Rights Panel Reassigns Attorney Who Criticized Administration on AIDS

September 23, 1988  ·  Michael Fumento  ·  The Washington Post  ·  Aids

Lawyer Michael A. Fumento was hired a year ago as an AIDS specialist for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights after writing an article on AIDS for Commentary magazine.

In the last few weeks, Fumento has told friends that he has been "banished" from finishing his job as staff attorney on the commission’s report on AIDS because of an article he wrote on the subject for The New Republic.

In the cover article in The New Republic’s Aug. 8-15 issue, Fumento accused conservatives of distorting AIDS data in order to pursue their moral agenda "where homosexuality is pushed back in the closet (or further), where monogamy and sexual morality are revered . . . . "

Fumento said this week that he had been barred from speaking to reporters about his reassignment.

Fumento was told not to speak to reporters after an article appeared this week in a Bureau of National Affairs newsletter. The newsletter quoted him as saying he had been transferred to a "black-hole project" because of the New Republic article.

Commission Chairman William B. Allen issued a statement yesterday, saying: "The commission took no action regarding Michael Fumento, a member of the commission’s staff. I acknowledge that he has been reassigned, and it is possible, even probable, that he was reassigned in order to avert possible commission action."

Allen’s comments were interpreted among members of the commission staff to mean that if Fumento’s supervisor had not reassigned him, the commission would have done it at its next meeting, probably in closed session, as is allowed for personnel matters.

Commission spokesman John Eastman denied that Fumento was being punished for the New Republic article. He said it is "mere coincidence" that Fumento’s reassignment came after the article, which criticized former secretary of education William Bennett and White House aides dealing with AIDS.

"It is not out of the ordinary for someone to do [the preliminary work on a report] and someone else to write the final draft," Eastman said.

The original article in Commentary in November 1987 was entitled "AIDS: Are Heterosexuals at Risk?" It outlined Fumento’s view that the AIDS epidemic is more confined than most people realize to gay men and intravenous-drug abusers. He said articles in the nation’s top news magazines have "taken their toll in terror." One example cited was a Life magazine cover that said, "Now, No One Is Safe From AIDS."

Fumento has told friends that his fellow conservatives rallied to his side after the Commentary article and helped him get the job as the staff attorney preparing the commission’s AIDS report.

Michael Kinsley, editor of The New Republic, said the Commentary article and the New Republic article essentially make the same argument — that AIDS is not spreading rapidly beyond known risk groups to the heterosexual community at large.

"Conservatives have these two logically contradictory positions on AIDS — A, that it’s a gay plague, and B, that these evil people are infecting all of us. Fumento’s view supports one of their claims and contradicts the other," Kinsley said.

"The really amazing thing is how ruthless they are. This guy who is a conservative, whom they’ve liked all along, and suddenly he dissents from a party line and he’s gone," Kinsley added.

Fumento has told friends that as a writer and lawyer he thought he had received blanket approval to write freelance articles while he was serving as the commission’s AIDS expert. After the New Republic article, he was told that he needed advance written permission for each article.

Since October 1987, when he left the job of legal affairs reporter for The Washington Times to join the commission, Fumento had written seven other articles without prior approval.

Commission general counsel William Howard, who told the BNA Newsletterthat he made the decision to reassign Fumento, could not be reached for comment yesterday.