Latest Media Irresponsibility

Not to mention the NY Times revisionist butt-licking obituary of Dead Reagan while never mentioning HIV/AIDS! How typical of the myopic Times.


Tightening Standards  
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post Staff Writer, Monday, February 23, 2004

Freelance reporter Jay Blotcher says he enjoyed being an Upstate stringer for the New York Times for more than two years -- until he was "completely blindsided" by being dismissed.

The paper is conducting a review of its part-time staffers, and someone recalled that Blotcher had been a spokesman for the activist group ACT UP in the late 1980s. He says he also did some work for the American Foundation for AIDS Research from 1995 to 1999.

In an e-mail, Metro Editor Susan Edgerley told Blotcher: "I am setting the bar high to protect against any appearance of conflict of interest that might result through the hiring of stringers and leg-people. My motivation is expediency as well as ethics -- we simply do not spend as much time checking into the backgrounds of independent contractors as we do of fulltime staff people."

Blotcher wrote back: "What puzzles me is that this policy seems applied inconsistently; I know of longtime NYT reporters who have engaged in political work in the past . . . Why has an involvement of a decade ago become a disqualifier?"

Edgerley says in an interview that she is making such decisions "on a case-by-case basis" and that it "makes sense" to evaluate whether someone who was a public spokesman has a potential conflict. "This is fundamental, elementary kind of stuff," she says of the review.

February 28, 2004
From our friend bloggy:

What a crappy paper - The New York Times and ethics

Our friend Jay Blotcher, a freelance writer, has been sacked as a stringer for the New York Times because he was involved with ACT UP over ten years ago.

Blotcher, who has been involved with gay and AIDS groups in the past, joined the newspaper as a stringer––a freelance reporter––in 2001 after he left New York City for the Hudson Valley. For much of his employment he contributed stories or reporting without ever getting a byline in the paper.

In late 2003, Blotcher published two stories and, under a new Times policy, his name appeared on those pieces. One story dealt with the trial of a woman who was accused of killing her three children. The second concerned some vandalism on a college campus.

“I never dealt with gay issues or AIDS issues,” Blotcher said.

Someone, an editor, another reporter, or a reader noted Blotcher’s name and recalled that he was once a member of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, or ACT UP.

“There was no complaint,” wrote Susan Edgerley, the Times metropolitan editor, in response to a Gay City News e-mail query. “We recognized the name from his work with ACT UP.”

That was it for Blotcher. On January 12, Lew Serviss, a Times editor, told him the paper would no longer use him in any section. When he appealed to Edgerley she responded, “I am setting the bar high to protect against any appearance of conflict of interest that might result through the hiring of stringers and leg-people. My motivation is expediency as well as ethics––we simply do not spend as much time checking into the backgrounds of independent contractors as we do of fulltime staff people.”


The real problem here is that The Times isn’t committed to its own ethics policy. Let’s look at just two Times reporters.

Lawrence K. Altman is a former employee of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and he regularly reports on that agency. Altman also sits on an advisory board that administers a CDC fellowship program. In other words, his relationship with the CDC continues. That would be an actual conflict of interest.

Bernard Weinraub covers the film industry in Los Angeles and his wife heads Columbia Pictures. A portion of their household income, probably the majority, comes from a major player in the industry Weinraub covers. That would also be an actual conflict of interest.

If The Times believed in its ethics policy then it would defend a Jay Blotcher when he follows that policy, but then the newspaper would have to do something about Weinraub and Altman. Neither man returned a phone call seeking comment.

The Times isn’t serious about ethics. The paper, to use Edgerley’s word, is concerned with “expediency.”

Updated: Atrios has more information on The Times's idea of ethics. Also, I see that this was mentioned in the Washington Post last week in Howard Kurtz's column.

The Village Voice
March 19-16, 2004, Press Clips by Cynthia Cotts
Blind on Blind

Times to Diagnose Its Doctor?

Times Metro editor Susan Edgerley opened a can of worms in February when she informed stringer Jay Blotcher that he was being let go "to protect against any appearance of conflict of interest." Last week, Times editors were pressured to investigate allegations that medical correspondent Lawrence K. Altman has conflicts, too.

