HIV/AIDS | Media Matters for America


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  • Politico published an article saying a man’s death from AIDS was the result of a "decadent homosexual lifestyle"

    The language has since been removed after being "deemed insensitive"

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Melissa Joskow / Media Matters

    In a piece about disgraced late U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R-WI), Politico senior staff writer Michael Kruse made a since-removed anti-gay remark about McCarthy-ally Roy Cohn, saying that Cohn’s death from AIDS was “the result of the decadent homosexual lifestyle he denied to the end.” The piece has since been edited to remove that language, saying it was "deemed insensitive."

    Kruse wrote his report in response to a August 19 tweet by President Donald Trump, which read, in part, “Study the late Joseph McCarthy.” The piece detailed the rise and fall of McCarthy, who “earned lasting disgrace for his public shaming of supposed Communists,” as well as the impact his adviser Cohn had on the senator. The report also noted that Cohn represented “Trump and his father when the Department of Justice sued them in 1973 for racial bias in the rentals of their outer-borough apartments.” Remarking on Cohn’s death, however, Kruse included an unnecessary and homophobic comment, writing, “He died from AIDS, the result of the decadent homosexual lifestyle he denied to the end”:

    The piece has since been edited to read that Cohn “died from AIDS as a man who denied to the end that he was gay,” and an editor's note has been added indicating that "an earlier version of this story contained language about Roy Cohn that was deemed insensitive and has been removed." Initially after receiving criticism on Twitter, Kruse did not apologize but said that he “should have thought harder about these echoes and connotations” and suggested that “a simple ‘promiscuity’ probably would’ve sufficed.” But suggesting that HIV/AIDS is a consequence of being gay, or even promiscuous, is disparaging and damaging to the LGBTQ community. For years, extreme anti-LGBTQ groups like Alliance Defending Freedom and Liberty Counsel have employed similar messaging, and the Public Religion Research Institute found that in 2013, “14 percent of Americans believed AIDS might be punishment from God” for “immoral sexual behavior.”

    In fact, much of the Reagan administration’s chilling lack of response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic can be attributed to its designation as a “gay plague,” something senior Reagan staff and members of the media laughed about in 1982 after “nearly 1,000 people had died from AIDS,” according to Vox’s German Lopez. The Washington Post’s Caitlin Gibson noted similar responses in subsequent years:

    At subsequent press conferences in 1983 and 1984, [Reagan administration press secretary Larry] Speakes — and the White House press corps — continue to respond to [reporter Lester] Kinsolving’s increasingly urgent questions about AIDS with a mix of laughter, homophobic jokes and general indifference.

    Gibson wrote that the first time Reagan “addressed the epidemic in earnest” was in 1987, after “nearly 23,000 people had died of the disease,” and even as his administration began to confront the crisis, he continued to suggest “that its spread might be slowed by ethical behavior.”

    The LGBTQ community, and in particular queer and trans black communities, are disproportionately impacted by HIV, which is treatable and preventable (though many barriers remain to access and patient retention). To glibly suggest that a man’s death from AIDS in 1986 was his fault, or the result of a “decadent homosexual lifestyle,” is to demean the lost lives of hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people. And as we saw in the Reagan administration’s response to the epidemic, that sentiment quite literally killed people. Comments such as Kruse’s necessitate more than just an edit; they demand an apology.

    Click here to find free HIV testing near you.

  • What Media Need To Know About Mike Pence’s Economic Record

    ››› ››› ALEX MORASH

    Republican vice presidential nominee Gov. Mike Pence and Democratic vice presidential nominee Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) will face off on October 4 in a debate at Longwood University in Farmville, VA. As media outlets prepare for the only vice presidential debate of the 2016 election, they should have all facts about how Indiana really fared during Pence’s governorship.

  • Right-Wing Media's Obsession With Planned Parenthood Is Thwarting Local Efforts To Reduce HIV Rates

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL LARRIS

    Right-wing media have been adamant that Planned Parenthood should not receive any government funding, even for programs that have nothing to do with abortion. But withholding health care funds from Planned Parenthood is the medical equivalent of cutting off your nose to spite your face, as evidenced by the defunded local affiliates whose HIV prevention programs have become far less -- or completely -- ineffective.

