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HIV, Porn and Mainstream Media: The Forest Through the Trees

HIV, Porn and Mainstream Media: The Forest Through the Trees

Porn. It's a hot topic. Doesn't matter what context - put "porn" in the keyword field of your friendly WordPress blog and you're gonna get hits. Combine "porn" with "epidemic," "outbreak" and "HIV" and by George, you've got a hot story on your screen.

A male porn star who performed both straight and gay scenes in the industry tested positive for HIV last week. Once AIM Healthcare, the clinic that provides the majority of the adult industry's STI testing and healthcare services (and also has a long list of civilian clientele), confirmed the positive, the fuse was set.

Now before I go further regarding mass media sensationalism and witch hunting, I need to shed some more light on the current status of the HIV case, especially following some less-than-balanced reporting from local respected and revered media outlets whose reporters shall remain nameless.

AIM Healthcare has kept silent while the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Cal-OSHA and the L.A. County Health Department have had field days with the press, seeing the fruits of their labor get juicier with each quotation, reference and website link.

Among the accusations, AHF claims AIM failed to report the HIV positive test results by the seven-day deadline, while Cal-OSHA considers it appalling and reprehensible that AIM has withheld patient information from it and the industry.

You're damn right this sounds irresponsible and shady on AIM's part. And a call to AIM's headquarters will yield any reporter nothing of value, as it notoriously keeps quiet.

But a call to AIM's attorney, Jeffrey Douglas, who works as a criminal defense lawyer in Santa Monica, Calif., could have easily taken focus from the trees to help the public get a better look at the big-picture forest.

I offered one particular reporter support getting in touch with industry representatives that might be able to answer the slew of questions left unanswered by AIM. But I was rudely dismissed and told that he had in fact called Douglas, who was hesitant to discuss AIM's matters on the record. That call resulted in what appears to be a last-minute, "Oh yeah we'd better get comment from the other side in there" cut-and-paste of a general statement regarding AIM's stance on condom use in porn.

Well Mr. Reporter, Douglas was certainly forthcoming to me about these matters when I called him this afternoon.

From Mr. Reporter's recent blog entry regarding the HIV matter:

HIV, Porn and Mainstream Media: The Forest Through the Trees

AIM Healthcare follows legal protocol as every other health care clinic in the county is required by code. It doesn't "cave" into peer pressure, it ignores it. AIM is run by adults, not frat kids.

"The way AIM handled the positive test is the same way it has handled every positive since it has been in existence," Douglas told AfterDarkLA. "There was no difference in timing, no difference in reporting; it is exactly as it always has been done, and AIM has always been in compliance. No one outside of [the county's HIV epidemiology department] is in a position to make an accusation. That department is the only one with the actual data. Everyone else is making assumptions."

HIV, Porn and Mainstream Media: The Forest Through the Trees

The initial test in question was a PCR-DNA test, a diagnostic that looks for the actual HIV virus in the blood rather than antibodies produced by the body. When Patient Zero's PCR-DNA test returned positive, AIM immediately performed a Western Blot test, which looks for those antibodies and provides more conclusive positive vs. negative results.

Many reporters and general folk have asked: Why waste/take the time to do both tests? Why not submit the results the minute the first test came back positive?

AIM Healthcare HQ

AIM Healthcare HQ

Great questions; I wish AIM took the time/care/manpower to answer, because assumptions have replaced accuracy. Fortunately Douglas was able to offer some insight.

"Accusations that AIM has failed to comply to the letter are false," Douglas said. "I know from personally participating in an earlier HIV positive result that when AIM attempted to provide early notification to HIV Epi [the L.A. County HIV epidemiology program] by sending in the PCR-DNA test, HIV Epi rejected it because it wasn't the Western Blot."

Douglas said that HIV Epi, as he calls it, is a unit within and isolated from the L.A. County Department of Health because of strict patient privacy issues. An extraordinary amount of personal information is involved and restricted by law from being shared with any entity outside of the program.

Even Cal-OSHA, which argues it should be privy to any and all testing information, has an injunction against it from seeking any personal identifying information, an injunction that Douglas says has a detailed definition of what Cal-OSHA is and isn't allowed to seek regarding Patient Zero or anyone else involved.

If AIM were to "cave" and turn over this information, both it and Cal-OSHA would be in direct violation.

"For Cal-OSHA to say [AIM's lack of disclosure] is shocking and appalling is a deliberate manipulation of the press," Douglas said.

What sounds "bullshitty" to me is the above-referenced local reporter's reason for essentially being AHF's free media representative in his name-brand blog - a reason shared to me via email. I'll paraphrase.

If AHF is in the media's spotlight protesting and filing claims and requests to the City Council, that's news and this blog needs it. And what do I hear from the industry? Crickets. That's not news. It's not my fault that this blog's reporting appears one-sided.

"You're not going to get a lot of interest from most media outlets when the only appropriate answer to the questions they want answered revolve around, 'I can't answer; it would intrude upon the privacy of the patient,'" Douglas said.

There's a reason why AHF and the county are so vocal and adamant about mandating condom use within porn, something the media has yet to touch.

"There is a major battle underway for money and status of overseeing the adult industry," Douglas said. "L.A. County Department of Health wants to be the czar of the adult industry because that would require additional funding, and of course naming oneself the appropriate overseer of adult industry is a great distraction [from other county issues.]

"If [condom and health] oversight was to shift from self regulation to government oversight, AHF would position itself to be a private contractor, and that is also a major factor in the clamorous debate."

The fact that AHF has time, manpower and funding for PR while AIM, a nonprofit, spends it on other matters is less relevant at this point. It's the flippant nature with which the above-referenced reporter is handling this important matter - and the rest of the mainstream media's lack of care - that is most concerning.

The founder and president of a very prominent industry media outlet has been - and I was just confirmed the sentiment remains - unabashedly vocal about his news site's need for page views and being the first to break the news story. Accuracy in reporting is put on the back burner with a shoulder shrug.

HIV, Porn and Mainstream Media: The Forest Through the Trees

The fact that the above-mentioned blogger "blamed" his one-sided news coverage on the fact that one wheel has been squeakier than the other is embarrassing to any journalist left in the world with a smidgeon of integrity and passion for information.

"It is without question extremely regrettable how the decline has occurred and happened so rapidly," Douglas said. "It's now hard to distinguish between sports talk radio and mainstream media; everything is just driven to generate heat."

The mainstream media loves porn. I recently learned that even a decade ago some of the top organizations had quotas for stories related to sex and pornography, along with a long list of words NOT allowed to be in each article. (Ex. "stiff.") Now there's no limit as to what wordage reporters can use, and with the inclusion of hourly updated blogs on every news ticker site reporters can get personal and include their own two cents.

And that's great. But there's some responsibility we bloggers must take.

Regardless of whether we (the editors) know that blogs are essentially online diaries not to be used as fact any more than a Wikipedia entry, the rest of the world isn't as keen.

If Suzy Joe reads a blog entry written by the same reporter responsible for breaking news about last week's HIV positive test result, for example, what reason does she have NOT to take everything he says with a thousand grains of salt?

Because Suzy Joe - and most of the country - trusts the media.

Let's remind them why.