Blotcher's offense, according to the Times: He has a rep as an advocate, on account of having worked for ACT UP in the 1980s, as a spokesperson, and for the American Foundation for AIDS Research in the 1990s. He'd only written a few Metro pieces, but still he had to go. The dismissal was reported by The Washington Post on February 23.

Now Blotcher's friends are crying foul. First, playwright and AIDS activist Larry Kramer sent a letter to Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. asking if the decision wasn't just a little homophobic. Absolutely not, came the answer from executive editor Bill Keller. After what Keller called the "misery" of last year, the Times has simply become more conscientious. Kramer didn't buy it. In a reply to Keller, he suggested that blacklisting Blotcher as an advocate was not only "amazingly petty" but also hypocritical, considering how many prominent Times reporters have conflicts, too.

Altman's most prominent offense, according to AIDS activist Michael Petrelis: uncritical coverage of the Centers for Disease Control, with which he has had longtime ties. On March 3, Petrelis posted a letter on a Times forum itemizing activities that allegedly give Altman the appearance of an advocate. The Times acknowledges that Altman worked for an agency now known as the CDC from 1963 to 1966, as chief of the epidemiology and immunization section of the division of foreign quarantine, and that he now serves an an adviser to a board that awards journalism fellowships at the CDC. On March 4, Petrelis was informed that his post to the Times' website had been removed and that the matter was to be investigated by standards editor Al Siegal.

Times spokesperson Mathis told the Voice that Altman's CDC work ended long ago, that he is unpaid as a CDC adviser, and that he has "never worked in public relations or in an advocacy position." She added, "AIDS activist organizations have long made a target of Dr. Altman . . . because they don't like some of the developments he reports on AIDS research and financing." Drawing him into the Blotcher matter is, she said, "diversionary and irrelevant."


The excerpt below is from the book “AIDS Demo Graphics,” written by Douglas Crimp with Adam Rolston, published by Bay Press in Seattle.

While reading the book over the weekend I was impressed with how the authors vividly capture the spirit and political problems we faced in the 1980s, as queers in America and people living with HIV disease.

After putting the book down, three thoughts came to mind:

1) ACT UP’s claim in 1989 that the NY Times was rewriting news releases from the Centers for Disease Control is as true today as it was then. Just as in 1989, Dr. Lawrence K. Altman pens today’s Times stories about HIV and the CDC, and he rarely, if ever, includes voices critical of the agency in his news stories. Some things never seem to change at the Times.

2) After the action at Punch Sulzberger’s pad and the paper’s W.43rd Street headquarters, our action received no news coverage from the mainstream press, some attention from the gay media, and an intelligent analysis of it all from Doug Ireland, who wrote the Press Clips column for the Village Voice at the time. It’s a shame Ireland’s piece is not available online.

3) Decades of homo-hatred at the Gray Lady cannot be erased or changed overnight, and it’s been a relatively short period since the paper began using the word “gay” instead of “homosexual” and turned from demeaning and debasing the gay community into the champion of equality for us that it is today. There is still need for improvement related to gay and AIDS issues at the paper.

Ireland’s fantastic Village Voice column from 1989 follows below.  Michael Petrelis, San Francisco, CA

AIDS Demo Graphics
By Douglas Crimp with Adam Rolston
Published in 1990


"Punch" Sulzberger's Fifth Avenue residence and the New York Times Company, New York City, July 26, 1989

A book will one day be written about the New York Times's continuous failure to report the AIDS crisis accurately -- if at all. It will no doubt begin with the infamous comparison noticed by Larry Kramer:

• During the first 19 months of the AIDS epidemic (by the end of which time there had been 891 reported cases), the Times carried seven articles about it, none of them on the front page.

• During the three months of the Tylenol scare in 1982 (seven cases), the Times carried fifty-four articles about it, four of them on the front page.

If all along, the failure of official policymakers to respond to the epidemic was a result of their disregard for the populations in which the disease was first noticed-primarily gay men-the New York Times seconded their contempt. Homophobia is notorious at the Times, well known by any lesbian or gay man who reads the paper and every day sees news about us distorted, trivialized, or completely ignored; known, too, from stories told by closeted gay people working on the inside-closeted because being openly gay at the Times is cause for immediate dismissal. It took eighteen years of pressure from lesbian and gay organizations to get the Times to use the word gay instead of homosexual, and the paper does so now reluctantly and selectively. When AIDS began to claim the lives of more and more gay men, the Times adamantly refused to report AIDS as the cause of death or to list gay lovers among surviving family members. And the Times insists on "AIDS victims" against the express wishes of people with AIDS, who prefer precisely that: people with AIDS.

