AIDS has been a plague since 1982, although officially it never has been called one. I was recently asked by The New York Times to participate in a public forum entitled “AIDS at 25: What next?” I was not allowed to make the following remarks; indeed, a representative of the Times attempted to prevent the distribution of them to the audience. The forum was about the future of what is incorrectly called a “pandemic.” But you don’t learn much about how to live in the future until you understand the past. Surely Freud taught us this. Unfortunately, the future and what is going to happen is obvious. Many millions more people will die, drug companies will continue their insatiable and never-ending evil greed, and governments, particularly our own, will not stop their base, mean behavior in the face of so much death. None of this will change, no matter how many panels or public forums or Bill Gateses there are. It is deeply disheartening that 25 years later the message remains the same. No, we must face up to the past and ask why this plague has happened.
From the beginning AIDS has been a disease inextricably and irretrievably bound up in the minds of the world with homosexuals. There is not one person in the world, even among South African wives infected by their itinerant truck driver husbands, who, on hearing the word “AIDS” or “HIV,” does not think the word “homosexual,” or, more likely, faggot or fairy or queer or their local equivalent. Homosexuals are hated everywhere in the world. That is why there is a plague, and why the plague will continue.
The mayor of New York when this plague started was a closeted homosexual. Ron Reagan, the ballet-dancing son of the president of the United States, was thought to be a homosexual even by his father and mother, who had her own sexual proclivities to hide. (See my book, The Tragedy of Today’s Gays: Penguin; and my play, Just Say No: Grove Press.) The original director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the division of the National Institutes of Health that should have been responsible for HIV and AIDS, was a homosexual. His assistant was a homosexual. The editor-in-chief of The New York Times that covered this plague so abominably and destructively was virulently homophobic. Even Mrs. Iphigene Sulzberger, the matriarch of the Sulzberger clan that owns The New York Times, became exceedingly unsettled when anything about homosexuals appeared in her paper. It is deeply disheartening that the actions of all of the above remain uninvestigated and unreported and unchallenged 25 years and more than 70,000,000 infections later.
Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien and Dr. Linda Laubenstein and Dr. Mathilde Krim and Dr. Joseph Sonnabend and Dr. Lawrence Mass were the only doctors I know of who warned outright and from the very beginning that a virus was at large and immediate caution was required by all. Their warnings were in no way heeded. Dr. Laubenstein was the only doctor anywhere in the world I know of who said, bluntly and immediately and from the very beginning, “Stop fucking each other to death.” The director of her NYU Medical Center, Dr. Saul Farber, branded her a crazy person and put a cap on the number of patients she was allowed to admit. No warnings of any sort ever came from any official anywhere, in the New York government, in the Federal government, in the NIH, in the Public Health Service. By the time the virus was actually identified, on the eve of 1985, pretty much every gay man in the world who had sex had been exposed to this virus or to someone who had been exposed to this virus.
We are currently witnessing endless commemorations of various milestones of hiv/aids, as it now is called. To commemorate something without even knowing and acknowledging its history and how the actions and inactions of individuals and institutions and governments caused and shaped that history is a harsh and tragic joke. This country still admits to shockingly little, even when it is staring us in the face. A formalized and honest process to establish the facts of the history of this plague must be initiated.
I do not expect The New York Times to own up to its own enormous role in allowing this plague to progress any more than I expect The New York Times to honestly and completely own up to its repellant record of reporting the Holocaust. On this latter unbearably sad subject I refer you to Buried by the Times, by Professor Laurel Leff (Cambridge University Press, 2005). As with AIDS, it defies reason, nay sanity, that this “newspaper of record” did not report about the Holocaust. Additionally, just prior to the Holocaust, the Times Moscow correspondent from 1921–1934, a most peculiar man named Walter Duranty, received a Pulitzer Prize in 1932 for actually denying the gigantic famine and widespread starvation going on in Russia under Stalin’s purges. He and his paper completely whitewashed Stalin. What is it about this newspaper that it is so cowardly when it comes to fully and honestly reporting the horrors of our times? It is no small feat to falsely report, downplay, ignore, describe it as you will, three of the biggest tragedies of the 20th century. It makes one forever suspicious of the veracity and validity of their coverage of anything, most certainly of the world’s horrors today. When the leading newspaper in the world behaves like this, setting the template for all other papers all over the world to follow, which they unfortunately do, how are we to have a true history of anything?
