Posted on | September 25, 2013 | 43 Comments
Matthew Shepard’s killers Russell Henderson (left) and Aaron McKinney (right).
When I was a freshman in college, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood was an assigned reading and one of the lessons of the book — perhaps not a lesson the author intended, but one I’ve since seen replicated over and over — is how notorious crimes are usually the work of petty criminals.
Dick Hickock and Perry Smith were just a couple small-time crooks who met in prison, and Hickock’s dream of a “big score” — plus his insistence that no witnesses should be left alive — resulted in the horrendous massacre of the Clutter family. While Capote’s book is generally cited for its literary qualities as a “non-fiction novel,” its insights into the criminal mind are quite useful. From the standpoint of policy, the story of how a couple of small-timers like Hickock and Smith escalated to mass murders is important to understanding how the frequency of recidivism makes the criminal population a constant menace to public safety. It’s like how, in New York City, a crackdown on fare-beating and other nuisance crimes in the subway system turned up a large number of suspects who were wanted on warrants for robbery, assault, rape and murder. Serious criminals also commit petty crimes and, conversely, by the time a criminal commits the kind of atrocity that makes nationwide headlines, he usually has an extensive record of lesser offenses.
So it was with Russell Henderson and Aaron McKinney, the two local hoodlums who killed University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998, a crime that became a cause célèbre for the gay-rights movement, used as a sort of rhetorical Swiss army knife.
Matthew Shepard’s death was used to argue for the inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected status in federal civil-rights law, to legalize same-sex marriage, and even to advocate for “comprehensive” sex education in schools (because tolerance).
There were nationally televised candlelight vigils featuring celebrities, and the op-ed pages of newspapers filled up with lectures about the evils of intolerance, prejudice and “homophobia.” (This word, suggesting the clinical diagnosis of an irrational fear, a mental illness, is one of the great humbugs of our age.) Of course, most of those emoting on TV and in newspaper columns were liberals, and the finger of blame was pointed at conservatives, so that you might be forgiven if you thought Matthew Shepard’s killers were a couple of fundamentalist evangelicals who attended Young Republican meetings every week.
But no, they were a just a couple of local hoodlums — trailer trash high-school dropouts — each with a record of petty crime (burglary, possession of marijuana) who were on the fifth day of a $2,000 methamphetamine binge when they encountered Matthew Shepard at the Fireside Bar in Laramie on the night of Oct. 6, 1998.
The Book of Matt, a new book by a gay writer, Stephen Jimenez, re-examines this story and concludes that there is no good reason to think of Shepard’s death as a “hate crime.” Jimenez’s book recently received favorable notice in the gay magazine The Advocate, and yet there has been no effort by major media to correct the record about the case, as Noel Sheppard reports at Newsbusters:
At press time, there has been not one mention of Jimenez’s book or the new revelations on ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, or NBC.
Not one word.
In fact, the truth about the Matthew Shepard case — that it was a drug-fueled robbery, rather than a homophobic “hate crime” — was reported by JoAnn Wypijewski in the liberal Harper’s magazine in September 1999 without making a real dent in the hate-crime myth. It was from Wypijewski’s account that I first learned that McKinney and Henderson both had records for petty crime, which made me think of the In Cold Blood story about Hickock and Smith.
The myth of Matthew Shepard as a victim of homophobia, for which gay rights activists blamed Christian conservatives and Republicans, is one of those media narratives that Andrew Breitbart was always railing against. The Big Picture story of What It Means, crafted by a process of selective editing that omits any fact that contradicts the narrative, is the daily business of the media, and their choices are influenced by a one-sided political bias, so that stories which appear to confirm liberal beliefs are hammered home day after day, even if these stories must be carefully controlled so that contradictory facts don’t cloud the political message.
This is not news, but propaganda, and it has become so pervasive that fundamentally false narratives (e.g., Trayvon Martin as a helpless victim of white racism) take on a reality in the public mind.
This is what Ed Driscoll is talking about in discussing the “Sorelian myth” of Cold War liberalism, wherein the atomic spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and the traitor Alger Hiss are portrayed as innocent victims of anti-Communist witch-hunt hysteria.
By making people believe in politically crafted falsehoods, media propagandists seek to inspire action — “to make a difference” — and so the record of the media’s past failures (Stephen Glass, Jayson Blair, Dan Rather, et al.) is carefully suppressed.
The one thing the news media will never do is to confess their own lack of credibility, to expose their own errors and biases. So when it turns out that what the media promoted as an anti-gay “hate crime” was, in fact, the act of two petty criminals in the throes of a five-day meth binge, this is a truth that the media will ignore, because it is a truth that exposes the media itself as untrustworthy.