THE ASHLEY TODD HOAX…. I wanted to follow up briefly on the earlier item on the Ashley Todd hoax, because the story, which started and ended with incredible speed and efficiency, offers a few angles that matter more in the broader context.

Jonathan Chait, for example, emphasizes a good point.

I don’t think the actions of one sick volunteer say anything at all about John McCain or his campaign. They do, however, tell us a lot about right-wing yellow journalists, from Drudge on down, who manipulated primitive racial-sexual fears for partisan gain.

Quite right. There’s been an ongoing “debate” (I use the word loosely) of late about Drudge’s influence, and the Todd fiasco is likely to do some lasting harm to his credibility and judgment. It’s about time.

There’s also this quote from John Moody, Fox News’ executive vice president, which we talked about earlier.

If the incident turns out to be a hoax, Senator McCain’s quest for the presidency is over, forever linked to race-baiting.

I rejected this out of hand earlier, because it struck me as unfair to tie the McCain campaign to a ridiculous stunt that McCain aides probably had nothing to do with. But upon further reflection, that might be letting McCain off the hook too easy.

I find it impossible to believe the campaign coordinated Todd’s hoax or knew about it in advance. But that’s not the end of the story. The McCain campaign did follow Drudge’s lead and pushed this story aggressively with reporters, hoping, in Chait’s words, to manipulate primitive racial-sexual fears for partisan gain.

And that’s really not O.K. As Josh Marshall noted, “There are many questions to be asked about who pushed this story yesterday afternoon and last night. A lot of explaining.” The end of the “story” shouldn’t be the end of the questions.

Finally, a friend of mine asked me this afternoon if I felt sorry for Ashley Todd. Honestly, and at the risk of sounding callous, I don’t know. Someone who felt compelled to lie to the nation and apparently carve her own skin in order to “help” the McCain campaign probably needs some help.

But this wasn’t just some spur of the moment accident or the result of a random bad decision — Todd deliberately perpetrated an elaborate hoax, exploited racial fears, and lied wildly in the hopes of helping change the outcome of a presidential election.

“Pity” isn’t the first reaction that comes to mind.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.