Writer Andrew Sullivan's pronouncements on AIDS and other gay issues made his personal life fair game.
Topics: Politics News
Last Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the results of a study that, according to the Associated Press, showed that HIV in the gay community is now spreading “at alarming rates that remind health officials of the explosive first years of the epidemic,” proving “the government’s most sweeping evidence yet of a resurgence in the disease among young gay men.”
In the same week, I wrote an article for the New York gay publication LGNY reporting that the HIV-positive gay writer Andrew Sullivan, a man who has a great deal of influence on gay and AIDS issues, was himself advertising for multiple-partner unprotected sex. After first refusing press calls on the issue Sullivan eventually confirmed on his Web site that he did advertise for unprotected sex. He made it appear that he was looking for a date or a boyfriend on a site where HIV-positive guys meet. But make no mistake: While there are hundreds of sites specifically for HIV-positive guys to find each other for the purpose of dating, the site Sullivan advertised on is a place where both HIV-positive and HIV-negative men advertise specifically and solely for unprotected multiple-partner sex.
Sullivan has, as I showed in my article, time and again claimed that the AIDS crisis is over, and that studies showing a dangerous expansion of the epidemic among young gay men are flawed and are just plain wrong. His impact in this regard — beginning in 1996 when he penned a New York Times Magazine cover story headlined “When Plagues End” — has been devastating, as much of the media has followed the lead over the years, pulling back coverage on AIDS, viewing the epidemic as over. And studies have shown, with coverage of AIDS receding and with the thought that AIDS is “manageable” pervading the culture, unsafe sex is rising at frightening rates among young gay men.
It is Sullivan’s pronouncements on AIDS, in addition to his pronouncements on other gay issues and their relevance to his actions, that influenced me to write my story for LGNY, confirming rumors that for weeks were being widely discussed all over the Internet, including on Salon’s Table Talk message boards. It is in light of these pronouncements that I and many other journalists — many of whom have posted their opinions on the Poynter Institute’s Media News — believe the story is both journalistically and ethically sound.
The subhead of Cliff Rothman’s Salon piece about my story claims it was a “vendetta masquerading as journalism,” with Rothman alleging a “long-standing feud” between Sullivan and me. But Rothman offers no evidence or examples to back up these claims. Sullivan and I have had differences — not petty or personal differences, but fundamental differences about ideas — but does that qualify as a “vendetta” on my part? To reduce this to a “feud” is to diminish the important issues the story raises, and to change the subject.
Sullivan himself has tried to change the subject to “sexual McCarthyism,” and Rothman unfortunately buys it without even looking at Sulivan’s own history and past statements, which make the charge coming from Sullivan quite ludicrous. Sullivan himself has pilloried Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson regarding their sex lives. And last October Sullivan wrote a column in the New Republic holding Matt Drudge up as a paragon of journalism. Was Drudge engaging in “sexual McCarthyism” for using unnamed sources in promulgating the Lewinsky sexual affair? Not according to Sullivan, who compared Drudge to Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who of course exploded the Watergate scandal based on unnamed sources.
Sullivan railed against “former White House spokesmen Joe Lockhart and Mike McCurry” because they “often refused to answer press questions that emanated from rumors circulated by Drudge.” He criticized them because “they averred [it was] beneath them” to respond to the rumors. But Sullivan himself refused to answer questions about his online postings for weeks because, as he claimed on his Web site last week, “the only sources presented were anonymous,” and he was not going to respond to “mere anonymous rumors.”
For Sullivan to suddenly express disdain for anonymous sources is also ridiculous in light of the fact that unnamed sources are standard in journalism today, including at the New Republic, the New York Times Magazine and everywhere else Sullivan puts his byline, including here at Salon. You can’t turn on CNN or open the Washington Post without hearing or reading about a “highly placed White House official” or a “source inside the Pentagon” or “a top Wall Street executive” making often dramatic and powerful charges and observations. Of course, with potentially explosive charges most news organizations require at least one secondary source to confirm a story, anonymous or not (as in the case of Woodward and Bernstein). I had two independent sources, plus corroborating sources, on a story that was circulating the Internet and that Sullivan refused to comment on, not responding to reporters’ repeated inquiries, including my own.
