Film and TV

Open Thread on the 20/20 Shepard piece

My quick thoughts are that the 20/20 piece felt poorly reported and sensationalist, particularly smiling Vargas' approach, which at times seemed almost sympathetic to these murderers, as if she were talking to someone who was wrongly convicted. And by the way, being high on crank and being a self-loathing homophobic bisexual are not mutually exclusive—of course, addressing the facts that both of these elements could have been involved at the same time would sully ABC's ability to market this story as a revelation.

During the interviews, Vargas appeared less interested in whether or not she was getting the truth out of these people than if she were getting a juicy soundbyte for her alternate theory, which, as GLAAD's episode guide points out thoroughly, is full of holes and reinvented stories.

McKinney seems like a total liar. If he won't fess up to his bisexual experiences doesn't it make sense that he would lie that Shepard's being gay had nothing to do with the killing? Vargas, how are we expected to believe an argument based around a murderer who tells the truth half the time and lies the other half? If you believe him, Henderson now is painted as a much milder character, but he was still an accomplice. He was right. He could have done something.

Thoughts everyone?

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  1. I can only imagine how Judy Shepard felt. I was practically churning inside myself as I watched. It almost seemed to imply that Matthew was somewhat to blame: Oh, he told this guy he was HIV-positive. Oh, he did drugs. Oh, he was depressed. As if any of those things lessened the severity of what happened. That killed me.

    As far as McKinney goes, it sounds like the report was arguing that he couldn't be homophobic because he was in all likelihood bisexual. If anything, however, his denial of this--if it is indeed true--most likely says the opposite. Self-hatred in the closet comes out in some ugly ways; some uglier than others. I think every gay person understands this.

    Andy: Your observation about Vargas' tone when talking to the killers (acting as if they were wrongly convicted) is totally astute. If nothing else, I was appalled by that alone.

    Posted by: Norman | Nov 27, 2004 2:44:47 PM

  2. It's sad. Just like politics in the modern era, journalism has lost touch with itself leaving nothing to fill the void except the same nauseating sensationalist element which it both feeds and chokes upon.

    Posted by: CriticalRN | Nov 27, 2004 2:53:38 PM

  3. Throughout the broadcast, I couldn't help thinking I was watching Celebrity Justice or EXTRA or some other lame excuse of so-called journalism. Judging by the comments here and on the 20/20 forums, I think everyone has seen it for what it really is. Is in not in-depth reporting- it is simply conjecture and speculation on a case that was over long ago. Nothing changes with any of these new "details", except that maybe the thugs feel better about themselves.

    It is a sad commentary on what is considered "news" today.

    Posted by: bmw | Nov 27, 2004 3:28:50 PM

  4. Vargas was contemptible, when she handed McKinney the boy scout photo, with that smile. And putting words into his mouth about how he was coming down from drugs, angry, frustrated, etc...

    Also, one second McKinney mentions Shepard had a wallet fat with money, then later on says Shephard only had thirty dollars.

    People who don't think critically will buy into the idea that Matthew Shepard was a suididal druggie who brought this on himself and deserved what he got. Way to go, Vargas!'

    Posted by: Sparky the Vegan | Nov 27, 2004 3:38:18 PM

  5. Don't miss the forest for the trees. It was just a PR stunt orchestrated by a fledgling anchor trying to make a name for herself. Did anyone know who this Vargas cuntsnatch was before this week?

    She did get that nasty fat old limo guy to say he had a drunken threeway with McKinney, which was, at least, good for a laugh.

    Wyoming is scurry. Stay in the blue states, people.

    Posted by: jack | Nov 27, 2004 4:45:38 PM

  6. Regardless of all the innuendo and poor reporting, Shepard has become a symbol and inspiration for anti-violence movements around the world. Some silly television report will not undo this.

    Posted by: Arjan | Nov 27, 2004 4:57:48 PM

  7. two words: "November Sweeps"

    ABC News, Vargas, Jeffrey Schneider, David Sloane, and everyone else over there should all be ashamed of themselves for this pathetic excuse for journalism.

    Posted by: Jeremy | Nov 27, 2004 6:04:46 PM

  8. How unfortunate that the one person who could tell us the real truth is unavailable for comment....To denegrate Matthew further in an attempt to rehabilitate his murderers, their (girl)friends and fellow Tweakers through this piece of revisionist (garbage) history, 20/20 reminded me that they would likely never have broadcast this story had their not been a hue and cry from the (gay) world in total that has brought such shame, stigma and disgrace upon these individuals, their actions, inactions, their lives and their town. Matthew Shepard remains an appropriate and historical victim and icon in the history of gay violence, and he will be long remembered in our history..long after these men have died a quiet and lonely death decades from now as they rot in prison.....

