- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2001

An Arkansas jury last week convicted one of two suspects in the 1999 rape and murder of 11-year-old Jesse Dirkhising, but you would never know it from the so-called mainstream press. As reported by this newspaper's Robert Stacy McCain, the weeklong trial of a homosexual suspect in the case generated not a single story from the New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, CBS, ABC, NBC or CNN.

It is a far cry from the media treatment of the killing of Matthew Shepard in 1998. A homosexual, Shepard was beaten to death by thugs in Wyoming, an event that set off a torrent of news stories ascribing his murder not just to his assailants but to a climate of anti-homosexual hatred. The story dominated the news with prime-time rallies and candlelight vigils all bound together with a set of media "talking points." What was needed, advocates said, was a hate-crimes law to "send a message" to everyone that such attitudes would no longer be tolerated. The implication was that non-homosexuals were collectively guilty of Shepard's death through a politicized original sin.

Writing in the New Republic magazine, Andrew Sullivan cited Nexis database statistics showing 3,007 media stories about the Shepard killing in the month after the Wyoming murder, but just 46 stories about Dirkhising's murder in the month after the Arkansas boy's death. Why the discrepancy in news coverage? The Dirkhising slaying was at least as gruesome as that of Shepard. He was first drugged, then bound and gagged with underwear and duct tape by a pair of homosexual lovers who repeatedly raped him over a period of several hours, in some cases using foreign objects. One of Dirkhising's molesters stood by masturbating while watching the assault. Over the course of this torture, the boy slowly suffocated and died. Sentencing for Joshua Brown, 23, convicted of rape and first-degree murder in the case, is set for March 30. A trial for Davis Carpenter, 39, on rape and murder charges is scheduled to begin May 7.

Spokesmen for these news outlets offer a variety of excuses for not covering the Dirkhising murder. In a 22-minute newscast, they say, there isn't time to cover every crime story. Well, if the media think a story is important, they find a way to make time for it regardless of the day's other events. Had Saddam Hussein launched missiles at Israel, the media would still have found time to cover the Shepard case.

Spokesmen also say there was no "angle" to the Dirkhising case that made it a compelling nationwide, as opposed to local, story. That's another way of saying that while the media were perfectly willing to ascribe hate-mongering group-think to persons who had never even heard of Matthew Shepard, they wouldn't dream of imputing similar motives to homosexuals. One may regard this brand of journalism as many things, but one of them isn't "news."

The lack of coverage of the Dirkhising case has and will continue to contribute to allegations of left-wing media bias, and rightly so. It's important to understand that the bias manifests itself not just in the news stories that appear but in the stories that don't appear, not just the questions reporters ask but in the questions they don't ask. As the non-coverage of the Dirkhising case shows, there's a lot of "news" out there that the mainstream press doesn't consider fit to print.


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