By Jose Antonio Vargas
Online, no one has control over presenting an event. If something smells fishy, all the bloggingheads are on deck.
Just ask McCain-Palin volunteer Ashley Todd.
Less than a day after Todd's story of being mugged by a dark-skinned man first hit the Web, the student from College Station, Tex., told police that she'd made it all up. At a news conference this afternoon, assistant police chief Maurita Bryant said the 20-year-old said she had prior mental health problems.
Too bad all of the desperate citizens of Wingnuttia can't get help for their mental problems.
But on Wednesday night, Todd claimed, she had been robbed at an ATM in Pittsburgh. After seeing a McCain bumper sticker on her car, she said, her assailant -- enraged -- had pinned her down and cut a backwards "B" onto her cheek. Todd, who is white, described the robber as a tall black man.
The Drudge Report picked up the story from a local television Web site and gave it a big headline Thursday afternoon. A photo of Todd's face soon surfaced. Gov. Sarah Palin gave her a call; the McCain campaign issued a statement, as did the Obama campaign.
Palin really is an idiot! Did it never occur to her to resist the urge to pick up that phone until the police gave this woman some credibility? Yep, she would listen to a drunk guy named "curve ball" and start a freaking war.
And, it seemed to many, a combustible moment rife with political, racial and class tension had arrived. "It had to happen," John Moody, a news executive at FOX, wrote on his blog Thursday night.
"If Ms. Todd's allegations are proven accurate, some voters may revisit their support for Senator Obama, not because they are racists (with due respect to Rep. John Murtha), but because they suddenly feel they do not know enough about the Democratic nominee," Moody wrote. "If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain's quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting."
No matter how this thing turned out, I hate to think that the election could be determined by one loon in Western Penn. I must say that I doubt seriously that the McCain campaign put Todd up to this. Palin is just an idiot that fell for it. Just another example of Palin's poor judgment and her not being ready for prime time, let alone the presidency.
But the moment Todd's tale -- and especially its accompanying photo -- went viral, the Web went into typical vetting mode. Is she for real? Where's her MySpace page? (Bloggers found it.) Her Facebook profile? (That, too.) How about her Twitter feed? (Yep.)
Conservative blogger Michelle Malkin was skeptical. One of her readers wrote Malkin: "Notice how the 'B' is backwards on the right cheek ... if you were looking in a mirror and put it on your own face ... she put it on her own face but forgot it would show up backwards." When Malkin posted her blog item at 6:43 p.m. Thursday, she wrote: "Why that McCain volunteer's 'mutilation' story smells awfully weird." Then she updated it later, after police reported inconsistencies in Todd's story. "Police to administer polygraph; conflicting evidence at scene," Malkin wrote.
The backwards "B" is why we never reported on the incident. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this one out.
Steve Huff at True Crime Report said he smelled "a rat" when he saw the photo. He started blogging about Todd on Thursday afternoon, minutes after reading about her on Drudge. By 1:06 a.m. Friday, he wrote: "Will Ashley Todd's Story Implode Tomorrow?"
"Before the Internet age, her story would have had traction for weeks. She could have spun this out for a while, even if the cops said they don't believe her," Huff told The Trail. "But on the Web people started investigating her right away. And it wasn't just bloggers on the left doing it. It's bloggers on the right, too."
This is Sooo true. Bloggers have made a tremendous difference in many ways, often forcing the ACM to report on issues they would rather not.
"But here's a fact -- Todd set up her own crash."
This is one in a series of online columns on our growing "clickocracy," in which we are one nation under Google, with e-mail and video for all. Please send suggestions, comments and tips to vargasj@washpost. com.
(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. I.U. has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is I.U endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)
The Nazis, Fascists and Communists were political parties before they became enemies of liberty and mass murderers.