Factual · Powerful · Original · Iconoclastic
Want to write a best-seller? Don’t contradict a widely held and politically correct myth.
Until now, most experts have held that everyone is at risk of acquiring AIDS, so messages promoting less risky behavior, they say, should be broadcast scattershot .... But other experts are now arguing otherwise." So read the first paragraph of a front-page New York Times story, in March 1993, entitled "Targeting Urged in Attack on AIDS."
Six years had elapsed between the appearance of my first article suggesting that AIDS be treated like other diseases — by identifying and then reducing risk factors — and the time that suggestion appeared in America’s newspaper of record. What happened during that time to me and to the first edition of my book shows how the AIDS debate has been dominated by politics, to the detriment of science and public health.
As of August of 1988, I had spent nine months negiotiating with a conservative think tank concerning a fellowship to complete the book. Everything had been confirmed and I was told that a letter would be sent in a matter of days with the official invitation. Then an article of mine appeared — a cover story in The New Republic — criticizing some conservatives’ reaction to AIDS. Several weeks went by without my receiving any letter.
When I finally called I was told the fellowship had been denied and that was the end of it. There was never any written notification or reason given. The infamous article, incidentally, was entitled "The Political Uses of an Epidemic."
Months before Myth was complete, letters were already circulating to book distributors asking that the book be kept off store shelves. When it was published, in 1989, my editor and I thought that only a few stores would go along with this boycott. We were wrong. Indeed, one of the largest chains in the country refused to buy a single copy until I announced their boycott on national TV.
An ABC reporter called them about it, and then and there, it seems, they decided to begin stocking it, albeit too late for the book to take advantage of the publicity. A short while later, the president and CEO of this chain signed his name to a full-page advertisement in numerous newspapers condemning "special-interest groups" for, among other things, trying to keep certain titles out of stores.
This threat to the Republic, of which the ad warned, was the effort of a Christian group to get the chain to stop selling girlie magazines. Perhaps if Myth had included some dirty pictures, the chain would have felt obliged to carry it.
Denver: No books available.
In metropolitan Denver, where I was living the following year — an area with
a population of about 2.5 million people — the book was unavailable at the distributor level, and all the stores just happened to be sold out. Both the Tattered Cover, one of the largest, best-known bookstores in the nation, and the B. Dalton store advised me they had no intention of reordering the book, at least until the paperback version came out.
At the Tattered Cover I was told they weren’t carrying the book because "it is over six months old." I personally surveyed their massive collection of AIDS books and found that of the 80 books they carried on AIDS, 68 were published in 1989 or earlier (the time of the search was October of 1990).
The store carried books that said AIDS is really syphilis, that the disease is the result of biological warfare, that it can be cured through a positive mental attitude. It had Gene Antonio’s book, The AIDS Coverup, which said that as much as a fifth of the U.S. population would be dead or dying of AIDS by 1990. It had AIDS books from publishing houses so tiny that some of them weren’t even typeset. But it did not have The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, published in hardcover by Basic Books.
Ironically, the Tattered Cover, in celebration of Banned Books Week, had just organized a seminar on censorship, mounting a large store display. Needless to say, Myth was not featured.
A Foundation of Lies
Having denied the public the right to see the book, AIDS activists concentrated on telling them what they would have read had they been able to obtain a copy. To summarize one review, Donna Minkowitz at the Village Voice said it was "bilge" built on "a foundation of lies." Common epithets included: cruel, uncompassionate, racist, sexist, and homophobic.
Probably the most prestigious science journal in the world is the British magazine Nature. Nature’s view of Myth ran quite early, something journals will do when they are making a conscious effort to affect how a book will be received. The reviewer was Duncan Campbell, who, among many other things, asserted:
Only a writer whose prejudices deny humanity could write in such bad taste as this: "Although AIDS is no joke, there is good news and bad news about the length of HIV infectiousness ... the ’good news’ is that the great majority, and perhaps almost all, of HIV-infected persons will develop debilitating symptoms or die."
In fact, what the book says is:
The "good news" here is actually terrible news for anyone infected:
Originally, it was thought that only a small percentage of those infected with the virus would go on to develop the disease. While this was reassuring to infected persons, it made the long-term outlook for the spread of the disease look bad because it meant that large numbers of healthy persons would be spreading the virus to others indefinitely. But a consensus of opinion has now formed that the great majority, and perhaps almost all, of HIV-infected persons will develop debilitating symptoms or die.
How different, I wonder, is this from taking a statement like, "Judaism is
not a gutter religion" and presenting it as "Judaism is . .. a gutter religion"?
