The "B" is for "Tawana Brawley"

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Yesterday was a banner day for distributed webby journalism. Conservatives, inspired by stories of fake donors like "Doodad Pro" and "Fhhdhh" giving money online to Obama, created their own fake names and tried to lay down some hope. They succeeded.

Erika Franzi, who described herself as conservative and preferring Senator John McCain over Mr. Obama, used the name "Della Ware" and entered an address of 12345 No Way in Far Far Away, DE 78954. Under employer, she listed: Americans Against Obama; for occupation, she typed in: Founder.

To her surprise, she said, her contribution went through in "fewer than three seconds." Then, in order to be fair, she repeated the experiment on Mr. McCain's Web site, entering the exact same information. Three times, she said, she received the message: "We have found errors in the information that you submitted. Please review the information below and try again."

The day's other development was, if anything, weirder. Pittsburgh McCain volunteer Ashley Todd, a 20-year old College Republican, reported that she'd been mugged at knifepoint by a "6'4'' 200 pound" black man who then used his knife to carve the letter "B" in her face. The story led Drudge even before it was confirmed by local news. But the story stunk. Michelle Malkin, author of Unhinged—a book all about how Democrats engage in violent, angry behavior—suspected a hoax.

She refused medical treatment after reporting the incident to police. Why on earth would she do that?

Look at her face. What's wrong with the "B?"  Maaaaybe the alleged robber straddled her upside-down while carving it into her face. Maybe. But I've got my doubts.

Like Malkin, I've watched fake hate crimes unfold. I covered the unravelling of one hoaxter on my old college campus. (Apparently, the culprit is now an actor.) But Todd was working in the age of Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, which gave hundreds of people across the web the tools to pull apart the story. Wonkette found her curiously chipper Twitter feed, and commenters found photos of a poster she'd made that bore handwriting that looked a lot like the scarlet (and not even skin-breaking) "B." Also:

Salon was able to find some of Todd's personal Web pages, which we're not linking to in order to protect her privacy. What appears to be her MySpace page, which gives her age as 23 rather than 20, is private. But the quote at the top of it is visible -- it reads, "Lying is the most fun a girl can have without taking her cloths [sic] off, but its [sic] better if you do."

This circumstancial evidence is mostly discouraging conservative bloggers who started off the evening accusing (however tongue-in-cheek) Obama of egging on the mysterious mugger. The real work is being done by local cops, who have heard multiple versions of the story from Todd (one where the mugger was outraged by her campaign button, one where he didn't get angry until he saw her bumper sticker) and are giving her a polygraph. Still, it was the speed of bloggers that cast doubt on the story before it could even lead cable news.

UPDATE: Todd admitted to a hoax.

Investigators did say that they received photos from the ATM machine and "the photographs were verified as not being the victim making the transaction."

This afternoon, a Pittsburgh police commander told KDKA Investigator Marty Griffin that Todd confessed to making up the story.

The charge of "race-baiting" is thrown around in a lot of situations where it really doesn't fit. But telling cops a black person attacked and mutilated you when, in fact, you are trying to concoct a story to defeat Barack Obama… well, there's a word for that, and it's not "enlightened." Even conspiracy theorist Andy McCarthy is eating crow on this.