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Because AIDS is Hilarious


As the political figures of my youth pass away, I realize how few of them I really know much about, even though I’m a pretty political guy obviously. That’s especially true of the Reagan Administration. I could probably name 40 or so Reagan appointees without working too hard, but that’s not that many. But I do figure that when one dies, that person was probably involved in some nasty or evil stuff. Take the death of Reagan’s quasi-press secretary Larry Speakes, who passed away yesterday at the age of 74. I didn’t remember him at all. But those more knowledgeable than I started working. And they reminded me and other that Speakes, like many others in the Reagan Administration, thought AIDS was hilarious. From the June 13, 1983 White House press briefing.

Q: Larry, does the President think that it might help if he suggested that the gays cut down on their “cruising”? (Laughter.) What? I didn’t hear your answer, Larry.
MR. SPEAKES: I just was acknowledging your interest—
Q: You were acknowledging but—
MR. SPEAKES: —interest in this subject.
Q: —you don’t think that it would help if the gays cut down on their cruising—it would help AIDS?
MR. SPEAKES: We are researching it. If we come up with any research that sheds some light on whether gays should cruise or not cruise, we’ll make it available to you. (Laughter.)
Q: Back to fairy tales.

Oh I haven’t laughed that loud since Richard Nixon made his 5000th racist joke. Meanwhile, the Reagan Administration’s response to AIDS was the greatest public health failure in the history of the United States, when the government helped doom thousands of people to die because they were gay or used heroin or were otherwise not the kind of people Reagan cared about. Compare the response to AIDS to that of Legionnaire’s Disease or SARS or West Nile virus. A few people dying led to national health alerts and huge research budgets. AIDS? It took until Reagan’s own friend Rock Hudson died for any real funding to get started.

If anyone hasn’t read Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, one the great pieces of journalism in American history, I highly recommend it for the blow by blow details of the Reagan’s Administration complicity in thousands of deaths.

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  • MAJeff

    Good riddance

    • Ahuitzotl

      Thats totally inappropriate, Jeff. We shouldnt scorn him, we should be happy and throw a party, dance on his grave. Literally, for preference.

  • Former Reagan Administration official

    This is a disgraceful attack on a good man and a dear friend. Why, I remember as if it were yesterday when I talked to Ronnie about the AIDS crisis and he said, looking into the distance, ‘well, isn’t it sad about all those folks with AIDS?’. And then he did nothing about it – but he felt bad, and that’s what matters. It’s typical of aggressive hate-fueled liberals that they insist on negative attacks against our greatest president, especially since they happen to be true.

  • postmodulator

    It was in this comment section that I retold the anecdote of how impressive a young Speakes found his evil mentor, Sen. Eastland, on the occasion of Eastland implying that the victim of a hate crime was faking it.

    I don’t think anything else needs to be said about Larry Speakes.

  • Well obviously AIDs in not funny, but there has been a lot of progress made. When I was young people died in a couple of years from HIV. Now you have People Living with HIV, sometimes for decades. In the future hopefully there will be no people living with HIV as future infections are avoided. Condoms have greatly reduced the spread of the virus including among higher risk groups like sex workers and msm. People who inject drugs are a more difficult group to deal with, but the Global Fund to Fight AIDs, Tuberculosis, and Malaria has had good results with methadone therapy.

    • MAJeff

      The statistic that stunned me a few years ago is that a person in the UK who contracts HIV at age 20 has a total life expectancy of about 65 years. OK, lower than the broader population, but 45 years with the virus is a far cry from the Reagan years.

      • Not Gay Guy

        This is a subject dear to your heart.

        For others, the chance of contracting AIDS is pretty small. And the great majority of cases could be prevented through behavior changes.

        And that’s the terrible, terrible part about the AIDS epidemic is that personal responsibility and personal behavior is absolutely the best and most effective weapon against it….and that just kills the ‘everyone’s a victim’ argument.

        • Barry Freed

          Fuck off.

          • MAJeff

            Don’t harsh Jenny’s buzz. She, like much of the Reagan admin, gets off on the thought of dead gay people.