There is no nice term for what Campbell did. He lied. He lied blatantly, and he lied often. What’s really remarkable, however, is that an esteemed scientific journal such as Nature should assign a nonscientist such as Duncan Campbell to review the book at all. Campbell’s only AIDS background is as a homosexual AIDS activist.
Further, when I offered a reply, Nature refused to run it. Acting book-review editor Maxine Clarke wrote back: "My own view is that Mr. Campbell is surely at least as qualified as you to comment on the AIDS epidemic."
Science is probably the most prestigious science magazine in the United States. But Myth fared no better there. Science also skipped over any number of scientists, doctors, and science writers and turned Myth over to a professor of post-structuralist linguistics, Paula Treichler.
Professor Treichler is best known for co-editing A Feminist Dictionary, which enlightens readers on such topics as: "testosterone poisoning," "lesbian consciousness," "egotistical world view" (defined as "men’s point of view on all issues"), "compulsory heterosexuality," and "de-dyking the apartment" (that’s when the folks come over and you have to make it look like your lover isn’t).
Miss Treichler is decidedly not known for her expertise in AIDS. Her major contribution on the subject was in a Marxist quarterly, October (the name refers to the October Revolution). Her essay railed against the assertion that the anus is more susceptible to penetration by the AIDS virus than the vagina, not on any scientific grounds but because it makes AIDS appear to be a "gay disease," which in turn "protects not only the sexual practices of heterosexuality but also its ideological superiority."
Wrote Miss Treichler in her Science review, "Fumento’s own political agenda is never, after all, very far from his science. He calls, among other things, for AIDS estimates to be revised downward (for all groups, not only heterosexuals)." In fact, even as my book was appearing on store shelves in January (four months before Miss Treichler’s review appeared), the federal Centers for Disease Control did revise downward the projections for all groups, making me virtually the only journalist in the country to have predicted the event. Science, too, refused to run a response, although at least it refrained from sending me an abusive letter.
Of Mice and Men
Activists also pressured television shows and publications to lock me out. Four national television shows, including Good Morning America and McLaughlin, Eleventh Hour, and A Current Affair, scheduled me for appearances, then pulled out without giving me a reason.
There were other such incidents. A reporter for the New York Daily News called my publicist, eager to interview me the next time I was in town. But when my publicist returned the call, the reporter said his editor had refused to allow him to do the story. At about the same time a reporter for The New Yorker, Peter Bayer, told me he had heard of Myth’s troubles from Newsday’s Jack Schwartz and expressed horror that such a thing could happen in this country. He asked to see a copy of one of the very few articles chronicling the story and I faxed it. But he never called, nor did he return my repeated calls.
But of all the acts of cowardice surrounding Myth, the most painful concerned my job at the Rocky Mountain News. In October 1989, I moved out to the Denver area to take a job as editorial writer with the News, edited by Jay Ambrose.
About four weeks after Myth started being shipped to stores and two days after USA Today photographed me in the newsroom for its upcoming profile, the News fired me. The reason: I had "made too many phone calls."
I’ve been at newspapers where reporters were criticized for not making enough phone calls ("I want to see you burning up those phone lines!" was a favorite of my previous editor), but this was something quite new. The man responsible, for this indefensible charge, Managing Editor Michael Finney, had just weeks earlier responded to pressure from a feminist group by announcing an affirmative-action plan, scheduling sensitivity sessions for white males, and publicly expressing his sorrow at being a white male. It wasn’t too difficult to figure out what happened. After this, but for the occasional freelance piece, I was unemployed for a year and a half.
Not Really about AIDS
In essence, tiffs book isn’t really about AIDS. The AIDS crisis and the way our government, our leaders, and the media have manipulated it have provided perhaps the best example of the politically correct intellectual dark ages into which our country has fallen.
If these forces can take a grim disease that has devastated minority sectors of the population while leaving the majority essentially unscathed, and if they can declare through proclamations, millions of dollars of advertising, and vast media publicity that, nonetheless, it does "not discriminate," then the Newspeak dictionary is on its way to completion. It is 1984 arrived just about on schedule, a world in which "Ignorance is Strength."
And yet, because of the courage of one publisher and the bullheadedness of one author, The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS rises like the phoenix from the ashes. Its fate I cannot guess.
But what can be said with certainty is that during the six years that I have labored to get our nation to treat AIDS like a disease instead of a political weapon, hundreds of millions of AIDS-designated dollars have been squandered and tens of thousands of Americans have been needlessly infected and will die horribly. No matter how successful the second edition of this book, it will never bring them back.
This article is excerpted from The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS by Regnery Publishing.