    National HIV Testing Day -- on June 27 this year -- is a day to promote HIV testing, prevention, and education. While HIV is not limited to any one demographic, it is more highly concentrated in economically disadvantaged areas. HIV is also particularly prevalent in black, Hispanic/Latino, gay, and transgender communities. While 1.2 million people were living with HIV, 13 percent aren't aware of it. Prevention programs supported by federal grants help provide accessible HIV testing and public education and are critical to reducing new diagnosis rates each year. However, right-wing media’s insistence that Planned Parenthood should not receive funding to service HIV programs has resulted in fewer places for people to turn.

    Right-wing media frequently call for eliminating all government funding to Planned Parenthood, pushing the myth that doing so wouldn't impact service provision. But in reality, Planned Parenthood provides a variety of medical services and is an important -- and sometimes the only -- resource for communities most impacted by HIV.

    Earlier this month, The Texas Observer reported that Harris County -- which had the highest number of new HIV diagnoses in the state in 2014 -- hadn’t conducted any HIV tests since ending a nearly 30-year-old contract with Planned Parenthood in December. When announcing the contract termination, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) told lawmakers that it expects “healthcare to benefit from these changes.” Planned Parenthood had previously received $600,000 annually to provide “HIV screenings in the Houston area, including in Harris, Galveston, Brazoria, Fort Bend and Montgomery counties,” while “specifically tailoring” its services to reach populations in the “Harris County jail, local bars and nightclubs, and college campuses.” Yet since canceling Planned Parenthood’s contract, equal replacements have not been funded. For example, as the Observer reported, Harris County’s health department had received less than half of the amount previously allocated to Planned Parenthood and was “still in the planning stages for its [HIV prevention] program.” The disruption in Harris County’s HIV program is similar to the problem Texas officials created last year when they removed Planned Parenthood from the state’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program, leaving the Waco area without a provider.

    Meanwhile, Ohio state officials may create a similar disruption in Stark County’s HIV prevention programs due to a new law that redirects $1.3 million in funding away from Planned Parenthood clinics to providers that don’t offer abortion. This law has a potential impact on all Planned Parenthood clinics, not just those that provide abortion, including a clinic in Stark County that has received state funding for HIV prevention “for decades.” In March, the Ohio Department of Health sent the Canton city health department a letter saying that because of the new law, it could no longer work with “agencies that promote or perform nontherapeutic abortions.” A federal judge has temporarily blocked implementation of the law, pending a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality. One of the findings in the judge’s order was:

    Plaintiffs explain that only certified and trained HIV testers can provide testing under the HIV Prevention Program, and officials in Canton have reported that they have not been able to locate a replacement for [Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio] under this program.

    As The Repository reported, Canton health officials saw benefits to contracting with Planned Parenthood for HIV testing, specifically because people would feel comfortable going there for care:

    Canton City Health Commissioner James Adams said the health department wants to test lots of people and reach diverse populations, and not everyone feels comfortable going to a governmental agency for testing. He said finding an agency that addresses a similar population to Planned Parenthood would pose a challenge.

    Removing Planned Parenthood from programs for HIV testing already had disastrous results for Scott County, Indiana. In 2011, Indiana passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood. As a result, five clinics closed, leaving Scott County without an HIV testing center during an exploding HIV crisis.

    Right-wing media figures who advocate for cutting government funding to Planned Parenthood are ignoring the evidence that this country’s health care problems worsen as a result. When news outlets propagate misinformation about defunding Planned Parenthood, it doesn’t just impact those who seek abortion care, but also punishes the poorest and most marginalized communities in the country.

  • Why Is NBC Bringing Anti-Gay Xenophobe Pat Buchanan Back To Meet The Press?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    NBC's Meet the Press this weekend will host Pat Buchanan, a homophobic and racist commentator. MSNBC parted ways with Buchanan in 2012 following blowback over his book Suicide of a Superpower, which claimed to document how diversity and immigration are ruining the country.

    The Sunday show states on its website that it will interview Buchanan about "the return of populism" on the presidential campaign trail. Buchanan's brand of "populism" has long included bigotry against minorities, immigrants, and LGBT people during his career as a political candidate and commentator

    Buchanan has repeatedly defended Adolf Hitler and once labeled him "an individual of great courage." He claimed "in a way, both sides were right" during the Civil War. He declined to disavow the idea that minorities have inferior genes. He defended a school's ban on interracial dating. He opined that "this has been a country built, basically, by white folks" and falsely claimed only "white males" died at Gettysburg and Normandy. He once claimed "conservatives are the niggers of the Nixon administration" and urged President Nixon not to visit Martin Luther King Jr.'s widow because King was "one of the most divisive men in contemporary history." 