    Posted by: HUSTLERWHITE | Nov 27, 2004 6:33:54 PM


    It made me remember an NPR piece about the flaws in modern journalism; wherein it capitalizes on a fundemental flaw of the human brain - the compulsive need to debate an undebatable issue. For example, in modern journalism (radio, tv, etc..) a commentater will set up the skelatal structure such as: "There were missing weapons in 'blah-blah-blah' Iraq..." Then turn to side A and side B to "flesh it out" in a cross-fire format.

    But the issue really is that there WERE missing weapons. End of story. Don't debate the facts, debate the possible outcome and it's meanings... However, we have come to expect a debate over non-debatable, cut & dry issues.

    This is the same flaw here. The facts were not presented as facts. It was masturbatory journalism for the sake of debate and self-aggrandizment. The only reason that it wasn't laughed off the air is that by now, people have forgotten the facts and will believe her when she calls it a "revelation".

    All that is old is new again... and strangely distorted for personal gain.

    Posted by: M@ | Nov 27, 2004 6:47:01 PM

  10. Fuckin' Disney. I hate that whole operation. I just hope they are reading the feedback to that disrespectful piece of trash they aired, I'm definately writing a letter. It makes me sick how all these Meth heads (gay/straight)blame their actions on the drugs. I've dabbled in mind altering stuff before and I have never robbed, mugged, raped,bludgeoned, murdered or tortured anyone nor had I ever had the thought cross my mind. This was a pre-meditated hate crime. Those seeds were planted already in those two waste(s) of life whom; if there is a God, are getting raped right now. I'm pissed beyond belief...thanks for letting me rant.

    Posted by: Michael | Nov 27, 2004 7:14:30 PM

  11. So decent Americans everywhere are outraged by gay attacks on the sanctity of marriage. They propose and pass by wide margins constitutional amendments to "protect" marriage. At some level they must realize that there is no attack and no reason to protect, that these amendments are themselves attacks on gays and lesbians and represent the same kind of sick hatred that motivated the killers of Matthew Shepard. ABC needs viewership and it throws these people a bone: if Shepard wasn't brutally murdered because he was gay, then it's certainly OK to vote the way you did. A massive unconscious washing-away of guilt, which is just sickening to anyone who has experienced anti-gay hatred in a concrete form (that is, to all gay people).

    Please, everyone, contact your local ABC affiliate and let them know how you feel about 20/20 broadcasting this stomach-churning piece. Tell them that you're never watching ABC again: not sitcoms, national or local news, simply nothing.

    Oh, and Disney can go fuck itself. Any stockholders in Disney out there who can raise a ruckus for those of us not so fortunate?

    Posted by: David | Nov 27, 2004 7:32:26 PM

  12. i agree with jack....i didn't watch it for i felt that a journalist may be trying to make a ratings coup to welcome a change in seats on the show. the twist to the story and the recanting of issues by the killers was rather disturbing.

    Posted by: RRR | Nov 27, 2004 7:54:02 PM

  13. I hope folks will carefully review the informative postings at the Matthew Shepard Foundation site and at GLAAD before accepting even a scintilla of the 20/20 "disinformation" as being credible.

    Elizabeth Vargas and the ABC Eye-witless folks should be ashamed of themselves. I guess this is the new reality of the "Fox-ization" of the news media in the Rove/Dubya era.

    Where is an Edward R. Morrow-type of news person with a conscience when we need him/her most?

    May Matthew rest in peace.

    Posted by: Paul | Nov 27, 2004 8:53:32 PM

  14. The whole piece was sickening and left me with less respect for ABC News as a whole. They almost seemed to think that Matthew was somewhat responsible for the whole thing due to drug use. Also, McKinney clearly had no remorse what so ever and seemed to blow off the whole incident as just something that happened.

    Posted by: myke | Nov 27, 2004 8:58:44 PM

  15. You'd think after CBS News' blunder with the Bush/National guard memo that journalists would be on higher alert with the integrity of their reporting. 20/20 and ABC have really outdone themselves.

    Vargas wasn't the only one who appeared to be seeking to gain notoriety, what about the whacked out limo driver who drove kids around during drug binges?!? They allowed this guy to go on TV and report two alarming "facts", that Matthew was HIV+ and that he, himself had had sex with Aaron McKinney and did not bother to corroborate either claim!

    They quickly brush over the fact that these two boys see each other in prison. We never got to see Vargas' smug face ask, "So Aaron, realizing that you are guilty of one of the most notorious murders in the nation's history, where the only other person who knows the truth is dead, how much opportunity has there been for the two of you to speak to one another and change your story?" What kind of reporter wouldn't ask that question? Or maybe she didn't bother because the answer might make her story seem less credible. Where was the limo driver's "old lady" who was there for this three-way? Where were any facts?

    Thankfully we are standing up against this type of shoddy journalism, hopefully most of the Americans who watched saw through the BS and saw this for the ratings attempt it was.

    Most of the hateful things that were being said outside the funeral and trial i could figure out, but i paused tivo a moment to read the signs they had written and one stood out that said "fag god = rectum. phil 3:19" Does anyone even know what that means??

