January 19, 2011
When I read that CNN's Anderson Cooper was hosting a news special about the HIV epidemic in America, I wasn't too excited about it. Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Cooper, but too many times mainstream media's coverage of HIV has fallen flat.
Case in point: CNN's 2009 special "Black Men in the Age of President Obama." In one of the segments, CNN attempted to address gay and bisexual black men. But instead of tackling homophobia, violence, bullying and job discrimination, CNN anchor Don Lemon, Essence's former editor-in-chief Angela Burt-Murray and a panel of straight black men (none of whom possessed HIV or LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] expertise) used the time to talk about how the down low is killing black women. No real proof to back up their claims, no real HIV expert to explain the rise in HIV rates among black men who have sex with men and no voices of actual gay men telling their own stories in their own words were provided.
Even though that unfortunate journalistic misstep occurred a year and a half ago, I still haven't forgotten it -- inaccurate media coverage really irks me. But as I prepared to watch Cooper's special, "Hope Survives: 30 Years of AIDS," which aired on Jan. 14, I told myself, "Kellee, get over it. It's your job to have an open mind."
As the hour went by, I found myself feverishly taking notes, nodding my head to many points that were being made and feeling somewhat impressed. That rarely ever happens with these kinds of programs.
Many topics that my colleagues and I complain don't get enough media attention got their due during this hour-long special. The panel of talking heads included singer and HIV advocate Elton John; Project Runway contestant Mondo Guerra; Black AIDS Institute chief executive and president Phill Wilson; Academy Award-winning actress Mo'Nique; and the director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci, M.D. They discussed the connection that LGBT inequality has to HIV; how oppression, homophobia, racism and hate fuel stigma and HIV; their own personal experiences with HIV; the importance of knowing one's status and getting into treatment, and the consequences of not doing so; the negative outcomes of abstinence-only education; generational complacency around HIV; the need for better prevention methods; and recent medical breakthroughs.
While I can't prove it, I have a sneaking suspicion that perhaps Cooper and his staff read our "10 Tips for the Media on How to Stop Screwing Up HIV/AIDS Coverage." Or maybe that is just wishful thinking.
A few moments that stood out:
See a video of White-Ginder below:
Some notable weaknesses:
My overall grade for the show: B.
Mr. Cooper: You and your staff did a good job researching the topic, presenting its history and illuminating some of the pertinent barriers that we face today. I just hope that by airing the show on a Friday night, CNN didn't make it so that people such as myself -- those who are already educated about HIV -- were the only ones watching.
What did you think about CNN's "Hope Survives: 30 Years of AIDS"? Please e-mail us or leave a comment below!
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
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