But those of us in the - AIDS activist movement know the depth of the Times's contempt to be far greater. Because of the newspaper's racism, sexism, and class bias, no one affected by AIDS appears to matter to Times editors and writers, or to be understood as included among their readers -- no one, that is, but the "exceptional" "victims": the white middleclass hemophiliac child, the white middle-class heterosexual transfusion recipient. Because w e don't count for the Times, AIDS has been a minor news story, one that doesn't require full-time specialized reporters, investigative reporters, reporters knowledgeable of the science and politics of AIDS.

The New York Times sent one reporter to the Fifth International AIDS Conference in Montreal, attended by over 12,000 people (New York Newsday, a tabloid, sent five). The Times reporter didn't bother to attend the opening ceremonies, which were commandeered by hundreds of international AIDS activists in order to read a MANIFESTO OF THE RIGHTS OF PEOPLE WITH AIDS -- just one more AIDS story the Times therefore missed (national network news programs found time for it even though it happened the same day the Ayatollah Khomeini died and hundreds of Chinese students were massacred in Tiananmen Square).

Least of all does the Times feel the necessity of having its reporters consult with people with AIDS or people working within the communities most seriously affected by the epidemic. One Times reporter confessed, "Times editors discourage use of the word community; they consider it jargon." The most serious result of the Times's failure to imagine those of us living every day with AIDS as among its readership is its failure to cover drug treatment and access issues. ACT UP's expertise in these areas has made us all the more painfully aware of the Times's blind prejudice, its ignorance, and its disinterest in saving lives.

ACT UP considered going after the Times on several occasions, but always opted for less intransigent adversaries or those whose ignorance or arrogance might be modified by public pressure. But a Times editorial of June 29,1989, titled "Why Make AIDS Worse Than It Is?" was the last straw. In its desire to reassure its readers that the epidemic was leveling off and in any case would never be their worry, the editorial typified the newspaper's often-repeated position on AIDS, but this one reached new heights of callousness. The editorial's argument had often appeared before in rightwing journals: that those of us fighting the epidemic, especially the “powerful gay lobby," exaggerate forecasts in order to get more funding (one wonders, do the officially reported 100,000 + cases have to be exaggerated in order to make someone-the Times, say-pay attention?). According to the Times, dire predictions for the future are misguided. AIDS is "leveling off" because "the disease is still very largely confined to specific risk groups. Once all susceptible members are infected, the numbers of new victims will decline." In other words, "Soon all the fags and junkies will be dead, and we'll be rid of AIDS." The Times thus reveals why it still prefers to think about AIDS epidemiology in terms of "risk groups" rather than risk behaviors.

As ACT UP began planning an action, the Outreach Committee struck immediately with two crack-and-peel stickers, BUY YOUR LIES HERE for newsstands and OUT OF ORDER to place over the coin slot of Times vending machines. Another recently invented technique was set in motion: a fax zap. The Times’s fax numbers were distributed at the weekly meeting, and ACT UP member were encouraged to use our employers’ fax machines to jam those at the newspaper with out complaints.

Because Times policy is set at the top, ACT UP decided on publisher Arthur “Punch” Sulzberger’s Fifth Avenue residence as a starting point for our protest. During the night of July 23, the streets outside Sulzberger’s apartment were painted with outlines of bodies and the inscription ALL THE NEWS THAT FIT TO KILL. Three days later, 200 ACT UP members gathered at the same spot for an angry demonstration. Fliers with a series of questions were handed out to Punch’s neighbors:

At the demonstration, ACT UP found out just how much clout the newspaper has in New York City: the police department guarded Sulzberger’s residence with ranks equal in numbers to our own, and not a single story about the protest appeared in the mainstream media. Deterred at the publisher’s digs, ACT UP’s legions proceeded to march down Fifth Avenue and over to the Times offices on West 43rd Street. There we were met with an even bigger police gang, fully determined to protect the Times’s property rights against our own rights of free assembly and speech.