        • oldster

          Hey, Not Gay Guy:

          As a straight, monogamous 35+years married non drug user, allow me to say:

          fuck you.

          AIDS has killed more innocent victims than you have brain cells, you loathesome bigot. You and your “personal responsibility” can just spend a few years helping rape-victims in sub-Saharan Africa, or in our own US prisons, and then come back here and apologize to the world for being such a crass, despicable, ignorant, scumbucket.

          • Not Gay Guy

            That’s great.

            And when you can demonstrate that my argument is wrong, then we’ll have something to really discuss.

            Your friend,

            Not Gay Guy

            • The fact that in most places outside of Africa that msm are a higher risk group than the population as a whole doesn’t mean that the disease isn’t a problem for other people. Although I just looked at the most recent figures from the UNDP and Global Fund for Kyrgyzstan and msm were only 3% HIV positive, considerably below drug users, although higher than female sex workers. In Africa the vast majority of infections are due to heterosexual encounters. Ghana is pretty fortunate in having relatively low numbers, but Botswana and South Africa are extremely high.

            • Ronan

              Its spread was initially the result of the disruption caused by colonialism in Africa, iirc. As far as they can tell it was brought to the Americas through Haitian doctors working in Africa and then spread to the US through (hetrosexual) sex tourists from the US using sex workers in Haiti.
              This is as far as I can remember. The personal responsibility among US gays line is ridiculous, these things spread through specific networks. Any health professional (I am sure) will tell you that the problem is when sex is forced under ground and away from conventional, mainstream treatments. Thats the problem here. Making gay relationships illegitimate and something to be done discreetly and not using all the tools at your disposal to stop the spread of the disease.

        • Surreal American

          …personal responsibility and personal behavior…

          Trotting out that tired old nag, are we?

          Whatever miniscule credibility wingnuts ever had on those qualities has been long, long, gone by now.

        • Malaclypse

          And the great majority of cases could be prevented through behavior changes.

          When you have your inevitable coronary, I’ll remember you making fun of bicyclists, and laugh.

        • Dude, go around flogging the idea that “personal responsibility” means quietly accepting a death sentence for doing something that every other human in the world does. See where that gets you.

        • DrDick

          Pretty ignorant, aren’t you? The greatest increase in AIDS infections for the past decade has been among heterosexuals, mostly women. Of course you do not have to worry about that, since nobody is going to have sex with a noxious troll like you.

          • Not Gay Guy

            A monogamous relationship and a trustworthy wife is part of the behavior pattern that will certainly eliminate most of your risk of getting AIDS.

            Having a dick in your ass or fucking around with lots of women is not the choice you need to be making if you wish to avoid infection.

            • Hilariously Overcompensating Dude Who Is Not At All Gay

              Like I said, I’m not gay. Never. Not at all. I just talk a lot about gay sex because of how not gay I am. Have I mentioned I’m not gay? Because I’m not.

              • Wait. Are you this guy?

                • Hilariously Overcompensating Dude Who Is Not At All Gay

                  Totally not gay. I just wanted to point that out. I would never, ever let myself be penetrated, slowly but firmly, by any muscular dude with a rock-hard penis. I just want to be sure everybody realizes that I think that is disgusting. Don’t gay people realize how disgusting that is? God, I just can’t stop thinking about how gross that is.

            • DrDick

              Jenny, ain’t no woman letting you within 500 yards of her without you paying a large amount of money up front.

        • And once again people see the pancake with a big fucking hook sticking out the side and take a bite.

          • oldster

            Yeah, sorry–I didn’t realize who it was at first. When I did, I stopped engaging.

        • Not really, unless you think people should suffer a death sentence for having unprotected sex. I don’t think people should. If you do, maybe you’re just a horrible human being.

        • Tristan

          For others, the chance of contracting AIDS is pretty small

          No one here is surprised that you’re unconcerned about a sexually transmitted ailment. Guess why.

        • Tyto

          Yeah, just look at Arthur Ashe: if only he had a strong enough sense of personal responsibility to refuse that blood transfusion, he might still be with us.

  • Glenn

    All the opprobrium towards Speakes is well-deserved, but don’t forget to take a moment to appreciate the esteemed members of the a Fourth Estate yukking it up with him in that charming anecdote.

