A Response to Blather on the Ironically-named Web Site of ”FAIR” —
Fairness and Accuracy in the Media

Think Tank Monitor, November/December 1999

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The gentle reader will please note that FAIR’s web site allows no letters to the editor. After reading this article, with responses in italics, the reason for this will become apparent.

The Fumento Mythology
Hudson Institute fellow twists science to minimize AIDS

Think Tank Monitor, November/December 1999
By Sam Husseini

A decade after writing The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, Michael Fumento of the Hudson Institute continues to minimize and skew the AIDS crisis.

Fumento is a virtual poster child for what right-wing institutions can foster: Prior to joining Hudson, he’s had stints at the American Enterprise Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. He was legal writer at the Unification Church-owned [sic] Washington Times and science writer at Reason magazine. Prior to that, he was a staffer with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights under Reagan.

I love how dectractors always insist upon referring to the Washington Times as ”Unification Church-owned ” (or in this case ”church=owned ”) to discredit it and its reporters. Interesting that nobody ever points out that the Christian Science Monitor is owned by a church that believes medicine is against God’s will. Interesting, too, is that Mr. Husseini forgot to add that I was a regular writer for two newspapers not owned by any church, Investor’s Business Daily and the Rocky Mountain News of Denver.

In an op-ed in the Washington Times (6/8/99), Fumento was happy to proclaim that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had found fewer new AIDS cases — for a rather perverse reason: It proves to him that he was right all along. He now claims that because there has been a 20 percent decline in new U.S. AIDS cases over the last year, "the bottom is truly falling out of the epidemic," and since heterosexual AIDS cases continue at 14 percent of the total, there was never a threat of a wider epidemic. How fascinating that Mr. Husseini is able to read minds and tell why people write what they do, then label the reasons ”perverse. ” Yes, it’s true I was right all along. But why have I spent the last 13 years writing about AIDS — to prove that what I wrote in Year One was correct? I write about AIDS because it’s one of the greatest hoaxes of our lifetime, and I continue to write about it because the hoax continues to be perpetrated — by people a lot more important than Sam Husseini and his Montessori-level web site at FAIR.

In a lengthy phone interview in which I had to explain things to Mr. Husseini over and over — all obviously to no avail — I told him it’s not just that AIDS cases fell last year, but that they’ve been falling for the last several years. I gave him the address of the CDC web site where he could verify this. I explained that part of the drop was due to a delay in people going from HIV-positive to developing diagnosed AIDS as a result of new drug therapy. But I also explained that this would only cause a temporary downward spike, not a long-term trend. Somehow that didn’t make it into his piece.

My assertion that ”there was never a threat of a wider epidemic ” is now supported by the data, but 13 years ago I proclaimed there was never such a threat because studies involving infected men and women and their heterosexual partners showed that the virus was transmitted far too poorly through vaginal intercourse for it to ever become a hetero-to hetero-to hetero disease. Instead heterosexual transmission cases would continue to come almost entirely from direct sexual contact with intravenous drug users and to a much lesser extent bisexuals. The 14 percent figure merely shows that I was right.

Fumento was able to put a cheerful spin on the numbers by focusing only on the number of people with full-blown AIDS — ignoring that the number of people newly infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is holding steady at 40,000 per year. Unmentioned by Fumento: one major reason for the decline in new AIDS cases in the U.S. is the success of protease inhibitors, which slow the progression of the disease. Actually, his piece was somewhat ill-timed, since shortly thereafter reports surfaced that "the past few years’ decrease is slowing down at an alarming rate," since drug treatments have "lost their effectiveness as the virus becomes resistant to new drugs." (Time, 9/13/99)

I explained to Mr. Husseini that the 40,000 was only a convenient CDC estimate with absolutely no underpinning. He ignored me. The alarm over the decline ”slowing down at an alarming rate ” I also explained and it was also ignored. Quite simply, the epidemic can’t keep slowing at the same rate, otherwise we’ll soon have negative AIDS cases. Perhaps Mr. Husseini thinks that’s possible, but it isn’t. It was only Time’s editorializing that blamed resistance to new drugs, combined with an ignorance it shares with Mr. Husseini.

Fumento mocks "the second biggest obsession, teenagers" — noting that they are only 0.6 percent of new cases. Of course there are relatively few teens with AIDS, since it generally takes about 10 years for the disease to develop. (They constitute 2 percent of reported HIV infections, or about three times as great a proportion.)

Yes, I did mock the media’s obsession with AIDS — and will continue — considering such past headlines as ”AIDS Runs Wild Among Teenagers ” and claims like that of then-Congresswoman Pat Schroeder that AIDS was ”spreading unchecked ” among teens and was ”threatening the loss of another generation. ” Terrorizing young people and their parents to exploit them is wrong.

