When Matthew Shepard died on October 12, 1998 at the age of 21, five days after getting into a pickup truck with two goons who beat him mercilessly, he had already become a huge national news story that continues today. It made the cover of Time magazine with the headline "The War Over Gays," with reporters predictably using the occasion to blame religious conservatives and call for hate-crime laws and other gay-left agenda items.
But when Jesse Dirkhising died on September 26 at the age of 13 from suffocation after being bound, gagged with underwear in his mouth, blindfolded, taped to the bed, and sodomized by one gay man while another gay man watched, the national media said nothing, even after The Washington Times exposed the untold story.
In this modern media age, when lurid murders, especially of children, dance in the dreams of ratings-obsessed network producers (can you say JonBenet?), why would this story go untold? Had Jesse Dirkhising been shot inside his Arkansas school, he would have been an immediate national news story. Had he been openly gay and his attackers heterosexual, the crime would have led all the networks. But no liberal media outlet would dare be the first to tell a grisly murder story which has as its villains two gay men.
The primary offender in this tale of politically correct self-censorship is the Associated Press, which waved the flag of the Shepard beating on its national wire for everyone to see. By contrast, the Dirkhising murder was never put on the national wire, and its local dispatches were 200-word puddles of colorless court reporting that suggested to editors this story was bound for Page B-17. Despite Dirkhising's death from what his killers implied was a "sex game" gone bad, AP never described them as gay men.
But you can bet that nearly every national media outlet that has now seen this story and tossed it in the garbage pail has in its newsroom a vocal caucus of gay and lesbian employees. Nearly every national media outlet sets up recruiting booths at the National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association convention each year, and helps pay for the convention by placing cheerleading ads in the program. The NLGJA web site has boasted of events with network anchors like Dan Rather.
You can bet that nearly every national media outlet hears the footsteps of a gay-left activist like Cathy Renna of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, who told an early October gathering, "One of the most important things you can do is have those tough conversations with journalists about when it is completely inappropriate to run to some radical group like the Family Research Council because of misguided notions of 'balance.' We have to offer them some more moderate voices, or convince them that there is no other side to these issues....We are now in the position of being able to say, we have the high ground, we have the facts, and we don't have to go one-on-one with these people."
Clearly her censorious message is winning.
But the double standard here is much more than matching the hundreds of Shepard stories with the gaping silence on Dirkhising. The other ignored story here is exposed right in the first paragraphs of Joyce Howard Price's Washington Times story. David Smith, a spokesman for the gay group calling itself the "Human Rights Campaign," seemed to care little about the human rights of Jesse Dirkhising. "This has nothing to do with gay people," he claimed, in complete disregard of the facts.
This is the same "Human Rights Campaign" that milks the Matthew Shepard murder as its most powerful fundraising tool, and which featured Shepard's family in its recent annual fundraising dinner. More importantly, this is the same "Human Rights Campaign" that led the national media by the nose to the ridiculous charge that Shepard was killed not by the two strangers he followed out of a bar, but by Christian conservatives who bought newspaper ads urging gays to return to Christ.
Whatever becomes of the Jesse Dirkhising story - and it looks like it's headed right for Juanita Broaddrick limbo - you can bet that conservatives will not climb on any national platform making absurd claims that he was killed by Ellen DeGeneres. Conservatives won't indict the "Human Rights Campaign" for murder for taking out newspaper ads for National Coming Out Day. But the burial of Jesse Dirkhising's story also buries the fact that the right cannot match the left for poisonous incivility, reckless guilt by association, and ugly rhetorical excess.