    • oldster

      Yes, agreed. And for that matter, the rest of the country was not so good on this topic either.

      The WH press corps was certainly corrupted at that time by its contact with the Reagan WH and the constant miasma of evil that emanated from it.

      But in fact, that laughter was reflective of the general, nationwide unconcern of the median voter. Gay people were still laugh-lines in sit coms, not real people. No one was out yet, so no one knew anyone gay. Laughing at the gay plague was entirely acceptable in vast swathes of the electorate.

      The change in 40 years is heartening. (and baffling, when compared to the relative intransigence of racism and sexism.)

      • Actually there have been big changes in racism and sexism, too. Racist/exist joke telling in the work place was common in the early 80’s, and virtually non-existent by 2000.

        A small thing, perhaps, but a pretty significant barometer.

        Racists, sexists and homophobes will always be with us. But in each case, it’s becoming less socially acceptable, and that is where the slow but real change happens.

        As an anecdote, my sister takes ball room dancing lessons from a gay guy. He and his partner recently got married in NY, and our 92 year old mom is going with my sis to their reception.

        A hell of a lot has changed in her life time.

        Hell, in MY life time, black men were still being lynched.

        But there’s still a long way to go. It never ends.

      • Nothing baffling about it, really. As the bodies stacked up, ‘my sex life is private’ became a laughably backward notion. There is no privacy in the infectious-disease ward.

        But for AIDS we wouldn’t be where we are today: knocking on the doors of full legal equality. Our movement is a tower built on the foundation of a mausoleum.

      • Ronan

        did aids also fall along race lines in the US? With black americans finding it more difficult to get treatment etc ?

        • I think to some extent, but that’s really the 90s. For most of the 80s, there was basically no treatment in no small part because the federal government didn’t care that these people were dying.

        • Rarely Posts

          One of the first non-homosexual groups to struggle with AIDS in the United States was Haitian immigrant community. Between gays, drug users, and Haitians, the disease managed to hit a lot of the groups with the least political power in the United States.

          • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoenhenheim den Sidste

            That’s one of the things that really bothered me at the time.

            Old white guys who wear funny hats and go to conventions? The public health machinery is on the case to strike down the menace of Legionnaire’s Disease!

            Fairies, hemophiliacs, and Haitians? We’ll try to get around to it before normal people are seriously inconvenienced…

            • MAJeff

              The “High Risk” 4-H club: Haitians, Hemophiliacs, Heroin Users, and Homosexuals.

            • Ralph Wiggum

              I suspect that it was because of the haemophiliacs that things moved as quickly as they did. After all, it wasn’t their ‘fault’.

              • Theophrastus Bombastus von Hoenhenheim den Sidste

                That’s right, the Innocent Victims of Aids who were deemed worthy of our compassion and assistance. I can’t believe that I had forgotten about them.

                • Later on, maybe, among people who were slightly less ignorant about the disease. But people put Ryan White and his family through twenty levels of hell, including burning down his house.

              • ajay

                I suspect that it was because of the haemophiliacs that things moved as quickly as they did. After all, it wasn’t their ‘fault’.

                The distinction is between good AIDS and bad AIDS.

    • Right. I thought the repulsive behavior here was from the person asking the question. Speakes does little more than deflect it.

      A repulsive moment, but the one who should be called out on it is the unnamed white house correspondent.

      • Jean-Michel

        It’s Lester Kinsolving, who still refers to gays as “sodomists” and is now employed by WorldNetDaily.

        • Ahuitzotl

          Its hard to think of a more appropriate refuse bin for him to end up in

          • MAJeff

            There’s always Breitbart.

  • Ronan

    How to survive is also very good, which (i think) jeer reccomended here recently. I dont know the history, so dont know the accuracy of the story they tell but its one of the best things ive seen in years

    • MAJeff

      Agreed. It’s a fantastic piece. Goes well with We Were Here.