    On immigrants, Buchanan claimed America is "committing suicide" while "Asian, African, and Latin American children come to inherit the estate." He complained that immigration will turn the U.S. into "a polyglot boarding house for the world, a tangle of squabbling minorities." He objected to states like California having a majority Hispanic population. He said of Mexican immigrants: "They are militant, and they have no interest, many of them, in becoming American."

    Buchanan repeatedly appeared on a white nationalist radio program. He wrote the foreword to a book compiling the works of a white supremacist. He relied on the work of white supremacists for research in his own work. He praised David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, as having a "portfolio of winning issues."

    Buchanan said "homosexual sex is unnatural and immoral" and "that kind of conduct should be discouraged in a good society." He's written of same-sex relationships: "In a healthy society, it will be contained, segregated, controlled, and stigmatized, carrying both a legal and social sanction." He once wrote of AIDS: "The poor homosexuals -- they have declared war upon nature, and now nature is extracting an awful retribution."

    Despite these remarks -- which represent only a small sampling of Buchanan's toxic rhetoric, including on NBC properties -- NBC is inviting Buchanan back to its airwaves.

    Fellow Sunday show host Chris Wallace of Fox said Buchanan has said things "I'm not particularly fond of" including "some very incendiary things about Israel, about Jews, about blacks, about other minorities." As new CNN Sunday show host Jake Tapper once wrote, Buchanan leaves behind "a trail of racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic rhetorical dung" wherever he goes.

    Why is Chuck Todd allowing him back on Meet the Press


    Todd tweeted in response to Media Matters research fellow Oliver Willis that Buchanan will be on the show "as part of a Trump segment. Trump 2015 and Buchanan 1992 share a lot of similarities on issues."

  • NRO's Dennis Prager: Heterosexual AIDS Is An "Entirely Manufactured" Myth

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    Conservative columnist Dennis Prager claimed that "heterosexual AIDS" is a crisis "entirely manufactured by the Left," continuing his years-long campaign of peddling dangerous and inaccurate AIDS denialism.

    Prager's July 1 syndicated column featured a defense of the Washington Redskins' name. Prager accused the "American Left" of being preoccupied with "manufactured" controversies and crises, including "heterosexual AIDS": 

    The great majority of American Indians understandably just don't care. Like heterosexual AIDS and so many other crises, this has been entirely manufactured by the Left. Since 1947, there has been a movie theater, the Redskin Theatre (with the same logo as the football team), in Anadarko, Okla., a city whose population is divided evenly between Indians and whites and that calls itself the "Indian Capital of the Nation." Why, in 67 years, have the Indian populations of Anadarko and Oklahoma not changed this theater's name? Because the Left hadn't made it an issue. It's not an Indian issue; it's a left-wing issue. [emphasis added]

    Prager's comparison is the latest in his long and bizarre history of falsely asserting that HIV and AIDS aren't issues for heterosexuals. As Adam Serwer wrote for The American Prospect in 2008, Prager exemplifies a strain of "AIDS denialism" that suggests that "AIDS is a 'gay' problem, and so heterosexuals don't have to worry about it."

    In a 2007 column titled "Does the Left Value Truth?," Prager wrote:

    The homeless, heterosexual AIDS and rape. For years, mainstream liberal news media purveyed false information supplied by Mitch Snyder, the major liberal activist on behalf of the homeless. Likewise, we were told by gay and AIDS activist groups that AIDS "doesn't discriminate," meaning that heterosexuals in America were as likely to contract the HIV virus as homosexuals. It was never true in America (Africa may be another story for other reasons). [emphasis added]

    According to Prager, AIDS activists invented the myth of heterosexual AIDS in order to generate hysteria about the disease. During a June 2008 edition of his radio show, he equated heterosexual AIDS with other purportedly exaggerated threats, including climate change and secondhand smoke:

  • How The Hobby Lobby Decision Could Undermine The Fight Against HIV/AIDS

    Blog ››› ››› CARLOS MAZA

    The Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision might make it harder for millions of LGBT Americans to access treatment that could revolutionize the fight against HIV/AIDS.

    The Supreme Court's decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. has sparked debate over whether the court's opinion grants business owners the right to discriminate against LGBT customers and employees on religious grounds. The decision is already being celebrated by a number of anti-LGBT activists who see it as a license to ignore non-discrimination laws, while some commentators have argued that the decision was tailored to avoid creating a blank check for homophobic business owners.

