This tragic and somewhat convoluted story begins 12 years ago when I discovered a shocking local news story in Prairie Grove, Ark., and with a column published Oct. 22 turned it into national news – though never coverage as big as the fiendish crime warranted.
It was the story of young Jesse Dirkhising, whose parents thought he was working as a hair stylist on weekends.
But when local police responded to a 911 emergency call at 5 a.m. Sept. 26, 1999, they found the 13-year-old boy on the floor, unconscious, near death, one of his wrists bound with duct tape.
A half-hour later, he was pronounced dead at St. Mary’s Hospital in Roger.
A police investigation determined young Jesse was repeatedly raped over a period of hours, including with foreign objects. While enduring this ordeal, his ankles, knees and wrists were bound in duct tape, and he was gagged and blindfolded. He was tied to a mattress. He was also drugged. A sedative called amitryptiline was found in the home of two men – Joshua Brown, 22, and David Don Carpenter, 38 – along with Jesse’s body.
There were other drugs, too – and items commonly used in sexual bondage. Apparently the boy was left bound and gagged after the last rape, while his attackers went to get a sandwich to eat.
The cops say the two men raped Jesse at least six times. Brown and Carpenter were each charged with six counts of rape and capital murder and eventually convicted and sentenced.
What struck me instantly about the case was its low profile.
A few years earlier, the nation stood riveted to the details of a hideous murder that took place in Wyoming when a homosexual was tortured to death. Never mind that the crime had little or nothing to do with the victim’s sexual proclivities. Uh-uh. That didn’t matter. This was a hate crime. New laws were needed. New brainwashing programs must be introduced into the schools. New sensitivity outreach projects were required by all media outlets. Bill Clinton sounded off. Janet Reno chimed in.
That was the Matthew Shepard case. Movies were made about the adult homosexual who was murdered, apparently by monsters who knew nothing about his sexual proclivities. Press coverage still references the story. In fact, a survey a few years ago showed the Shepard case received more than 18 times the references of the Jesse Dirkhising murder.
I wondered out loud whether that was because the victim in the Dirkhising case was not a part of some politically protected sub-group, a special class deserving of extra government privileges, but the perpetrators were.
I wrote at least five columns about Jesse Dirkhising – and I got called some nasty names as a result. The worst of it came from a woman by the name of E.R. Shipp, then ombudsman of the Washington Post.
In a column called “Reporting Two Killings,” the Post’s E.R. Shipp defended her colleagues’ coverage of the Matthew Shepard murder in Wyoming as well as the non-coverage of the slaughter of young Jesse in Arkansas.
“By the time Matthew Shepard died on Oct. 12, 1998 – nearly a week after he was savagely beaten and left ‘tied to a fence like a dead coyote,’ as the Post reported on Oct. 10, 1998 – his story had spread around the world, and he had become a symbol for those who urged Congress to adopt a stronger federal hate crimes law. From Capitol Hill to Hollywood to college campuses across the nation, the assault on an openly gay man was denounced at rallies and candlelight vigils,” Shipp wrote, “and in editorial pages, including The Post’s. Since the first front-page story, ‘Gay Man Near Death After Beating, Burning,’ this newspaper has carried about 80 items – including news briefs, editorials and columns – that have referred to Shepard.”
She continued: “I recount this because some readers, prodded by commentators who are hostile to homosexuals and to what they view as a ‘liberal’ press, have inquired why the Shepard case garnered so much attention while another case involving homosexuals – as possible predators rather than as victims – has been all but ignored. There is an explanation for the absence of coverage of the brutal rape and asphyxiation death of 13-year-old Jesse Dirkhising, but those who are inclined to believe the David Dukes, Joseph Farahs and Tim Grahams of the world – who have asserted that the story has been suppressed so that homosexuals won’t be portrayed negatively – will not be satisfied.”
To this day, I still don’t know who Tim Graham is, but I do know who David Duke is. I didn’t like the implication that association made then, and I don’t like it any better today. Shipp, whose claim to fame is winning a Pulitzer Prize for commentary while with the New York Times, knows that association with David Duke is the coward’s way of calling someone a bigot, a racist, a Ku Klux Klansman.
Shipp then feebly explained the Post’s silence on the Dirkhising story had to do with the paper’s policy on covering crime news.
“Our policy is not to cover murders from out of the Washington area at all unless it’s a case of mass murder or has caused a large local sensation or has raised a larger social issue,” she quoted Jackson Diehl, the assistant managing editor for national news, as saying. Diehl explained that the Shepard story was news because it “prompted debate on hate crimes and the degree to which there is still intolerance of gay people in this country. It was much more than a murder story for us,” he added. More “routine” crimes may be ignored or limited to news briefs culled from wire services, he explained.
