10 QUESTIONS ABOUT ABC’S 20/20 SHOW ON MATTHEW SHEPARD

 

1. SOURCES & FACTS 20/20 IGNORED

There are several important sources and pieces of information that the 20/20 piece ignores in its quest to undermine the notion that anti-gay bias contributed to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard by Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson.

  • • There is no discussion of the details of Aaron McKinney's confession to the police, where anti-gay bias is central to his characterization of the events of Oct. 6, 1998. Nor is there any mention of Rob DeBree, the investigator who took that statement and was one of the key witnesses as to the investigation and the confession at McKinney’s trial.
  • No mention of the plea bargain that spared McKinney's life, nor any mention of Judy and Dennis Shepard's role in that.  And no mention of the provision of that plea bargain where McKinney and his attorneys agreed not to speak to the press about this case.
  • No mention of the more than 200 interviews over two years conducted by Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project for The Laramie Project -- nor the fact that some of the accounts offered 20/20 conflict with those offered Kaufman.

QUESTION: Don't 20/20's decisions to turn a blind eye to the facts of this case, to not include interviews with those who can substantiate them, and to evade any discussion of the ethical issues involved in circumventing one of the key provisions of McKinney's plea bargain raise some serious doubts as to the credibility of this piece?

 

2) AARON MCKINNEY's LACK OF CREDIBILITY

20/20's piece relies heavily on the perceived credibility of Aaron McKinney, who is now claiming to have lied about the role anti-gay bias played in his decision to target and kill Shepard.  Yet it also encourages audiences to view as untruthful McKinney’s claims that he did not know Shepard prior to the crime and that he did not have sexual relations with other men. 

QUESTION: How can 20/20 rely so heavily on a source whose statements need to be seen by the audience as truthful in some situations and untruthful in others?

 

3) KRISTEN PRICE's LACK OF CREDIBILITY

Kristen Price, who now claims she made up the story about McKinney's homophobic rage against Shepard, not only shared her story with 20/20 back in 1998, but she also testified about it in October 1999 at McKinney's trial.

QUESTION:  Assuming Price can be taken seriously when she says she lied back in 1998 and 1999, did she commit perjury in McKinney’s murder trial? Why does 20/20 not explore this? And why does 20/20 put forward as fact the statements of someone who’s admitted to deceiving and lying to them in the past?

 

4) THE CREDIBILITY OF OTHER KEY SOURCES

20/20's case rests on interviews with witnesses like:

  • Doc O' Connor, who, according to interviews conducted for The Laramie Project and for Vanity Fair, met Shepard only four days before his murder (casting serious doubt on his claim, reported by 20/20 reporter Elizabeth Vargas, that “Matthew was a friend close enough to share some of his secrets, like Matthew’s worries about HIV”) – and who was viewed as so lacking in credibility that neither the prosecution nor the defense called him as a witness at McKinney’s murder trial;
  • Tina LaBrie, who knew Shepard for only a short time and whose characterizations of Shepard have been questioned by others who knew him;
  • "Jean", an anonymous bartender 20/20 does not identify by last name, who claims to have seen Shepard and McKinney together;
  • Ryan “Bop”(phonetic spelling – actual spelling of last name unknown at this time), a former drug-using associate of McKinney’s who claims to have given McKinney a .357 Magnum (the same kind of gun used in Shepard’s murder) in exchange for drugs.
  • Elaine Baker, who claims to have spent an evening in the back of O' Connor's limo with McKinney and Shepard several weeks before his murder-- contradicting O'Connor's statements to Vanity Fair and to the Tectonic Theater Project that he first met Matthew only four days before his death).

20/20’s case also centers on the newly reinvented stories of a convicted murderer and a source who claims to have lied to 20/20 in the past and, if true, has potentially committed perjury as well. 

QUESTION: Taken separately and together, how can a set of witnesses this unreliable be used as the foundation for any credible news story?

 

5) LACK OF EVIDENCE FOR DRUG MOTIVE 

20/20 does not put forward a single piece of solid evidence to back its assertion that drug use was the primary factor in Matthew Shepard’s murder. Their entire case is based on speculation; sensational repetition of unsubstantiated claims; interviews with people like Aaron McKinney and Kristen Price, whose credibility is extremely suspect; and contextually questionable soundbites from the prosecutor in the case.  

QUESTION: Why would 20/20 so aggressively – and sensationally – attempt to rewrite the factual record of this case without a single piece of incontrovertible evidence to support their claims?

