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Abstract

AIDS reporting has changed dramatically since 1981. But it was not until mid-1985, when Rock Hudson was diagnosed with the disease, that media outlets began playing the epidemic as a story of major proportions.

Because almost no major media institution embraced the AIDS story as an important issue, coverage of the epidemic was often the result of a reporter's initiative. Consequently, the connection the individual journalist had with the epidemic became a much stronger influence on what appeared in the news and on what Americans knew about the crisis than in any other recent major health story. This article examines how four prominent journalists covered the disease.

The reporting by the San Francisco Chronicle's Randy Shilts, a gay man aligned with a political faction in the city 's homosexual community, reflected that affiliation. Jim Bunn, a heterosexual reporterfor KPIX-TV in San Francisco, brought to the epidemic the fear that it would spread to the larger, heterosexual population, and worked hard to get the word out about that possibility. The New York Times's Dr. Lawrence Altman viewed the epidemic from his perspective as a traditional medical doctor — maintaining a professional distance from the tragedy. And National Public Radio's Laurie Garrett, a scientist as well as a heterosexual woman politically in touch with the gay community, took a compassionate, informed stance.

Almost all the coverage of these journalists had discernible policy impacts.

 

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