Because of the immeasurable lack of knowledge, news stories on AIDS in the early 80’s fueled the fear of infection. The mixture of sensationalism and novelty of the new virus helped the identification of AIDS earn its number 18 ranking on the public pole even over civil rights and the U.S debut of television.
When the infection first broke it was so much more than just a virus. It effected our culture, politics, science and individuals from all walks of life. No one had known where AIDS had come from, how you could contract it and with no way to fight it, HIV/AIDS was a death sentence and was treated as such in the media. When AIDS first surfaced, in the summer of 1981, the only thing the researchers and the public knew about it, was that it was highly contagious and that men were dying at a rate just a fast as others were contracting the infection. So during this period there was a lot of finger pointing and blame in the media because there were no definite answers. Every type of media had participated in what seemed like a witch hunt for who had brought such a deadly virus into the U.S. Amongst the articles that I had analyzed, which included one from the New York Times and the other from the Miami Herald, journalist were not censored from naming specific groups that “caused” the AIDS outbreak even though there had been no irrefutable evidence labeling any one group thus the stimulation of cultural hostility.
The Regan administration emphasized the concentration of the outbreak being on gays in California and New York.”…Because our focus, up until then, and most of the public noise we made, and everything, meeting with medical groups around the country and so forth had focused on homosexual men. And maybe by doing that we were missing the female cases” Dr. Edward Brant M.D PhD assistant secretary for health 1981-1984.
It wasn’t until 1983 that the name GRID (gay related immunodeficiency disease) changed to HIV/AIDS, acknowledging that it wasn’t just affecting gay men but was a human race problem after cases surfaced in heterosexuals the focus shifted from gays to Haitians living in Miami, FL.
Sternberg reports “Some researchers speculate that the disease was imported from Haiti by a vacationing homosexual who picked up a germ there. One Haitian physician, who believes that his countrymen have become victims of discrimination because of AIDS, has suggested that a vacationing homosexual brought the disease to the island.” This clearly depicts the flying accusations that were happening at the time.
So much time in the press had been used following these types of charges so the public didn’t receive so many facts unless it was about how much money was being invested to curing this deadly ailment, for that was the only thing journalist, researchers and the public could know for certain.
I feel that this topic should have been higher on the list for the journalistic pole because most of the stories on that list were events like the Titanic sinking or ford creating an assembly line but the identification of AIDS was an incredibly complex incident that caused social alienation and still does today. The negative stigma of AIDS being a homosexual male disease still exists and the number of cases has increased drastically over its 26 year presence.
sources:Altman, Lawrence. "Rare Cancer seen in 41 homosexuals". New York Tims. 23 April 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/1981/07/03/us/rare-cancer-seen-in-41-homosexuals.html?sec=health.
Sternberg, Steve. "War on AIDS Gains Momentum:: Research industry springs up overnight to seek cause of mysterious disease". Miami Herald. 23 April 2009 http://www.aegis.com/news/mh/1983/MH830701.html.
Simone, Renata. “Tracking AIDS History: Politics and Tracking AIDS.” 30 May 2006. Online Video clip. PBS official site, Frontline. Accessed on 23 April 2009. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/video/flv/generic.html?s=frol02s45eq6b&continuous=1