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September 29th, 2009

Apology From ABC In 3…2…1…Never…

The other day, while Judy Shepard, the mother of murdered gay college student Matthew Shepard, was giving a talk about hate crimes, a man rose from the audience to call her a liar

About 45 minutes in, a man rose and asked a question that amounted to repeating a current popular right-wing lie – Matthew Shepard was killed because his killers were high and wanted to rob him; his sexual orientation was irrelevant. Mrs. Shepard refuted the claim – pointing out that in one of the killer’s confessions, he admitted they acted because of Shepard’s sexual orientation; the other, in his statement in court, admitted the same. Neither men tested positive for drugs or alcohol after Matthew’s murder. The interlocutor asserted at this point that she was lying and doing a disservice to history by lying about the reasons for her son’s murder. To my eyes, Judy Shepard appeared visibly upset by the man’s accusations. He claimed to be relying on a report from 20/20…

Ah yes…the 20/20 whitewash.  That gift to America’s bigots that keeps on giving…

“The Matthew Shepard Story: Secrets of a Murder,” which aired Nov. 26, promised shocking new information about the case. But it contained mostly speculation, scandalous details, unreliable new witnesses and revised confessions. The premise of the report by Elizabeth Vargas was that McKinney attacked Shepard during a robbery under the influence of crystal meth and that the murder had nothing to do with the victim’s sexuality…

Vargas went out of her way to show that McKinney and Henderson did not hate gay people. She questioned previous reports that characterized them as “rednecks” (her word), and tells viewers that in fact they had steady jobs and girlfriends. Vargas reported that Shepard’s friends promoted the hate crime theory in the days following the attack…

Emphasis mine.  I’ve written about the hacktacular 20/20 piece before.  But it is best summed up by Rob DeBree, the lead investigator on the case…

In his confession to DeBree, McKinney had denied using meth the day of the murder, and while McKinney had been arrested too late for the police to confirm this through blood testing, DeBree felt certain that McKinney had for once told the truth.  Obviously it’s unsurprising that the lead investigator would disagree with the defense, but DeBree had some compelling reasons on his side.  "There’s no way" it was a meth crime, DeBree argued, still passionate about the issue when I met him nearly six months after the trial had ended.  No evidence of recent drug use was "found in a search of their residences.  There was no evidence in the truck.  From everything we were able to investigate, the last time they would have done meth would have been two to three weeks previous to that night.  What the defense attempted to do was a bluff."  Meth crimes do have hallmarks.  One, "Overkill," certainly seems to describe what happened to Matt, but no others so seamlessly fit that night: "A meth crime is going to be a quick attack," DeBree pointed out.  "It’s going to be a manic attack…  No.  This was a sustained event.  And somebody that’s high on meth is not going to be targeting and zeroing in on a head, and deliver the blows that they did in the way that they did," with such precision.  "Consistently it was targeted, and even if you’re drunk, you’re going to have a tough time trying to keep your target.  No.  There’s absolutely no involvement with drugs."

Beth Loffreda,  Loosing Matt Shepard.  pg 133 – 134

A week after we met in his office, Rob [DeBree] took me to the crime scene.  As we drove out to the fence in a Sheriff’s Office SUV, he stopped in mid-sentence by the Wal-Mart"  "Here’s where it began," he told me and gestured in imitation of McKinney striking Matt.  We restart the conversation, but he’s made his point: the drive to the fence seems unimaginably long.  It’s not far – no more then a mile or two – but the rutted dirt road they turned on to makes for extremely slow driving.  When I say something to Rob about how long it takes, he agrees.  "They were coming here to finish him."  On that dirt track, it is hard to believe the defense attorney’s claims that the two killers had been drunk or high on drugs or crazed by homosexual panic.  It just takes too long to get to the fence…

Beth Loffreda,  Loosing Matt Shepard.  pg 155 – 156

"I have never worked a homicide with this much evidence," Rob says, all these months later a bit of wonder still bleeding into his voice.  "It was like a case of God giving it to us.  I’m not kidding.  The whole way it broke down from the beginning to the end – it was like, here it is, boys: work it.  It’s almost like it pissed off God, and he says, oh well, come here, let me walk you over here, walk you over there, pick up all this, pick up all that.  It was just a gift.

Beth Loffreda,  Loosing Matt Shepard.  pg 157

I drove that same path when I was in Laramie, to the extent I was able to before coming upon all the "private property signs", and that same impression swept over me like a cold clammy sickness.  You simply cannot drive the path that Shepard’s killers took and come away from it believing that it was simply a robbery gone bad.  Unless of course, that is what you need to believe. 

Considering the sorry state of American journalism, to say the 20/20 piece represented a new low is almost complementary.  But historically it is unremarkable.  Since the 1950s, mainstream American journalism has always excused anti-gay violence, usually by blaming the victim.  ABC didn’t so much sink to a new low, as pound some well worn territory.  There is no violent anti-gay hatred in America, only homosexuals who go too far and suffer the consequences.  That is what the news media in this country believes, if not on the beat, then without a doubt in the boardroom.

But now the creators of The Laramie Project have returned to their work to write an epilogue.  And in the process they’ve interviewed one of the killers, Aaron McKinney…

"As far as Matt is concerned, I don’t have any remorse," McKinney is quoted as saying in the script, which was provided to The Associated Press by the production company.

McKinney, according to the script, reiterates his claim that the 1998 killing in Laramie, Wyo., started out as a robbery, but makes clear that his antipathy toward gays played a role.

"The night I did it, I did have hatred for homosexuals," McKinney is quoted as saying. He goes on, according to the script, to say that he still dislikes gays and that his perceptions about Shepard’s sex life bolstered his belief that the killing was justified.