    But the Hobby Lobby decision's most significant implication for the LGBT community may be its impact on Truvada, a controversial "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection and may revolutionize the battle against HIV/AIDS.

    In May 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) endorsed Truvada, which is a pre-expsure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs, for use by patients deemed at risk for HIV/AIDS. When taken properly, Truvada reduces the risk of HIV by more than 99 percent effective.

    Despite its effectiveness, Truvada remains a hotly debated topic in the LGBT community, with critics warning (incorrectly) that Truvada users are more likely to engage in unsafe sex and deriding users as promiscuous and irresponsible.

    In April, USA Today noted the similarities between the controversy surrounding Truvada and conservative opposition to birth control:

    Demetre Daskalakis, the Mount Sinai doctor, said the Truvada debate recalls the way birth control was viewed in some quarters in the 1960s -- as an accessory to promiscuity.

    "Anyone who takes Truvada, someone is looking at them and saying they're licentious," Daskalakis said. "When this becomes more normalized, we'll be fine."

  • Media Outlets Should Cover This Historic HIV/AIDS Development

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) ringing endorsement last week of Truvada, the "miracle drug" that blocks HIV infection, presents news outlets with a prime opportunity to cover an historic development in the three-decade struggle against HIV/AIDS. So far, however, media organizations have largely ignored the story.

    Truvada is a 10-year-old pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment combining two different antiviral drugs. Taken daily, it prevents infection of HIV. Even though the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the drug back in July 2012, it hasn't exactly caught on; a September 2013 report by Gilead Sciences found that only 1,774 people had filled Truvada prescriptions from January 2011 through March 2013. Nearly half of users were women, even though gay men are the demographic group most at risk for HIV/AIDS.

    Part of the reason Truvada has been slow to gain steam is, undoubtedly, the stigma attached to those who use it. Gay men who use the drug have been derided as "Truvada Whores," a term many users have sought to reclaim. Some HIV/AIDS advocates, including Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, have cast doubt on Truvada's effectiveness, noting that it won't block infection unless users strictly adhere to taking it daily.

    But advocates who hail Truvada as a watershed development in the struggle against HIV/AIDS got a huge boost on May 14, when the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report called on doctors to prescribe the pill for patients deemed at risk of HIV/AIDS - men who have sex with men, heterosexuals with at-risk partners, anyone whose partners they know are infected, and those who use drugs or share needles.

    As The New York Times noted, if doctors follow the CDC's advice, Truvada prescriptions would increase to an estimated 500,000 annually.

    On May 15, the Times gave the CDC's historic report prime placement on its front page:

    But the Times and The Washington Post were the only major newspapers outlets to cover the CDC's report:

  • Watch MSNBC's Josh Barro Expose The Deadly Consequences Of HIV Stigma

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    Weighing in on disgraced Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling's recent shaming of Magic Johnson for having HIV, MSNBC contributor Josh Barro highlighted the dangerous consequences of stigmatizing people living with HIV - a problem that extends far beyond Sterling and all too often results from problematic coverage in mainstream media.

    On May 13, Sterling sat down with CNN's Anderson Cooper to discuss his lifetime ban from the NBA after racist remarks he made were leaked last month. At one point, the conversation shifted toward Johnson, the former NBA star who announced his HIV diagnosis over two decades ago.

    "What has he done?" Sterling asked. He proceeded to argue that Johnson - a man renowned for his charitable work on HIV/AIDS - made a poor role model for American youth. "What kind of guy goes to every city, has sex with every girl, then he goes and catches HIV?" Sterling said. "Is that someone we want to respect and tell our kids about? I think he should be ashamed of himself."

    It would be easy to write off Sterling's comments as merely the latest narrow-minded rant from a man who's widely seen as a national joke. But during the May 14 edition of MSNBC's The Cycle, Barro noted that Sterling is far from the only person to stigmatize HIV patients. Citing data showing persistent ignorance about how people become infected and widespread fears by patients that they'll face medical discrimination, Barro observed that "people with HIV stigma are less likely to go to the doctor and take their medicine." HIV stigma, he noted, is "literally killing people":

  • How Sensationalist Media Coverage Hurts The Fight Against HIV

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    Significant steps have been taken in the fight against HIV/AIDS over the past several years, but media coverage of the issue all too often fixates on stories that sensationalize the spread of the disease and even encourage the criminalization of people with HIV.

