The American people were led from the outset to believe that Shepard was the victim of a hate crime, murdered because he was gay. And that is how virtually every American still views the story. In the words of Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), "Matthew Shepard is to gay rights what Emmett Till was to the civil rights movement." A play based on Shepard's killing, "The Laramie Project" became, according to the Wall Street Journal, "one of the most produced theatrical shows in the country." And in 2009, Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed, the Matthew Shepard Law, which expanded the definition of hate crimes to include crimes motivated by a victim's actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.
It turns out that Matthew Shepard's murder had nothing to do with his being gay.
As early as 2004, the ABC News program "20/20" broadcast (to its credit) a denial by both murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, that the murder had anything to do with Shepard's being gay. It was, they both claimed, a robbery gone bad.
"It was not because me and Aaron had anything against gays," Henderson told ABC.
As a result, ABC News was widely attacked by all those who had a vested interest not in truth, but in maintaining the homophobia story: the liberal media, the gay rights movement and the lawyers for the victim's mother.
The New York Times reported: "Those leading the charge against the heavily promoted ABC report [included] Joan Garry, executive director of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD)."
Sean Maloney, the aforementioned congressman who was then the lawyer for Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard's mother, called the program "'just bad journalism ... there is a mountain of evidence that anti-gay bias was a trigger for the beating that left Matthew dead after they robbed him."
Now a book has been published, written by Stephen Jimenez, himself a gay man, that confirms the accuracy of the 2004 ABC News report. Matthew Shepard was involved in the hyperactive Wyoming meth drug culture; he was murdered over a drug deal; and his primary murderer was a bisexual who had probably slept with Shepard.
The media aspect of this case was summed up in a Wall Street Journal review: "Mr. Jimenez's book is most useful in illuminating the power of the media to shape the popular conception of an event. It shows how a desire for Manichaean morality tales can lead us to oversimplify the human experience."
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”