republican presidential nomination. Group leader Dustan Costine told the Post-Gazette that Todd was asked to leave the local Ron Paul grassroots group a month later, after she posed as a Mike Huckabee supporter and called the local Republican committee seeking information about its campaign strategies.
- "John McCain volunteer admits mugging story is lie". Boston Herald (PITTSBURGH). October 25, 2008. Retrieved 12 May 2011.
- "McCain Campaign Volunteer Admits Alleged Attack Was a Hoax". Fox News. 2008-10-24. Retrieved 2008-10-26.
- Fuoco, Michael A. (2008-10-25). "McCain volunteer admits to hoax". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 2008-10-31.
- "Mugger Attacked Campaign Volunteer In Pittsburgh". KDKA Online. Retrieved 2008-10-23.[dead link]
- Strange, Hannah (2008-10-25). "Republican volunteer charged over false claim of mutilation by Obama supporter". Times Online (London). Retrieved 2008-10-25.
- "Opinion". Fox News.
- "McCain Campaign Pushed Now-Discredited Attack Story". TPM. 2008-10-24.
- "'Countdown with Keith Olbermann' for Friday October 24, 2008". Countdown with Keith Olbermann. 2008-10-24. MSNBC.
- "Police: Campaign Worker Admits Making Up Story". KDKA Online. Retrieved 2008-10-23.[dead link]
- "McCain worker reaches deal in hoax assault". MSNBC. 2008-10-30.
- "McCain Volunteer Who Claimed False Attack to Enter Probation Program". Fox News. 2008-10-30.
- Kerlik, Bobby (2008-10-30). "Ashley Todd released from jail". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved 2008-11-02.