Liberal media critics used to complain that "ethnocentric" American reporters always measured the importance of people's deaths by their distance from our shores. The death of one American was said to be worth ten Canadians, 40 Spaniards, or 500 Africans to be worthy of making the newspapers. This same argument becomes all the more poignant when it's a matter of political correctness. The violent dragging death of James Byrd, a black man in Jasper, Texas became a national story. So now has become the burning and beating of Matthew Shepard, the gay college student in Laramie, Wyoming.
These deaths are tragic. But so are thousands of violent murders that occur in America every day. How do the media justify making these national news stories? The deaths of Byrd and Shepard became news at least in part because they help the press underline that racism and "homophobia" are persistent stains on America's record. And it's only with the slightest leap that politically motivated reporters tie these deaths to conservative arguments that are said to foist this endless intolerance on the country.
NBC's "Today" show set a new low on October 13. NBC's David Gregory openly promoted the vicious argument of gay-left extremists that blames Christian conservative commercial campaigns and Republican leaders like Trent Lott as responsible for Shepard's heinous beating instead of the two criminals now in custody. For NBC and the Today show to entertain such rhetorical excess as a credible angle suggests they are the gay left's willing mud-slingers, willing to use guilt by association to exploit a tragedy for political gain.
Gregory publicized the liberal argument: "Even as friends of Matthew Shepard held a candlelight vigil in his honor, gay rights groups rushed to condemn the killing, portraying Shepard as a casualty of a new cultural war against gays and lesbians. A war declared this summer declared by a coalition of religious-right groups, including the Christian Coalition, which funded advertisements in major newspapers and commercials on TV promoting a campaign to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality."
"The ads were controversial for portraying gays and lesbians as sinners who had made poor choices, despite the growing belief that homosexuality may be genetic. And the campaign followed the divisive comments of Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who said in an interview that homosexuals should be helped by alcoholics, sex addicts, and kleptomaniacs. Have the ads fostered a climate of anti-gay hate that leads to incidents like the killing of Matthew Shepard? Gay rights activists say the ads convey a message that gay people are defective."
To pour gasoline on the bonfire, Katie Couric interviewed wild-eyed Elizabeth Birch of the Human Rights Campaign Fund and Janet Folger, an architect of the gays-can-change ad campaign. Couric asked Birch: "Do you believe this ad campaign launch by some conservative groups really contributed somehow to Matthew Shepard's death?" Birch quickly replied "I do, Katie," and said "they happen because people's minds have been twisted with cruel stereotypes about gay and lesbian people. And this ad campaign has been pumped out all summer presenting gay and lesbian people as defective, as less than, as not fully human." Earth to Birch: isn't it a cruel, twisted stereotype to claim conservative Christians wish violence on gays?
Folger very effectively defended the ads, but note what was missing from this whole segment. 1. Nobody required Birch to provide a shred of evidence that the murderers had actually seen these ads. Even if they'd seen them, imagine the lunacy if we charged that ads by the Committee for Tobacco-Free Kids encouraged violence against tobacco executives. 2. Nobody has the self-conciousness to remember how the networks screamed about Newt Gingrich when he tied the murder of a pregnant woman (whose baby was removed alive) on the values of the welfare system. If it's unfair for Gingrich to engage in ideological extrapolation, why is it fair game for Birch and her extremist friends to do the same?
In the last five years, the news media have forwarded liberal accusations that Gingrich and Bob Dole were somehow responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing; that pro-life activists somehow encouraged the killing of abortionists; and now once again, a "climate" of conservative speech is endangering the safety of average Americans. Any media outlet that claims to be a forum for fair, high-minded debate should reject these outrageous smears. Instead, the press simply promotes the demands of liberal "climate" cops that conservatives shut up before they kill again.
It's unfortunate that conservative groups are in such a defensive crouch from liberal media assault, issuing press releases after deaths like this denying responsibility for the killing. More unfortunate is the striking reality that in today's popular culture, is it seen as simply preposterous to denounce homosexuality as wrong. And unacceptable to defend God's teaching as right.