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If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention

Posted on 2004.28.11 at 11:05


robinhoo at 2004-11-28 10:33 (UTC) ()
I saw this too. Even my mother, who wouldn't be sympathetic to seeing a murder as a "hate crime" unless the evidence was just overwhelming as such, read through the gaping holes in Vargas' interview of McKinney and said, "He's lying. They killed that boy because he was gay. They might've decided to rob him along the way, but they killed him because he was gay."

Throughout the course of Vargas' interview I kept asking the question of her that I always ask when I'm grading papers: "What's your thesis? What are you out to prove to me?" I never could decide if she really was trying to prove that Matthew's murder wasn't a hate crime, or if she was just trying to construct some kind of story to contain this coup she got by being the first to interview his murderers. I felt that everything about the interview was altogether ambiguous, but not in a harmless way. Rather, all the ambiguities (Was this really more a drug-related robbery than a hate crime? Is McKinney, in fact, bisexual? Did Shepard and McKinney know each other? Did McKinney already know Shepard was gay? Was Henderson sentenced too harshly? Etc., etc., etc.) served to imply that Matthew's murder was in fact less egregious than it's been made out to be -- whether because he "had it coming" (either because he made a move on McKinney or because he was just another HIV-positive, meth-addicted queer party-boy in small-town America) or because it was a case of being too rich in the wrong place at the wrong time.

This crap did nothing to 1) cast McKinney and Henderson in a better light, 2) lessen the brutal wrong of the crime, 3) clear up the "facts" of the case (indeed, it did just the opposite), or 4) make this crime any easier for Matthew's parents and friends -- including all of us who didn't know him personally -- easier to bear. In short, it was yellow journalism of the most damaging sort. Dan Rather misrepresented facts about George W. Bush by not checking his facts carefully enough, and he's "stepping down" (ha) at CBS. Elizabeth Vargas misrepresented facts about Matthew Shepard and his murder by intentionally omitting things and presenting things falsely -- a far more reprehensible practice to my mind than Rather's -- but I bet her career will be nothing but furthered by this story. I am aggrieved by the dynamics of power that continue to oppress Matthew Shepard even after his death. He had no voice in life, and Vargas did not allow him a voice in death.
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