The Village Voice
August 8, 1989

by Doug Ireland


If some 400 cops were yanked from their normal rounds and pressed into duty guarding the city's most important newspaper -- smack in the middle of the mayoral campaign in which the paucity of police on the beat has become a major issue -- it would be rather bizarre of the rest of the press took no notice, don't you agree?  Yet that's what happened when, last Tuesday, 150 members of ACT UP demonstrated on front of New York Times publisher Punch Sulzberger's residence at 1010 Fifth Avenue and then marched to West 43rd Street.

This demo was preceded by a Sunday zap in which outlines of dead bodies were stenciled on the streets around Sulzberger's pad, and the neighborhood decorated with stickers emblazoned, "All the News That Kills."  By the time ACT UP's troops arrived for Tuesday's picketing, they found the sidewalk in front of chez Sulzberger torn up and barricaded, and a waiting army of police who forced the demonstrators onto a side street.  
"We were astonished at such a massive police presence for a peaceful protest," says ACT UP spokesman Jay Blotcher.  "There were paddy wagons, communications wagons, undercover cops wearing fluorescent wristbands everywhere."  
When ACT UP paraded down to the Times building, they found a phalanx of cops blocking access to 43rd Street.  Only after threatening a sit-down in Times Square were the protesters finally allowed to picket on the sidewalk opposite the Times.  
(The NYPD says there were 200 police at each end of the demo, which means they outnumbered demonstrators nearly 3 to 1.)

"AIDS Crisis Escalates While N.Y. Times Sleeps" was the headline on the leaflet ACT UP distributed, which asked:  "Why, instead of actively investigating the work of federal health organizations, does the Times merely rewrite [their] press releases? ... Such compliance makes the Times a mere public relations agent for an ineffective government.... Why did the Times, in its June 29 editorial (Why Make AIDS Worse Than It Is?) dismiss a new federal study finding a 33% under-reportage of AIDS infections in the US?  This callous editorial assured its general readership that AIDS will be over soon, once infected members of undesirable risk groups die off."  
ACT UP has requested a meeting with Sulzberger, Max Frankel, and top editors to demand "that the Times begin aggressive reporting of potentially lifesaving medical treatments" and "a journalistic investigation into the government's dismal response to this health crisis."  Frankel's office said, "He is on vacation and has not seen their letter." Sulzberger is also on vacation.

AP says their daybook listed ACT UP's demo, but only KISS-AM and WBAI aired reports; the Times, of course, was so well insulated from its angry readers by the boys in blue that no whisper of the siege (or of the remarkable deployment occasioned) penetrated the columns of the newspaper of record.  The TV blackout was total, the other dailies silent as graves.

photo link

What Day Is It Anyway?

By TIM GAY    Gay City News

December 1, 2004: The New York Times’ page one stories ranged from the demolition of Falluja to the court-recommended annual $5.6 billion increase for New York City’s public schools.

Caroline Kennedy’s planned garage sale made the front page, with full-color photos of a luggage set left to her by her mother. Editorials commented on the inhumane treatment of Guantanamo Bay prisoners, nuclear development in Iran, and Tom Ridge’s departure from public service, saluting him as “the best secretary of homeland security this country has ever known.” Page one of the Metro Section examined a proposed expansion for the New Jersey Turnpike. Another story noted that Suffolk County prosecutors “presented a stronger case” than the defense in the Daniel Pelosi murder trial.

There wasn’t a single story about AIDS on World AIDS Day.

Well, that’s not quite true. Page B-2’s Public Lives column featured the headline “Helping Life into the World, Then Trying to Save It.” In the third paragraph, we learn that Dr. Allan Rosenfield, dean at Columbia University’s Mailman School for Public Health, is “increasingly involved in one of the toughest battles on earth, the battle against the global AIDS pandemic.”

Deeper in the story we read that Rosenfield has four decades of experience as a proponent of women’s health issues, leading up to his work with women and AIDS in Africa and Asia.

So, the only story related to World AIDS Day in the New York Times was presented as a personality profile that gave little justice to Rosenfield’s extensive efforts on the epidemiology of HIV.

Through the years, the compilation of New York City statistics on the epidemic has become numbing. One study of young gay and bisexual men of color in a select group of major cities indicates that one third of them is HIV-positive. AIDS is the number one cause of death for black and Hispanic women of child-bearing age. HIV-positive African-American women outnumber positive white women by a ratio of ten to one. HIV rates among gay men under 30 have increased annually for several years, partly because of crystal meth and other party drugs, and partly because some young men think the disease is treatable. Re-infection among positive people appears to be producing untreatable strains of the virus.