      • Ronan

        oh, thanks. ill check it out

    • Ronan

      *how to survive a plague*

    • snarkout

      The American Prospect’s Garance Franke-Ruta (who was a member of ACT UP’s Treatment and Data Committee as a teenager and was in the documentary) wrote about How to Survive a Plague quite wrenchingly. It’s a heck of a movie.

      • MAJeff

        The thing that got me about the movie is that I didn’t feel devastated after watching it, as with something like Silverlake Life: The View from Here. I think that for a participant in the movement, it would be a different experience than for those who weren’t so deeply involved; seeing people you loved and fought with who are now dead would have to bring back some horrible feelings.

        But the thing I adored about the film was its focus on the potential for social change. ACT-UP forced the nation to pay attention to gay people dying. Prior Walter’s epilogue in Angels states it very well: “We will not die silent deaths.” Not only did they force the state to take note, though, they also became experts in the science of medicine and had an impact on research. Not everything was ideal or productive, but these folks definitely changed history.

  • What a sad and tragic time that was.

    I was young, in my early 20’s, and living in NY City, when I first read about AIDS in an article in The Village Voice.

    They article stated what was (thought to be) known at the time – that AIDS only struck people who were gay, Haitian, or intravenous drug users.
    So, nothing to worry about, thinks I!
    I’m none of those things. I’m running around dating female models, actresses, artists, and dancers – even a young Wall Street exec wannabe – and having a great time – so I have nothing to fear!

    But then, later, when it started to spread into the heterosexual community, in wasn’t just the gay sex scene – which had already been effected – the male-female sex scene in NY City went into virtual lockdown.

    Everyone, not just gays, Haitians, and intravenous drug users, became terrified of having sex, and getting AIDS!
    You practically needed a fresh certificate from The Board of Health, stating that you were AIDS-free before a woman would go to bed with you.

    And, yes, Rock Hudson contracting AIDS certainly got Ron and Nancy Reagan’s attention.

    But so did a lot of horny single heterosexuals around the country who contacted their members of Congress, and pressed them to do something – anything!

    So I was living in NY when it went from a free-wheeling, fun, easy to find a sexual partner, city, to a place where people were afraid of following their natural inclinations – gay, or straight.

    Sad times, for me.
    Tragic time, for a lot of others.
    I lost a few very dear friends to AIDS.

    And I’ll have to give the devil his due – George has done a lot to help Africa with its HIV/AIDS problems.

    If that’s his only positive legacy, then so be it – he did do something that helped his fellow humans.

    • Barry Freed

      I’m younger than you but came of age in the 80s and I well remember when having *that* conversation became part of what happened when you were dating.

    • And I’ll have to give the devil his due – George has done a lot to help Africa with its HIV/AIDS problems.

      Was that an actual initiative on his part, or just something that happened on his watch? How deeply and seriously was he involved?

      It just seems so out of character for a guy who didn’t seem to much give a shit about anything.

      • Ronan

        My impression was he was deeply involved.
        Also, iirc, surprisingly Jesse Helms took a genuine interest in aids in africa (primarily, i think because it was a ‘hetrosexual disease’ on the continent) not that Im saying Bush was Jesse Helms, which seems unfair even for him

  • Murc

    As the political figures of my youth pass away,

    In this vein, Ariel Sharon has also passed away. To the extent that he can be said to have been “alive” for the past eight years, anyway.

    • Also Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones) died Thursday. I think Baraka was probably the most interesting and complex of these figures. He really should get a post of his own.

      • Barry Freed

        Seconded. A very interesting, complex and tragic figure indeed. It’s been years but I really want to give this radio interview of his with Doug Henwood another listen.

      • Murc

        Shit, really? I had no idea. Thanks, Otto.

      • witless chum

        One of my professors at MSU was a huge LeRoi Jones fan, but said he didn’t care for his work after it moved away from beat poetry as much.

      • Lee Rudolph

        I heard him (still LeRoi Jones at that time) read in 1967 or maybe 1968. The line I remember: “Lyndon Johnson’s mother blew a nigger in New York in 1938, and I got proof.”

        I’ve always wondered whether he did. Maybe it will show up in his Nachlass.

  • DrDick

    Further proof, as if any were needed, that the Reagan administration was explicitly evil to its core. Its legacy is the modern Republican Party.