 

6) LACK OF EVIDENCE THAT SHEPARD KNEW HIS KILLERS

20/20's promotion of the show focuses on whether Shepard knew McKinney and Henderson prior to his murder.

In the final moments of the third segment, Vargas says, "There are a lot of facts the mythology surrounding this case got wrong.  If you think Matthew Shepard never met his killer before that night, you may have to think again."  Yet 20/20 presents no credible evidence that they did, only the accounts of three sources – Ryan Bop (sp?), Elaine Baker and “Jean” – whose credibility is extremely questionable.

QUESTION: Why, with nothing but speculation or contradictory information by unreliable sources to support it, does 20/20 make this sensationalistic angle one of the tentpoles of its report and its publicity strategy?

 

7) 20/20’S DEPICTION OF MATTHEW SHEPARD

Listen carefully as 20/20 depicts Matthew Shepard as a drug user, troubled, depressed, suicidal, etc., based only on accounts from unreliable sources. 

QUESTION: Why would 20/20 feel it necessary to characterize the life of Matthew Shepard in this way when the depiction has no connection to the show’s attempt to advance a new motive for Shepard’s murderers?

 

8) PREVIOUS EXAMINATIONS OF DRUG THEORY NOT ACKNOWLEDGED BY 20/20

It is well known that Harper's magazine published an in-depth (and GLAAD Media Award-winning) cover story on Shepard’s murder back in 1999 that considered how methamphetamine abuse may have intersected with the homophobia and other factors that contributed to Shepard’s murder. McKinney’s alleged use of methamphetamines was also raised as part of his defense strategy -- an angle that was reported on extensively in the media.

QUESTION:  Why does 20/20 suggest that the possible influence of drugs/methamphetamines on this case has not been previously explored by the media? And why does it not acknowledge these previous examinations.

 

9) JUDY SHEPARD’S INTERVIEW WITH 20/20

Elizabeth Vargas interviewed Judy Shepard ostensibly to get her reactions to the claims made by those Vargas had interviewed for 20/20.  Yet Judy’s soundbites make it appear as though she did not have any problem with 20/20's claims.  Also, Judy Shepard’s interview was conducted on the condition that 20/20 simultaneously interview Sean Maloney, Judy’s attorney and longtime adviser.  Maloney was also critical of 20/20's premise and its decision to enable McKinney to violate his plea bargain agreement, but none of Maloney's comments – made on the record to 20/20 – are broadcast.

At the end of the piece, Vargas attempts to suggest that Judy Shepard even agrees with the premise of 20/20's piece by setting up (in voice-over) a soundbite from Judy by saying, "Even Matthew's mother says her son's life and death have been mythologized."  Yet Judy's quote only focuses on her perception that her son was an ordinary young man. 

NOTE: The final broadcast version differs from the press preview copy in that Judy Shepard has one soundbite challenging the assertion that her son's murder was not motivated by hate. Also, Sean Maloney now appears briefly in the segment, offering a broad quotation about hate crimes in America.

 

10) 20/20 DOES EXACTLY THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT IT CLAIMS TO BE DOING

20/20's premise is that Matthew Shepard's murder is more complicated than it seems. But their piece drives the viewer in the opposite direction, attempting to sell audiences on a simplistic notion that if McKinney and Henderson were under the influence of drugs, then anti-gay bias could have played no role whatsoever in their decision to target, beat and murder Shepard.

QUESTION:   Clearly, there may have been factors in addition to anti-gay bias involved in this case. But why is 20/20’s piece so determined not to examine the complexity of this crime, but instead to develop an inaccurate single-cause motive that runs counter to the facts of this case.

 

GLAAD on FacebookGLAAD on YouTubeGLAAD RSS FeedsglaadBLOGGLAAD on Twitter
RESOURCESHomePublicationsResource KitsAnnouncing EqualityBest & Worst of National NewsTalking About SeriesUnmasking "Ex-Gay" ActivistsStories to WatchSnapshots of Our WorkMultimedia Clips
UPCOMING EventsAdvertising Media ReceptionTGIF - New York CityTGIF - ChicagoPublicationsMedia Reference GuideCollege Reference GuideResourcesAnnouncing EqualityBe an Ally & a FriendTalking About SeriesTV Gayed - LGBT TV
Skip Navigation Links
About GLAAD
|
Support Us
|
Press
|
Report Defamation
|
Volunteer
|
Careers
|
Privacy Policy
|
Contact Us
|
Search

©2009 Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation