James Dobson’s Focus on the Family can apparently carry a grudge for a long time.
In December, the Religious Right organization attacked Katie Couric, host of NBC’s “Today” show, over a question Couric asked during an interview more than six years ago in the wake of the death of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man in Wyoming who was killed in a grisly murder.
At the time, speculation was rampant that Shepard had been singled out because of his sexual orientation. Shepard was beaten and tied to a fence in freezing weather, where he was later found. He died five days after the attack.
The vicious crime caught the attention of the entire nation. During that time, with the motive of the assailants still unknown, Couric interviewed then-Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer. During the interview, Couric noted that “some gay rights activists” had charged that groups like the Christian Coalition, the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family had created an anti-gay atmosphere and asked if that could have contributed to the crime.
Two men, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, were later convicted of the crime and imprisoned. The two have remained mostly mum since then, but in late November, McKinney and Henderson granted an interview to ABC News’ “20/20” program during which they said they killed Shepard as part of a drug-induced robbery. McKinney and Henderson said their sole motivation was robbery, and they denied having any animus against Shepard because of his sexual orientation.
FOF President Don Hodel seized on the interview as proof that Shepard’s murder was not a hate crime. He wrote to NBC, demanding that the network apologize for Couric’s question to Geringer.
In a letter responding to Hodel, David McCormick, executive producer for broadcast standards for NBC, noted that Couric in her question to Geringer had merely noted that some gay-rights activists had speculated that an anti-gay atmosphere had contributed to Shepard’s death, not that Christian Right groups had caused the crime.
“We are sorry if you or anyone else may have misunderstood her question,” McCormick wrote. He also added that Shepard’s mother remained convinced that anti-gay bias did play a role in her son’s death.
Focus has decided to take the word of two convicted murderers at face value and is now firmly convinced that the Shepard killing was unrelated to gay bias and that Couric slandered Christians. In an e-mail to supporters headlined “NBC Defends Couric’s Anti-Christian Rant,” the group asked its backers to write to Couric and NBC News President Neal Shapiro and “make your views on the matter known.”