Published: November 26, 2004
on't count out television news yet: the magazine shows might yet make a comeback. Elizabeth Vargas goes for broke tonight on an intellectually brave episode of "20/20" on ABC.
Ms. Vargas, the striking brunette who replaced Barbara Walters as co-host of the show in September, has wasted no time before taking on a risky story: the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard. But what's incendiary about tonight's program is not its topic but its argument. "20/20" takes the position that the description of this murder as an anti-gay hate crime is entirely wrong. After six years of sentimental theater, documentaries and television movies that have bolstered the hate-crime view, tonight's program is no less than iconoclastic.
In October 1998, Mr. Shepard, a 21-year-old student at the University of Wyoming in Laramie, was found tied to a fence on the outskirts of town. He'd been pistol-whipped and left shoeless in near-freezing temperatures; he was almost dead. Friends who heard about his beating instantly began to tell reporters that he was gay and that his attack might have been an instance of gay-bashing.