Emphasis mine.  But wait…there’s More

According to the script, McKinney expresses empathy with Shepard’s parents over the loss of their son, though he adds about Judy Shepard: "Still, she never shuts up about it, and it’s been like 10 years."

Gaze for a moment, if you have the nerve, into that utterly empty heart and then contemplate this fact: mainstream American news publishers, editors, owners, that rarefied media club of old boy straight male testosterone, still believes, 40 years after Stonewall, decades into the gay community’s struggle for equality here in America, that gay kids like Matthew Shepard are less a normal part of American society then this cold blooded killer is.  The killer they can understand.  They don’t approve of what he did that night, but they understand him.  The gay kid they simply cannot.  He was flaunting it.  He was coming on to someone who was disgusted by homosexuals.  He should have known better.  He brought it on himself.  In the end, when all the other excuses have withered away…it was a robbery gone bad…it was drugs…that knee-jerk understanding of McKinney’s disgust at homosexuals, that if Shepard hadn’t come onto him he would still be alive today, will remain, unmovable.

The media establishment does not regard homophobia as a problem because in the boardrooms, among the CEOs, media owners and big dollar producers, disgust is a normal reaction to homosexuality.  See it here, in this article on 10 Sexual Controversies That Changed TV… 

With everything from the new Melrose Place to trashy Twilight knockoffs, the new Fall TV season promises steamy viewing. Hemlines may rise and morals may fall, but TV writers would do well to remember that presenting sex on network TV has always been a tricky business. Though we’ve come a long way since Ricky Ricardo knocked up Lucy, only to discover that the network censors wouldn’t let him say the word “pregnant,” it’s amazing how sensitive the suits still are to sex. Here are ten TV shows in which the sex lives of their characters dramatically changed the entire series, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse.

Yet in one instance after another that the authors cite, it’s homosexuality that causes an uproar, not so much among the viewing audience, as in the boardroom.  Are you old enough to remember watching all of these TV shows and wonder why the gay characters never had lovers and somehow always ended up dating women…?

In the end, the network had it both ways, collecting their big ratings when everyone tuned in at the start to see what the fuss was about, then ordering that the creators downplay the sexy stuff and reshape the central storyline into a murder mystery. The worst damage was done to Crystal’s character, who attempted suicide in the hospital after being dumped by his boyfriend on the eve of his gender-reassignment surgery. He survived, but while the character continued to identify as gay, he never hooked up with another guy in the course of the series; instead, he had a quick fling with a woman, got her pregnant, and spent much of his remaining time on the show fighting for custody of his daughter…

…religious groups, rather than being impressed with Sidney’s anti-abortion bona fides, made such a stink about the idea of a gay man on TV that NBC delayed airing the pilot for a year, then insisted that Sidney be gelded. Apparently Sidney was so crushed by the death of his one male lover (whose photo on the mantelpiece watched over the action like a baleful ghost) that he could never date again. When, towards the end of the second season, he dipped one toe back into the dating pool, it was with a woman, as if he’d been on the shelf so long that he’d forgotten his orientation…

…Early ratings were shaky, and the CBS brass decided that it must have something to do with viewers being put off by threatening lesbian vibes. Though both characters were supposed to be straight, it was felt that when the two dark-haired, hard-edged actresses were seen in close proximity to each other, they looked like, in the words of an unidentified CBS executive, “a couple of dykes.” It was decided that the best way to solve the problem was to fire Foster and replace herwith the blonde Sharon Gless, who, according to some mysterious executive calculation, was judged more Malibu Beach than Isle of Lesbos…

…Coming at the end of an episode, the kiss was tantamount to a cliffhanger; it all but guaranteed that slack-jawed viewers would tune in next week. Those who did got to see Donohoe deliver a back-pedaling speech about how she liked both men and women equally and would be happy just to be friends if that’s what her new friend preferred, while Greene “considered” exploring a new side of herself before deciding that, nope, she wouldn’t be going there…

The show had a resident good-looking gay guy — Matt Fielding, played by Doug Savant — who, in contrast to the juicy goings-on by the hormonally deranged straight people all around him, seemed almost pathologically stable. When Matt was permitted to enjoy an on-screen kiss with a man, the network edited it out of the program before allowing the episode to be broadcast, though they had no problem with having him gay-bashed on camera, twice

…As the show neared its seventh season, there was a persistent and widespread rumor that the youngest Connor child, D.J., was going to announce he was gay. It never happened — the big surprise of the season premiere turned out to be that Roseanne herself was pregnant again…

In 2005 the Hollywood establishment fled from Brokeback Mountain into the comforting arms of Crash, a self-serving story about racism in Los Angles, so John Wayne wouldn’t be rolling in his grave.  Next year saw a remake of 3:10 to Yuma, with an added psychotic homosexual killer subtext that wasn’t in the original.  Of course the psychotic homosexual killer is himself killed in the film’s climax, to avenge the heterosexuality of the hero.  So the establishment returns again and again to its comfort food:  Homophobia isn’t a problem, homosexuality is.  Disgust toward homosexuals is both natural and normal.  It is only when homosexuals flaunt it that things get violent and that is simply to be expected.

20/20 didn’t do a story about why Matthew Shepard was murdered, it did a story about why anti-gay hate coudn;t possibly have had anything to do with it.  And if you think this latest confession from his killer changes that you aren’t paying attention.  McKinney’s disgust and acid loathing are understood and shared throughout the media establishment, and so they see nothing out of the ordinary.  It merely confirms for them that essential truth that it was Shepard’s being open about his homosexuality that got him killed.  If you are a homosexual and you are open about it then you bring it on yourself.  You should have known better.  In the old media boardrooms that’s not considered hate, but merely a fact of life.

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