October 15 marked the 20th anniversary of my first lover’s death. Michael Collins was a Methodist minister, and when we met in 1978, the gay world was a big, bright welcoming party where everyone was beautiful. He was from Oregon and moved here in 1977. I was from Missouri, and came here because I fell in love with Michael. By the time we separated in the fall of 1982, eight or nine friends of ours had died. Then, the following spring, Michael told me he had AIDS. I became a part of the family who took care of Michael and his subsequent lover, Doug.

There weren’t many treatment options back then. AZT was years away, and the protease inhibitors came nearly 12 years after Michael’s death. There was care from concerned nurses and doctors. However, many hospitals isolated us and made visitors wear masks and gloves.

Outside of the hospitals, we encountered a sometimes hostile, often indifferent world. Landlords were evicting us. Dentists wouldn’t fill our teeth. More money was spent on military bands in 1982 than on AIDS research and treatment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention kept death statistics in four distinct categories—gays, intravenous drug users, hemophiliacs and Haitians. The CDC wasn’t concerned or curious about bisexuals or gays who used intravenous drugs.

Then came the homophobia and the lies. I think it was 1983 when Geraldo Rivera “exposed” the truth about AIDS and Haitians—San Francisco and New York gay men, on vacation, spread it through sex with young boys. Pres. Ronald Reagan couldn’t murmur the “A” word until 1987. And throughout the 1980s, The New York Times’ obituaries obfuscated any reference to AIDS by attributing cause of death to Latin-named diseases like pneumocystis carnii pneumonia and cytomegalo-virus, if not simply cancer.

Back then, New York Times editors expunged the L and G words, lest an editor be reprimanded by an Ochs or a Sulzberger.

In the 21st Century, B and T have joined the L and G words, and no one cowers from saying AIDS. But has AIDS awareness simply gone out of vogue?

On World AIDS Day, I happened to hear a radio interview with Arthur Webb of the Village Center for Care discussing the annual commemoration in a radio interview. He noted that HIV infection is increasing among people over 50. He talked about the increasing incidence of HIV infections among Americans and New Yorkers over 50.

“Shocking,” I thought, “that people over 50 would do such things!”

And then I remembered that in 2005 I too will be 50. Could I, who somehow stayed negative in the 80s and walked a careful line throughout the years, become positive?

In a word, yes.

It happened to three friends of mine in the past ten years, long after we all learned everything we needed to know about safer sex. One had been drinking heavily. Another thought he couldn’t get it if he “were on top” during sex. And the third explained that it was “a Cole Porter ‘just one of those things’ encounter, and we weren’t thinking too clearly.”

I met a 23-year-old man who was recently diagnosed as HIV-positive. He was born in 1981, the same year that Charles died. I can’t remember Charles’ last name, but he came from Texas with his sister, and they lived in a “La Boheme”-like walk-up apartment with French doors for windows looking out onto Bleecker Street. They were actors who survived by catering and performing “singing telegrams.”

That summer, Charles developed a rare cancer on the back of his throat. He died in November. Such diseases were lumped together under the rubric “GRID,” for Gay Related Immunodeficiency. All of that was renamed AIDS in 1982, and by then it became evident that Charles died of Kaposi’s sarcoma.

The irony was that Charles had only made love to two or three men in his life. He defied the gay norms of the time because he refused to have sex on the first, second or third dates. Charles simply said he was saving himself for “that special guy.”

After Charles, Michael, Doug and hundreds more died in the early 80s, HIV/AIDS became a struggle, a cause and a target of frantic hope for a cure. We’ve held countless marches, auctions, concerts and celebrity events. We established World AIDS Day to draw everyone’s attention to the global and local impact of this disease.

Yet the message somehow still doesn’t make it. It didn’t reach my 23 year old acquaintance, or my three friends, or the hundreds if not thousands who will become positive in New York City this year.

And amidst all this, The New York Times forgot to tell us what day it was.

Tim Gay is the outgoing Democratic district leader in the 75th Assembly District and chairman of the New York County Democratic Committee.




 see more writings and responses > Jay Blotcher's blog

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