The key of course is the credibility of the sources, as well as that of the reporter and the news organization. Drudge, whose journalism Sullivan respects so much, was dead wrong when he used anonymous sources to slanderously report that former White House staffer Sidney Blumenthal was a wife beater. (According to Sullivan, it was OK for Drudge to spew these falsehoods because Drudge did apologize — when actually, he didn’t; recently Sullivan accused Blumenthal of threatening the First Amendment because he launched a lawsuit against Drudge.) I, however, have never made unfounded charges as such, and have been as careful and accurate with this story as with any story I’ve written — and Sullivan’s admission confirms that.
Sullivan will probably continue to attempt to change the subject, and perhaps some, like Cliff Rothman, will continue to help him. But none of that changes the fact that the real and important issues here are HIV prevention, AIDS denial, the relationship between Sullivan’s pronouncements and his actions, and the erosion of an ethic of safe sex.
More Related Stories
- Jester clowns Westboro Baptist Church
- GOP: Party of crybabies
- Developers evict historic women's shelter to build luxury hotel
- Guantánamo prisoner on hunger strike cries for help on Twitter
- 3 possible solutions to international tax avoidance
- “I just want the U.S. to send my father home”
- Army weapons engineer tied to white nationalist organizations
- Ted Cruz against the world
- David Vitter's hypocritical, punitive, horrible new amendment
- Louie Gohmert: Women should be forced to carry nonviable pregnancies to term
- Could hackers destroy the U.S. power grid?
- Democrats may be even worse than Republicans at regulating Wall Street
- Eric Holder versus journalism
- A progressive defense of drones
- There's no substitute for government disaster relief
- Holder signed off on search warrant for reporter
- Mississippi could begin prosecuting women for miscarriages
- Mike Judge: "Bowling for Columbine" made me pro-gun
- Closing Gitmo is not enough
- Murkowski: Palin too disengaged to run for Senate
- In IRS scandal, new GOP tactic is ignorance
Featured Slide Shows
The week in 10 picsclose X
- 1 of 11
Lisa Montgomery embraces her nephew Thursday after a tornado tore apart her home in Cleburne, Texas. The twister killed six people and destroyed entire swaths of the North Texas town.
Credit: AP/LM Otero
Jack McMahon, the defense attorney for abortion doctor Kermit Gosnell, speaks outside the Criminal Justice Center in Philadelphia Tuesday. His client was convicted of killing three babies in his clinic, and will serve multiple life sentences.
Credit: AP/Matt Rourke
A photo taken Monday captures Vice President Joe Biden's response to a Milwaukee second-grader's innovative proposal to end America's epidemic of gun violence. This guy!
Credit: AP/Jenny Aicher
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., flanked by a grouper-eyed Michele Bachmann, addresses the IRS' admission that it targeted Tea Party groups in advance of the 2012 election. In an op-ed for CNN Thursday, the Kentucky senator slammed the president for his faux outrage.
Credit: AP/Molly Riley
Ousted IRS chief Steven Miller is sworn in on Capitol Hill Friday. Miller testified before the House Ways and Means Committee on the extra scrutiny the agency gave conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status.
Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
Attorney General Eric Holder pauses as he testifies on Capitol Hill before the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Holder is under fire, among other things, for the Justice Department's gathering of phone records at the Associated Press.
Credit: AP/Carolyn Kaster
O.J. Simpson sits during an evidentiary hearing at Clark County District Court in Las Vegas, Nev., Thursday. Simpson, who is currently serving a nine-to-33-year sentence in state prison for armed robbery and kidnapping, is using a writ of habeas corpus to seek a new trial.
Credit: AP/Las Vegas Review-Journal/Jeff Scheid
Major Tom to ground control: On Sunday astronaut Chris Hadfield recorded the first music video from space, a cover of David Bowie's "Space Oddity."
Credit: AP/NASA/Chris Hadfield
When it rains it pours. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference Thursday with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, inexplicably inspiring an #umbrellagate Twitter meme.
Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin
A smoke plume rises high above a road block at the intersection of County A and Ross Road east of Solon Springs, Wis., Tuesday. No injuries were reported, but the the wildfire caused evacuations across northwestern Wisconsin.
Credit: AP/The Duluth News-Tribune/Clint Austin
Recent Slide Shows
- 1 of 11
Michelangelo Signorile is the author of "Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles and the Passages of Life."