Precisely the point I made in my first column on this subject.
Clearly the Shepard case was “more than a murder story” for the Post and other establishment press outlets because they are promoting hate-crimes legislation under the guise of reporting news. The Post’s own national news editor characterizes the sensational murder of Jesse Dirkhising as “routine.” God help us if it is “routine.” I don’t doubt, for a minute, given the media myopia on such stories, that there are many other Jesse Dirkhisings being ignored. But, God help us if it ever becomes “routine.”
“The story of the Sept. 26 death of Jesse Dirkhising in Rogers, Ark., and the arrest of two male suspects, wasn’t transmitted on the Associated Press’ national news wires until Oct. 29,” Shipp continues. The Post, considering this a “routine” story, carried a news brief on Oct. 30.
Even Shipp, however, seemed to agree the Post underplayed it. And the Associated Press later acknowledged blowing the story in the first place. But rather than thank me for bringing an admittedly important national story to light, Shipp chose to demean me by linking my name with David Duke.
She continued: “For a variety of reasons, some people insist upon depicting the Shepard and Dirkhising slayings as equivalent. Here at the Post, however, the two are seen as quite different. A hate crime homicide such as Shepard’s and, four months before that, James Byrd’s in Jasper, Texas, is, ‘a special kind of killing,’ the Post has editorialized. ‘It tells a segment of American society that its physical safety is at risk.'”
For the life of me, I have no idea how someone with this level of reasoning ability could win a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. The Dirkhising case starkly illustrated that there is a physical risk to a segment of American society – namely young boys. Keep in mind that Jesse’s guardians saw nothing wrong with a 13-year-old boy spending weekends with a homosexual couple. That’s crazy. But the national climate that fosters such poor judgment was created, in part, by the kind of selective, politically influenced reporting we just described at the Post and the AP.
And here was the piece d’resistance from Shipp: “Arkansas authorities have not characterized the Dirkhising death as a hate crime. Matthew Shepard’s death sparked public expressions of outrage that themselves became news. That Jesse Dirkhising’s death has not done so to date is hardly the fault of the Washington Post.”
How is the public supposed to be outraged if they don’t hear about news like this? And, when I made a public expression of outrage, I was compared with David Duke!
I followed up that column about Shipp with an open letter to her titled, “E.R. Shipp, where are you?” No, I never did get an apology from Shipp. But she didn’t hold on to her job much longer at the Post, either. In fact, the question “E.R. Shipp, where are you?” is as timely today as it was 12 years ago.
Whatever became of this gifted journalist?
I decided to find out when a reader sent me the following information: “I stumbled upon your article ‘E.R. Shipp, where are you?’ during my search for my debtor E.R. Shipp, and am very amused. As a conservative myself, I echo your sentiments and fully agree with you. Did you ever hear back from Ms. Shipp about the public apology you requested?
“I have some information that might be of interest to you: I sub-letted Ms. Shipp’s apartment in Manhattan a few years ago for the duration of a summer when I was in college, but never got my security deposit back from her. I filed a case against her in the small claims court in New York, and obtained a default judgment against her. I assigned my case to a collection agency. The collection agency notified me that Etheleen Renee Shipp went bankrupt, and that the chances of recovering my judgment against her are slim. Isn’t that ironic?
“I have since moved on with my life. I do not expect to ever recover my judgment against her. But I just wanted to share this with you, in the hopes that this might make you feel less puzzled about why she acted the way she did. In my opinion, Ms. Shipp is a loser. Utterly and completely so.”
Here’s what my own research into the whereabouts of the former Washington Post ombudsman turned up.
For a few years, Shipp served as a professor of journalism at Hofstra University.
Here are a few of the more polite and printable adjectives students used to describe her classroom demeanor: rude, condescending, belittling, unprofessional, unhappy, nasty, awful, horrible, terrible, arrogant.
Some also described her as the “worst teacher ever.” One said he was “shocked that anyone would hire her.” Another said she “learned nothing” in the class, while another student described the experience of taking her class as a “waste of money.” There was not a single favorable comment on this faculty rating site. Not one – not even a neutral characterization.
She left Hofstra in 2008 for whereabouts unknown.
Her last public surfacing came in an article she wrote in Al Arabiya July 4 of this year, in which she explained why American blacks need to support Barack Obama’s more “even-handed” Middle East policy – meaning more pro-Palestinian, more pro-Muslim Brotherhood.
O how the mighty have fallen.
I can’t wait to see if Al Arabiya will publish her next indictment of “homophobia.”
I think I had E.R. Shipp pegged right from the start.