These are the writers who covered hiv/aids for The New York Times: Richard Flaste, Erik Eckholm, Dr. Lawrence Altman, Nicholas Wade, Philip Boffey, Gina Kolata, and Philip Hilts. Each was as bad as the others. How bad? Read my book, Reports from the Holocaust (St. Martin’s Press), for details on how badly this newspaper has reported AIDS. Kolata was so bad that ACT UP plastered New York and the Times building with stickers: “Gina Kolata of The New York Times is the worst AIDS reporter in the world.” They took her off that beat. But they never replaced her with a reporter who covered AIDS specifically. And the job they are doing is still awful. The Times has never, ever, covered the politics of hiv/aids, particularly in America, as they cover the politics of other serious issues. But then, the politics of AIDS are inextricably embedded in all that I am writing about here. All grist for a Nuremberg Trials, no?
Yes, I would like to see something set up to document the real history of this plague akin to the Nuremberg Trials, which nailed Nazi responsibility for the Holocaust. Why did or didn’t Edward Koch do X? Why did or didn’t Ronald Reagan do X? Ron Reagan, Jr.? Nancy Reagan? Dr. Richard Krause and Dr. Jack Whitescarver of the NIH? Abe Rosenthal of The New York Times? Sulzberger mother, son, and grandson of the Times? The drug companies that made Factor VIII? The list is an extensive and far-reaching one, certainly not confined to these major villains. Each of many, many people committed acts of inconceivable inhumanity that must be documented. Without such official documentation, the politics of homo-hating and bigotry will continue to rule the world and this plague will never end.
I have spent the past 25 years or so researching and writing my own history of America and of the cause of hiv/aids. My book is called The American People: A History. Writing and researching this history has convinced me that the plague of hiv/aids has been intentionally allowed to happen.
Two of my most recent findings are these:
HIV made its entrance into the gay population through infected Factor VIII as injected by gay hemophiliacs. Factor VIII is a treatment that prevents hemophiliacs from bleeding to death. It was available in trials beginning in 1975 and in distribution from 1978. It was manufactured and sold by these companies: Baxter Travenol Laboratories, Alpha Therapeutic Corporation, Armour Pharmaceutical Co. (a division of the Revlon Cosmetics Corporation), and Cutter Laboratories. Each single individual treatment of Factor VIII contains blood parts that have been spun down from the pooled blood of tens of thousands of people. This blood was collected from paid donors all over the world. Only one donor had to be infected for the whole vat of pooled blood to be infected. All of these companies came to know that the blood plasma they had bought all over the world and which they had used to make their Factor VIII was infected with what would become known as HIV. They did not heat-treat this blood, even though early methods to do so had been available since the end of World War II. Even when they possessed the knowledge that their product was infected, these companies did not immediately cease selling their Factor VIII. It would not be until 1987, in this country anyway, that Factor VIII would be completely cleared of poisons. (I am grateful to Pulitzer-prize-winning science writer Laurie Garrett for first presenting this awful information in her book The Coming Plague, Penguin.) By then the gay population was well on its way to being hideously depleted. One single gay hemophiliac on infected Factor VIII having sex with only one other man on Fire Island in 1975 or so was all it took to get the whole chain rolling. No doubt there may be other scenarios for the origin of HIV in the gay population, but this one cannot be discounted.
I have also recently discovered that the first cases of AIDS in America were not in gay men. Five cases of extreme immune deficiencies were discovered between 1975 and 1981 in heterosexual women. They were reported by Dr. Henry Masur (et al.), then of Cornell and now of NIH. For very puzzling reasons, this report was not published until October 1982. Had this vital information been published when the discoveries were made, as it should have been, and before the July 1981 New York Times report of “Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals” (and let us not parse here Dr. Altman’s repellently loaded and inaccurate, homophobic prose in that announcement), hiv/aids would not have been forever labeled, with such disastrous results, as a gay disease. From this very first announcement in the Times, the gay population of the world has been and continues to be targeted for extinction.
Because the world hates homosexuals, the world is dying and will continue to die from hiv/aids. This plague is the result of a series of individual acts of commission and omission, a huge number of them intentional, that killed people, and were committed by and continue to be committed by people who knew better. Many of the same people who were around in the beginning are still around committing the same actions today. Perhaps Nuremberg Trials would sort out such awful behavior.
It has proved impossible to get any reputable and honest historian or journalist to write about any of the above (with the exception of Laurie Garrett). Telling the truth about this plague has so far proved impossible. A large number of straight publications declined to publish this. Seventy million-plus infections later, hiv/aids is still not called a plague.
Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart (1985) was the first important play to address the AIDS epidemic. The author thanks Sean Strub, Rodger McFarlane, and Will Schwalbe for information they contributed.