New York Times addresses its ‘shameful’ coverage during AIDS crisis

The New York Times has addressed its poor history of covering HIV/AIDS during the AIDS crisis.

The newspaper came under heavily criticism from AIDS activists and the LGBT community over its “shameful” coverage of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, when New York City’s gay community was ravaged by the spread of the disease.

Media and politicians faced fury for their silence and slowness to act over what was seen as a ‘gay disease’, with one chilling recording featuring President Reagan’s press secretary laughing after being asked about gay people’s deaths.

President Reagan did not mention AIDS in public until 1985, when 5000 people – primarily gay and bisexual men – had already died.

AIDS activist Larry Kramer was vocally critical of the New York Times for its coverage, attributing deaths to the paper’s actions.

The Austrian Parliament decorated with a large AIDS ribbon (Photo by JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)

In a piece published today, New York Times writer Kurt Soller addressed the newspaper’s coverage – more than 30 years on.

Soller wrote: “Any newspaper must, by definition, aspire to be the “paper of record,” and yet when it came to this newspaper’s coverage of gay people and AIDS in the early ’80s — when the disease was morphing into a national crisis, and when rights that had been won a decade earlier, after the Stonewall Riots, were once again being jeopardized — The Times’s own record was checkered at best.

“Information about the spread of illness was often scant, judgmental or distressingly vague — even while reporters on the Science desk were trying their best with an ever-evolving story. The social and emotional toll of AIDS and the resulting queer movement were, when covered, often buried in the back of the newspaper (on a page called Styles of the Times), far from national news stories that were deemed important enough for the front page.

“Famously, it would take President Ronald Reagan more than four years to acknowledge the disease publicly. And it took until 1983 for The Times to run an article about the disease on Page A1, two years after the first reports of symptoms.”

The newspaper invited six writers to reflect on its coverage.

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