Fumento notes that of the 297 U.S. teens reported with AIDS, 68 were in the heterosexual contact category. But if you bother doing the math, that’s 23 percent — higher than the 14 percent for all age groups, suggesting that down the line AIDS contracted via heterosexual contact will continue to constitute a greater portion of the total. "Though the number of AIDS deaths has in the last few years decreased abruptly due to the new drug treatments, the percentage of AIDS deaths attributable to heterosexual contact has continued to rise slowly but steadily," notes Peter Lurie, a doctor at Public Citizen’s Health Research Group.

Forget the math, Mr. Husseini, and do the logic. People who develop AIDS as teenagers get the disease in disproportionately different ways than people who develop it later. You can’t simply extrapolate from teenagers to adults — convenient though you may find it. Teens are also more likely to fib about how they got the disease than adults, and it’s always important to keep in mind that the ”heterosexual transmission ” category merely means people who claim they got it that way. I’ve written about a published CDC study in Florida showing that the great majority of people originally classified as such there proved, upon investigation, to have either been male homosexuals or intravenous drug abusers. It’s in my book. As to the Peter Lurie quote, it is belied by the fact that the 14 percent figure is holding even. I’ll take the CDC’s data over an activist quote any day, but it’s understandable that Mr. Husseini would feel otherwise.

Fumento takes great delight in chastising "homosexual activists [who] are now admitting they literally conspired to exaggerate the threat to the general population." No example of such an admission from "homosexuals," as he insists on calling them, is given; while there certainly may have been instances in which lesbian and gay advocates fell into an undifferentiated "everyone is at risk" argument, the highest profile activist group, ACT-UP, generally stressed that it was stigmatized groups — gay men, poor people of color and IV drug-users — who had the highest risk of both contracting and dying from HIV/AIDS in the U.S.

Ooh, I ”insist ” on calling homosexuals ”homosexuals. ” I’m so sorry. How far should I crawl on my knees and how many lashes should I receive as penance? As for no examples being given, I’m given a maximum of 900 words for an op-ed. That doesn’t leave room for throwing in the kitchen sink. My book has a whole chapter on homosexual — dammit, there I go again — disinformation designed to convince us that we’re all at equal risk for AIDS. That would seem sufficient. As to the effort to let ACT-UP off the hook, not only are they cited in my book as being among the chief disinformationists, it was this very group that picketed Forbes magazine after it ran an article about my saying that the threat of AIDS to heterosexuals was greatly overstated.

More troubling, "general population" seems to be Fumento’s code for well-to-do straight white people. When he notes the ethnic disparities (they’re tough to miss; the cover of the CDC report he cites features a graph showing that there are now as many blacks with AIDS as whites), he does so in such a way as to tell European-American readers that they need not worry — or care. It’s someone else’s problem, so it’s not really a problem.

Mr. Husseini, like all AIDS activists, insists that all the data notwithstanding, we simply must treat AIDS as a democratic disease. Presumably he would also insist we pretend that half of breast cancer victims are men, and about 88 percent of sickle cell anemia victims are white. But such statements are false, misleading, and downright dangerous. People at most risk of a disease deserve to know this fact; conversely, those at least risk deserve to know this as well. I didn’t design HIV to disproportionately affect blacks and Hispanics, nor male homosexuals. (I’ll never learn, will I?)

This approach explains why Fumento can limit his critique almost totally to the United States. According to the head of the U.N. program on HIV and AIDS (NPR, 9/17/99), "every day, Africa buries now five and a half thousand of its sons and daughters who have died from AIDS." The vast majority of this toll stems from heterosexual transmission, and both HIV and actual AIDS cases are increasing in Africa. These deaths — which total in the millions — do not result in any apology from Fumento for talking about "the myth of heterosexual AIDS."

Mr. Husseini, like all AIDS activists these days, is only too happy to regale us with estimates — and skewed, politicized estimates is exactly what they are — of AIDS cases outside of U.S. borders. But since when do we track cancer or heart disease by what’s happening in Africa, rather than here? And why are we to worry so terribly much about AIDS in Africa even as we ignore the millions of Africans each year who die of readily curable diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and diarrhea? Yes, diarrhea. By invoking African AIDS while ignoring greater, treatable threats, activists like Mr. Husseini show their true colors. I spent a whole chapter on the African situation in my book. Mr. Husseini, however, couldn’t give a rat’s rump about Africans except to serve his cause back here in the States. But don’t expect to see any explanations for such heartless exploitation, for it won’t appear on the oh-so-unfair FAIR web site.

By the way, this is mere speculation, but ”Sam Husseini ” sounds an awful lot like a certain unsavory Mideast leader. Do you think maybe . . . . ? Naw!

Michael Fumento has written extensively on AIDS, including his book The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS. Read an excerpt from the book, The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, Exploding Myths (National Review, December 13, 1993).