    • delurking

      Yes. I’m having to have this conversation with my young students in Arkansas, who look at me with astonishment when I tell them Reagan was a devil from hell. (They know I’m an atheist, and they know I never say anyone is evil. Also, they’ve been brought up with the story of St. Ronnie ringing in their ears.) But last semester in Working Class Literature we had to get into the Sins of St. Ronnie. It was an education, all right.

      • Ahuitzotl

        having lived in AR a while, I’m surprised you still have a job (pleased, but surprised)

    • So “evil to its core” is a room full of journalists laughing because the words “gays” and “cruising” are being used?

      Kind of a stupid example, seems to me. Like there aren’t good examples (in Shilts for instance) of really bad stuff.

      As for Speakes, what a shocker that a guy from the Mississippi Delta wasn’t as enlightened as Erik Loomis. Burn in hell, cracker!

      AIDS was what made homosexuality a public topic in America, something discussed at a White House presser. Adults who’d never talked about it, or never in public, were now discussing gays (and cruising) on TV. Amazingly, there were some rough edges, of which this isn’t a particularly strong example.

      • panda

        Well, if Speakes was making jokes about gay people why the adminsitration was making an effort to address the epidemic, this little quotation would not have been evil, just stupid. The proper historical context is what certifies this as an evil incident (to risk a Godwin, think about the moral difference between making an antisemitic joke in New York in 1935 and making the same joke in Berlin in 1941.)

        • The jokes are coming from the reporters, not from Speakes, who is deflecting a fairly stupid question about cruising as a factor in AIDS.

          • panda

            Both Speakes and the reporters are joking. However, Speakes works for an administration that twiddles its thumbs, which makes his joking so much worse than the reporters’

            • Ronnie Pudding

              True enough, but the reporters were twiddling their thumbs in their own way.

          • Glenn

            Click through to read the rest then tell us if you think Speakes was above it all

      • DrDick

        When a government official jokes about people dying, it is evil. Period. In the broader context of the actions and other statements of the administration, it is reflective of the administration as a whole, not just the press secretary.

      • JL

        Erik didn’t by any means go with the worst quote from that article. Joking around about people dying, implying that maybe a reporter who brings it up is gay – yes, it’s evil.

        • Rarely Posts

          Yeah, the evilest thing that the Administration official does here is try to imply that only a gay person should care about the lives of homosexuals. And it is evil because that was essentially the political administration’s position.

          • DrDick


  • “the Reagan Administration’s response to AIDS was the greatest public health failure in the history of the United States”

    Indeed. Of all the horrible things they did, up to and including defying Congress to sell weapons to Iran to pay for death squads in Latin America, that was the most nakedly, directly and undeniably inhumane one. Americans were dying by the thousands for years and they did everything they could to do nothing. And when the smell of death finally got bad enough to force that senile shitheel to speak about it in public, all he talked about was “testing”, to make sure that Real Americans would know who to shun.

    There’s no picture of him looking down on Chelsea or the Castro from Air Force One, but it was same shit different decade.

    • MAJeff

      Those deaths were an acceptable policy outcome for the Right.

      • DrDick

        Not merely acceptable, but actually desirable.

        • MAJeff

          I don’t disagree at all.

    • ajay

      Of all the horrible things they did, up to and including defying Congress to sell weapons to Iran to pay for death squads in Latin America, that was the most nakedly, directly and undeniably inhumane one.

      Debatable – they actually broke the law to fund the Contras, remember. The equivalent would be Congress appropriating money for AIDS research and Reagan embezzling it.

  • Barry Freed

    I graduated high school in June of 1983 and just off the top of my head I can name about 12 relatives, friends and acquaintances who died of AIDS in the 80s and 90s.

    I especially remember my cousin Michael who was a very talented singer and dancer (he was in a number of hit shows, including A Chorus Line, IIRC) whose evangelist mother and other relatives harangued him as he was dying. He had a life long dream to see the pyramids at Giza so he left for Cairo to see them and then committed suicide there rather than go back home to be subjected to that inhumane treatment. He’s buried in Cairo and it’s one of my lasting regrets that I didn’t make the time to find out exactly where he was buried and visit his grave when I briefly lived there in the early 90s. RIP. You and all the others.

