The 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard is considered one of the nation's most notorious hate crimes.
Yet when a new book comes out by a gay author contending that Shepard was not killed because of his sexual orientation, America's media appear disinterested in reporting the new revelations.
Approaching the 11-year anniversary of the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard, on Tuesday’s CBS Early Show co-host Maggie Rodriguez spoke with his mother Judy Shepard and asked about her efforts to pass hate crimes legislation: "Do you think this is finally the administration and the Congress that will get it done?"
Shepard, who was on to discuss her new book about her son, was hopeful that it would pass, especially after some legislative manipulation: "Well, I hope so. We know that this President will sign it if the bill comes to his desk, with his other requirements, because it’s attached to a Department of Defense bill, so that makes it a little trickier now. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed."
When Rodriguez initially asked about her activism, Shepard praised the role of the media in pushing the gay rights agenda: "What Matt’s story did was cause a lot of unintended education, if you will, through the press. People were made aware of what was going on in the gay community and it started a national dialogue...The gay community was part of every public discussion, where it used to be, you know, something you didn’t talk about, in the closet, if you will."
On Wednesday’s Countdown show, which aired at 9:00 p.m. after President Obama's news conference, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann viciously slammed Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx for claiming that murder victim Matthew Shepard – whom the current hate crimes bill is named after – was targeted out of a desire to commit robbery rather than because of anti-gay sentiment by his attacker, contradicting the conventional wisdom that the grisly murder was a hate crime. The MSNBC host was so outraged at the North Carolina congresswoman that he named her as the night’s "Worst Person in the World" and showed particular venom toward her, even suggesting she should resign. Olbermann: "She is at best callous, insensitive, criminally misinformed. At worst she is a bald-faced liar. And if there is a spark of a human being in there somewhere, she should either immediately retract and apologize for her stupid and hurtful words or she should resign her seat in the House."
On the 11:00 p.m. special edition of Hardball, Chris Matthews and guests Joan Walsh of Salon and MSNBC political analyst Michelle Bernard also lambasted Foxx for her claim, with Walsh contending that she was either "lying" or "ignorant," and Matthews calling Foxx’s words "rough stuff." Walsh: "She's a hoax, Chris. She disgraced herself today. That was inaccurate. And what I really don't know is whether she’s lying – she knows the facts and she’s lying – or whether she’s so ignorant and arrogant that she didn’t need to delve into the facts."
But, on the November 26, 2004, 20/20, ABC host Elizabeth Vargas ran a report in which a number of figures tied to the case, including the prosecutor, were interviewed, and made a credible case that Shepard was targeted by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson not because of anti-gay sentiment, but because McKinney was high on methamphetamines, giving him unusual violent tendencies as well as a desire for cash to buy more drugs. Vargas not only found that a meth high can lead to the kind of extreme violence perpetrated against Shepard, but that McKinney had gone on to similarly attack another man, causing a skull fracture, very soon after his attack on Shepard. Additionally, McKinney’s girlfriend and another friend of McKinney’s even claimed that McKinney himself has bisexual tendencies, although McKinney himself denied it.
Vargas appeared on the November 19, 2004, The O’Reilly Factor on FNC and summarized her findings:
While commemorating the tenth anniversary of the beating death of gay college student Matthew Shepard, on Monday’s CBS Early Show, co-host Maggie Rodriguez wondered: "Since then, there's been outcry for tougher laws, but how much progress has been made?" Correspondent Thalia Assuras then reported: "The Human Rights Campaign here in Washington D.C. is the largest gay rights advocacy group in the country...Campaign president Joe Solomnese says more must be done to change attitudes...And more must be done to enact laws. Wyoming is among 19 states that still don't address hate crimes based on sexual orientation, something Matthew's family and friends are still working to change." No opponents of hate crimes legislation were featured in the segment.
Following Assuras’s report, co-host Maggie Rodriguez interview mother of Matthew Shepard, Judy Shepard. Rodriguez asked if the men responsible for the murder showed any remorse, Shepard replied: "...they actually wonder still why they're in such trouble for what they did, just, you know, killing a young gay man. They were -- the environment was set up for them that it was okay to do that to Matt." Rodriguez followed up: "And do you still find that kind of attitude as pervasive as it was then or have you seen positive changes in the last ten years?" Shepard then explained:
Oh, there's definitely been positive changes and for a lot of reasons. Theatrical productions, literature, television, novels, movies, all portray the gay community in a very positive forward-thinking way and that has really helped. People understand the gay community. The level of ignorance is just -- it's amazing that people just don't know more about the civil rights that are being denied the gay community and we're moving forward and working at the grassroots level now trying to really educate people and make them aware of the gay community.