Time for Answers

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It is time for the McCain campaign to come clean about what role any of its staffers may have had in hyping or pushing the press to hype the charges stemming from Ashley Todd’s vicious and reprehensible hoax.

As Greg Sargent reported yesterday, McCain Pennsylvania communications director Peter Feldman pushed reporters on a highly incendiary version of Todd’s hoax — providing reporters with quotes from the fictitious attacker and telling them the the “B” scratched on Todd’s face stood for “Barack.” As the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson aptly put it, Feldman’s actions showed “not just a willingness to believe it but an eagerness to incite a … racial backlash against the Obama campaign.”

Our reporting did not find any direct evidence that the McCain campaign’s national headquarters played a role pushing the story.

However, the national campaign has now come forward and lied about what happened in Pennsylvania. McCain campaign spokesman Brian Rogers has now told NBC that alleged quotes from the McCain campaign in early reports of the story were actually the product of “sloppy reporting” and that they were actually quotes from the Pittsburgh police.

This is simply not credible.

Initial reports specifically quote the McCain campaign. And at least two sources involved in the contemporaneous reporting have come forward and said on the record that the quotes came directly from the McCain campaign. To believe that two separate local news organizations made the identical mistake with the same quotes and are now both covering it up is simply not credible. But that is what Rogers is now claiming.

The McCain campaign’s after-the-fact lie about its role in this hoax makes it essential that it provide a complete and honest account of both the local and national campaign’s role. As I said above, we did not find direct evidence of the national McCain campaign pushing this story. But Gov. Palin did call Todd after the purported attack, as did Sen. McCain. And news of these calls was provided to the press.

The involvement of the candidates and specifically the release of such information — which was clearly intended to bump up interest in the story — shows some level of involvement by the national campaign.

Perhaps it is simply that the national campaign heard a staffer had been mugged and had the principals call the purported victim. One might further speculate that it was only the Pennsylvania communications director who heard about the calls and took it upon himself to push these out to the media.

Possible, but certainly a generous interpretation. And now that we see the national McCain campaign making false statements about what happened, its credibility on the whole story is simply too damaged to allow such a benefit of the doubt.

Reporters who the McCain camp cannot stonewall need to push for a clear accounting of what happened — starting by coming clean on Feldman’s role. If this were simply some other minor campaign mystery, the sort that is routinely tossed off late in a hard-fought campaign, it might not matter. But the awfulness of what was attempted here makes nothing less than a full accounting necessary.

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