    Posted by: Dan | Nov 27, 2004 11:01:24 PM

  16. Just to say Hi!!!

    Posted by: Mário | Nov 27, 2004 11:03:04 PM

  17. I didn't watch the show myself (I had wanted to, to see how they handled it but got caught up with doing something else and missed it) A friend e-mailed me a statement about the show made by Shepard's parents and it can be found here:

    Posted by: Lee | Nov 27, 2004 11:15:12 PM

  18. What's worse is how this is getting reported. The San Francisco Chronicle runs a story by NYT reporter Virginia Heffernan, who describes the episode as "intellectually brave" and " iconoclastic" Good God. I think I am going to be sick.

    Posted by: HoyaBoy | Nov 28, 2004 1:45:29 AM

  19. Great discussion here. you can go here to send your e-mails directly to ABC.

    There's also a "20/20 Action" that includes several options in response to this crap.

    Posted by: HoodLum | Nov 28, 2004 7:36:32 AM

  20. I wouldn't count on most Americans seeing through the lies, distortions and omissions in the piece. It will likely be seen as vindication by those who voted for anti-gay initiatives on Nov. 2.

    Posted by: Sparky the Vegan | Nov 28, 2004 8:35:41 AM

  21. This guy has an interesting take.

    It sucks when we're so desperate that we create a hero out of someone like a meth addicted, drug dealing, HIV+ guy who gets his thrills chasing straight boys in a straight bar. We're all reacting this way because deep down we know this story and this sad boy are lousy material to be making heroes out of.

    Posted by: Mitch | Nov 29, 2004 2:06:36 AM

  22. How insensitive. Do you personally know for a fact that he was addicted to meth, or that he was HIV+, or are you just taking 20/20's word for it? And what the hell does any of that have to do with him being killed on a fence post? You shouldn't be pissing all over someone's memory and judging how he may or may not have lived his life. Haven't we had enough of that?

    Posted by: bmw | Nov 29, 2004 2:32:53 AM

  23. next, we'll see a piece on 20/20 about the african/american man who was dragged behind the truck in the south. headline will read -- "surf was low that night, but speed bumps offered the right swell". there are plenty of cultural heroes within queer desperation in grasping to hearsay or heresy to justify murder and recanting or shifting of court documents to paint a "tawdry" picture. in this day and age, cruising the wrong character, the statement -- "your pissing up the wrong tree" is rather universal and some may be sophisticated enough from television broadcasts to let the guy know that one isn't speaking of water sports.

    Posted by: RRR | Nov 29, 2004 3:08:28 AM


    This Thanksgiving ABCs television show 20/20 presented, deliberately and with
    malice aforethought, a smear of Matthew Shepard's memory that was closer in
    spirit to holocaust revisionism than to journalism.

    Homophobia is such a prevelant part of our society that even gay people
    are susceptable to it.

    The best way to recognize it is to replace "gays" with another, less despised
    minority and see it it then passes the "hate speech" test.

    For instance, would it be considered "journalism" if 20/20 presented an
    "expose" with interviews of the informer on Anne Frank and explaining
    that there were rumors that her father was dealing in black-market currency
    and this was the reason that she was turned in - not because she was jewish, as is often claimed in the liberal media?


    The Matthew Shepard Foundation and GLAAD have released rebuttals
    of the shows claims and a call to action:

    "Finally always remember that we live in a capitalist system. Every penny you spend is a vote for or against us. When you buy a car from a company that gives money to our enemies you have just voted against passage of the "Hate Crimes Bill". By the same token, when you use an airline that extends domestic partnership you have just brought us one step closer to the realization of equal rights for all."
    - Harvey Fierstein speech for the Matthew Shepard Memorial March T

    For those of us who agree with Mr. Fierstein, below is a list of
    four companies which paid 20/20 to present this "report".

    I want to emphasize that these companies were all notified ahead
    of time as to the nature of the show they were sponsoring and
    were asked by many of us not to do so out of human decency.

    There were a number of companies that chose NOT to sponsor this
    show - and there were some new sponsors who may not have been
    aware of the nature of the show they were sponsoring.

    The four companies below deliberately chose to sponsor anti-gay hate speech and I would
    urge anyone who was offended by ABCs smear to refrain from purchasing
    their products - it isn't as if there aren't plenty of competing


    S.C. Johnson
    Products: Pledge Edge Glade Windex Off Fantastik Raid Ziplock

    Pizza Hut

    Products: Soup, Swansons, Prego, Pepperedge Farms

    Burlington Coat Factory

    And finally - some comic relief:

    Posted by: Patrick | Nov 30, 2004 8:05:09 AM

  25. What would you expect from the Conservative Media? ABC=Walt Disney+BU$H. After all, they practically give you a medal for killing faggots in this country.

    Posted by: Jimmi | Nov 30, 2004 9:43:25 PM

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