    I work at a major cultural institution in NYC and right now we have a small exhibit on AIDS activism and it chokes me up a bit every time I walk past it. I went in for a look but had to leave after about 20 minutes. Fuck the haters.

    • Ronan

      Jesus, thats sad – but very brave on his part. If you dont mind me asking, did the haters ever regret their actions?

      • Barry Freed

        I don’t know, I hope so but there’s so much comfortable self-righteousness in their “being saved” that I suspect not. And I didn’t really mean to direct that last at my great aunt A (his mother) who I do love despite all that. Life is weird that way. She’s in her 90s now but the last time I saw her a couple of years ago she wanted to have a one-on-one with me so she could tell me about Jesus. She only does that with me because I think she thinks I’m some kind of Sufi atheist or something and my uncle for being some kind of pagan I guess. It’s fucked up. They should go read their own fucking book. Jesus would have immediately forgiven whatever “sin” it was and not gone on and on and on about it. And he would have been all about comforting the sick.

        • This is a terrible story, barry. Terrible. My heart breaks for your cousin.

  • JL

    There are a lot of things that I hate about the Reagan administration, but if I’m trying to explain to people why I think they were evil (since people, even some liberals, get weirdly nostalgic for Reagan these days and don’t seem to understand how much he was actually part of the modern right that they think is so much worse), the response to the AIDS crisis is the first thing I bring up.

    • Yes. And when I consider that if Hudson (or some other family friend) hadn’t died, Ron still would have insisted on ignoring the fucking plague because the ignorant old sod thought it was only killing off gay men, it makes me ill.

      And if I ever knew, I’ve forgotten if Hudson was out to the Rs. My memory is he wasn’t.

      The response to HIV is also a great example of how the party reacts to disasters that don’t affect high ranking members of the party.

      They don’t give a shit other than to make jokes about it and possibly use it as an opportunity to polish their hatemonger street cred. “Today I laughed at six skinny f*gs and an homeless man!” “Well I made fun of an black family that was being evicted and a Korean store owner who’d been threatened by skinheads!”

      • Barry Freed

        And if I ever knew, I’ve forgotten if Hudson was out to the Rs. My memory is he wasn’t

        They were all Hollywood insiders. Everyone knew.

        (comment was meant for here)

  • Barry Freed

    And if I ever knew, I’ve forgotten if Hudson was out to the Rs. My memory is he wasn’t

    They were all Hollywood insiders. Everyone knew.

  • I remember Speakes as the guy who would hold a second press conference immediately after Reagan’s, to correct all of Reagan’s misstatements. (“What the President meant was….”)

    • Mike G

      I remember Speakes’ response when Reagan was caught telling some absolute whopper of a self-serving anecdote about welfare cheats, as if it were real (i.e. lying).

      “It was a great story though, wasn’t it? It really got the point across!”

  • Rarely Posts

    I remember reading And the Band Played On in college. It is the single book that: (1) had the greatest impact on me and my thinking about my identity, politics, etc. which (2) I have never finished. I just started crying at one point, and I had to put it down, and I’ve never managed to pick it back up. It’s now sitting on my shelf next to my desk, still unfinished.

    In college I took an African American history class, and I had a lot trouble feeling sympathy for some of the more extreme arguments presented by some members of the Black Power movement. I still agree with many of the critics of aspects of that movement, but I did find a greater appreciation for it after reading Band and remembering the AIDS crisis and my experiences as a gay kid in the ’80s and ’90s. When the establishment so completely fails and demonizes a group of people for so long, one can see the appeal in arguing for an assertion that only group power and organization can be trusted.

    The AIDS crisis also drives home that mere “tolerance” can never be enough. If a nation merely “tolerates” a group of people within its borders, then it won’t protect them when the sh*t hits the fan. Acceptance and integration have to be demanded.

