On the night of October 22, 2008, Ashley Todd, a McCain campaign worker from College Station, Texas volunteering in Pittsburgh, was reportedly mugged for her money and then attacked and mutilated for her political affiliations, with a large black man carving a "B" (for Barack) onto her face.
The attack provoked outrage and sympathy, with McCain and his running mate both offering their sympathy, and the Obama campaign calling for the perpetrator to be brought to justice. However, there were already questions about her story, relating to the fact that the "B" was carved on backwards and very lightly, and the fact that the camera at the ATM she said she was mugged at captured nothing. Within a few days, Todd admitted that she had made up the entire story, and was promptly charged with filing a false report. At the present time, she has been given probation and ordered into counselling.
What Ashley Todd was angling for, apparently, was an October Surprise of sorts. She was campaigning in Pennsylvania, which was McCain's last thin hope of swinging the electoral college his way. Ashley Todd must have thought that a sudden connection of Barack Obama with thuggery and street crime would lead to a sudden outpouring of support for McCain, but even before her story was exposed as a hoax, it didn't seem to have too much influence. After all, Obama couldn't be responsible for the actions of a criminal who claimed to support him.
Ashley Todd is apparently not the cleverest person ever, and she was also only 20 years old, so her work was hardly the work of a conniving mastermind, and there is no evidence that anyone else in the campaign was behind the hoax. However, it was still interesting to see what chord she was trying to strike, and how it did and did not work. Probably most people reading this have read or seen To Kill a Mockingbird, and so know that it was at one time very possible in America for a white woman to pin troubles on black men's "animal nature" with very little concern for factuality. Thankfully, many people were quite skeptical immediately about the attack, and some (myself included) were even perhaps wondering why someone would choose such an obvious cliche. That this myth no longer seems to hold mainstream acceptance is something we should all be thankful for. The second point, somewhat related to stereotypes of black men, was the inherent stereotype about urban America. Before reporting her crime, Todd used twitter to write that she was on the bad side of town. From what I have read, the neighborhood she was in was not particularly bad, and was actually quite popular and crowded with restaurants and street traffic, making the fact that she was attacked in public with no observers around even more unlikely. Although many of the stereotypes about urban areas are dying down, it would make sense that someone from College Station, Texas might take it for granted that it is totally believable that you could be immediately mugged and attacked for your race walking down a street in any given American city. After all, anyone who watches television knows that American urban areas are war zones where crimes happen constantly and no one notices. To me, the fact that many people disbelieved this portrait of urban America is even more heartening than the fact that they disbelieved the stereotypes of black men being violent.
In the end, the Ashley Todd incident and its fortunate conclusion are another example of one more myth being destroyed in the season of myth. Hopefully, Ashley Todd and America have learned something from this incident.