Tuesday, Mar. 16, 2010

B Is for Beyond Belief

The 2008 U.S. election campaign played host to plenty of bizarre stories (Jeremiah Wright! Sarah Palin! Saturday Night Live returning to relevancy!) but none surely as surreal as the claim by 20-year-old Ashley Todd that she had been assaulted at knifepoint for being a John McCain supporter. Todd, who later admitted to a history of mental illness, told police on Oct. 22, 2008, that her assailant had carved a backward letter B into her right cheek, telling her, "You are going to be a Barack supporter."

Two days later, Todd confessed to concocting the entire story after police watched surveillance-camera material and conducted a polygraph test. Todd, who had a history of memory loss, said that she had administered the mark herself, although she couldn't remember doing so. Authorities were right to be skeptical. The backwards letter was reminiscent of an earlier incident, when talk-show host Morton Downey Jr. claimed to been assaulted by neo-Nazis in a San Francisco airport restroom; the swastika the attackers allegedly painted on his forehead was backwards and bore strong signs of having been self-inflicted with the help of a mirror. Both campaigns released statements about the "attack"; Todd, charged with filing a false police report, struck a deal in which she avoided prison but was required to undergo psychiatric counseling.