  • KC45s

    Of course Speakes wasn’t the only one with an AIDS bit in his act: “The Reagans were there sitting next to French President Francois Mitterand and his wife, Danielle. Bob Hope was on stage entertaining the all-star audience. In the middle of a series of one-liners Hope quipped, “I just heard that the Statue of Liberty has AIDS but she doesn’t know if she got it from the mouth of the Hudson or the Staten Island Fairy.” As the television camera panned the audience, the Mitterands looked appalled. The Reagans were laughing.”

    • Barry Freed

      I always hated Bob Hope. Good to know I was right.

  • Reading the press bits at the link in the post, the evil that struck me was not at all from Larry Speakes. His contribution was to laugh along with evil and not say “wait a minute here.”

    What was outright evil was the rest of the press pool, and I would love to know who they were. They– particularly the ones still active today, if any– need to be called out by name, for viewing as just hilarious a reporter who thought this was a burning-down-the-house crisis and demanded answers. His (or her) persistence was a matter of fun to them.

    A reporters’ actual job was to question what the administration was doing or not doing and reporting on it. The one reporter in the room who was doing that job was met with derision, laughed down by peers. This pretty well demonstrates why I.F. Stone stayed away from this sort of circus and reported from documents and talks with government employees he trusted.

    What went on here was just evil, in the sense of locker-room bullies evil, and a betrayal of their job as reporters.

    Speakes had the job of standing up there justifying an administration that chose to do nothing. Laughing along with the jokes was wrong (and to a large degree him acting upon his upbringing in the Mississippi Delta– ha, ha, isn’t the racist joke funny, instead of saying, “Hey, quit with the racism), but not to me the sort of betrayal the reporters presented.

    I’m perfectly ready to say part of his obituary should be “his job was justifying the bad acts of bad actors.” But the word evil should be saved for the bad actors themselves, or it is cheapened.

    My reaction is also colored more than a bit by knowing something about Speakes as a person and about the sad tale of the last years of his life in a nursing home in the place he grew up.

    • Hogan


      Q: You mean he has no—expressed no opinion about this epidemic?
      MR. SPEAKES: No, but I must confess I haven’t asked him about it. (Laughter.)
      Q: Would you ask him Larry?
      MR. SPEAKES: Have you been checked? (Laughter.)

  • MAJeff

    One of the things that stunned students who were too young to live through the Reagan years is when I would show part of Frontline’s “In the Age of AIDS,” and we’d come to this part in the Cleve Jone’s interview.

    I think President Reagan was elected by conservatives, Republicans whose base are fundamentalist Christians. I think he was uncomfortable discussing any sort of sexual behavior. But I think there was also a fair amount of conscious cruelty. I mean, there was a convention, a Republican state party convention here in Southern California, I don’t remember what year but very early on in the epidemic, and they had a bumper sticker that said, “AIDS: It’s killing all the right people.”

    There were a lot of people that were quite gleeful about this. You had the conservative pundits, the Jerry Fallwells, the Pat Robertsons, all of these disgusting people saying things like it’s not nice to fool mother nature you know, making little jokes out of it. And I think there were people that were quite happy about it.

    • JL

      I had not read that interview before. The bravery of the early AIDS activists is inspiring. I mean, I already knew that, but seeing it laid out like that in that interview is impressive.

      We talk so much in grade schools (as we should) about the Civil Rights Movement (though we whitewash it pretty hard)…I wish we talked more about early AIDS activism and early LGBTQ activism. It’s a different story, an important story. Ultimately those activists, with their various tactics and strategies, ended up being pretty effective. We need to show kids more examples of activism in US history, and this is such a recent one.

      I get that the bathhouses were an important controversy, but it felt like the interviewer kept harping on them there.

  • Informant

    Ah, nothing like some good reverse Green Lanternism (Sinestroism?) — Barack Obama is to be forgiven for failing advance progressive policies by using the bully pulpit because the bully pulpit is useless, but Ronald Reagan is evil because he could have advanced progressive policies if he had used the bully pulpit.

    • I highly recommend you reading Shilts if you think that Reagan was not directly involved in making the AIDS crisis worse. Before you get all flippant about “reverse Green Lanternism,” you need to educate yourself about the Reagan Administration’s response to AIDS.

    • MAJeff

      Jennie…this would be where to imitate with a “derp!”

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