    A new Equality Matters report examining evening cable news coverage of HIV/AIDS stories found that cable news networks largely ignored some of the most significant developments in the fight against HIV/AIDS in 2013:

    But even while news outlets have ignored major progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS, many continue to highlight crime stories that sensationalize the spread of HIV. A look at CNN's evening coverage of HIV/AIDS stories in 2013, for example, reveals that, after the story of a baby who's HIV was in remission after early antiretroviral drug treatment, the network's top two HIV/AIDS topics were about a Missouri man who knowingly infected sex partners with the virus and an Oklahoma dentist whose unsanitary equipment may have infected patients:

    Sensationalist news coverage, especially when it comes at the expense of serious reporting on the fight against HIV/AIDS, has real and damaging consequences for people living with the disease. As the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD notes, stories like the case of the Missouri man are used "to justify salacious and vilifying coverage that perpetuate stereotypes against HIV+ and LGBT communities":

    This story directly relates to the matter of treating people who have HIV as criminals, while overlooking many of the realities with which such people struggle, like stigma and fear. Many media outlets have effectively reinforced the very issues they fail to acknowledge.

    Rather than inform the public of the realities of living with HIV/AIDS, these kinds of stories encourage panic and further stigmatize an already marginalized community, which in turn worsens the problem of attempting to combat the spread of HIV.

  • REPORT: World AIDS Day Gets 15 Seconds On Fox News


    Both CNN and MSNBC devoted significant coverage to the Obama administration's commemoration of World AIDS Day on December 2. Fox News, on the other hand, spent less than 20 seconds acknowledging President Obama's speech outlining significant new efforts to combat the spread of HIV/AIDS.

  • A Missed Introduction To Oregon's Extreme New Republican Chairman

    Former Congressional Candidate Has Espoused Fringe Views On Evolution, AIDS, Race

    Blog ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    Art RobinsonIt's hard to do justice to the extreme views of the new chairman for Oregon's Republican party. But reports on Art Robinson often didn't even come close, merely mentioning that he is a "skeptic of human-caused global warming," while leaving out the chairman's anti-scientific statements on evolution, AIDS, and nuclear waste.

    Robinson is best known for organizing a petition rejecting climate change that claims to have 31,072 American scientist signatories, with "scientist" defined as anyone who claims to have a bachelor's degree in various fields including computer science, statistics, and metallurgy. Robinson, who is a chemist but has not done any scientific research into climate change, has acknowledged that fake names such as the Spice Girl's Geri Halliwell made it onto the list. The petition says little to rebut the consensus of the vast majority of scientists, as it does not state what percentage of people responded to the survey. Robinson told the conspiracy website in 2002 that ""[t]here is absolutely not a shred of evidence that humans are causing any change in the climate by generating CO2."

    The Associated Press characterized all this by simply stating that Robinson is "a chemist and outspoken skeptic of human-caused global warming," echoing The Oregonian, Oregon's largest newspaper.

    Furthermore, at no point during Robinson's candidacy for GOP chairman did the two largest Oregon papers (The Oregonian and The Eugene Register-Guard)* mention that Robinson has made several other claims that run counter to scientific research:

    • Robinson signed an anti-Darwinism statement "skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life," contrary to peer-reviewed studies repeatedly supporting evolution.
    • Robinson questioned whether HIV was leading to AIDS in the 1990s, reportedly writing that "AIDS may be little more than a general classification of deaths resulting from exposure to homosexual behavior." When MSNBC's Rachel Maddow asked Robinson about these and other statements that he has made, he refused to answer, spinning around in his chair as he vaguely accused her of "lies."
    • Robinson reportedly believes in radiation "hormesis," the idea that low-level radiation is good for you, and thus supports disposing of nuclear waste by diluting it and "sprinkl[ing] it over the ocean" or using it to "enhance" drinking water in Oregon. Scientists say that the data on the effects of low-levels of radiation are too weak to base public policy on.

    Nor did they mention* the following extreme views and conspiratorial claims from the former Congressional candidate (in fact, The Oregonian published an op-ed suggesting that Robinson has not engaged in "offensive and bizarre comments"):

  • CBS To Receive Award From Fringe Group At CPAC

    ››› ››› SHAUNA THEEL

    CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson is set to receive a journalism award at this year's Conservative Political Action Conference from Accuracy in Media, a right-wing group with a long history of promoting anti-gay views and conspiracy theories. Attkisson -- the first reporter from a mainstream news outlet to receive AIM's annual award -- has produced some notably bad journalism over the past year, particularly on the topics of clean energy and vaccines.