Mainstream and Alternative Media
The extensive participation of the media has had important consequences for how credibility struggles have been waged in the AIDS causation controversy. Of course, the media are not monolithic, and different sorts of media have played different kinds of roles. The gay press has been far more receptive to giving space to nonmainstream positions and to citing the noncredentialed as legitimate experts. Alternative news vehicles like Spin , the New York Native , and the Meditel television programs have themselves become important actors in the controversy, intent on advancing certain
positions and demoting others. But as a general rule, the media, by their very presence, have transformed the collective assessment of credibility.
According to Anthony Fauci, "the media are great equalizers in science, which is most disturbing to us scientists"; "any scientist quoted in the media becomes an 'expert.'" Because Duesberg was presented by the media as credible, many people became concerned that the HIV hypothesis is a hoax, Fauci explained, adding that his own sister had called him repeatedly to ask: "Are you sure he's wrong?" Journalistic norms of "balance" impelled reporters to present the controversy as having "two sides"; media consumers, unable to judge for themselves the relative solidity of consensus among AIDS researchers, assumed controversy was rampant.
Martin Delaney, along with other defenders of the established position, has emphasized the penchant for sensationalism and sympathy for anti-establishment views found among at least some journalists and publishers. Yet to dissenters like Duesberg and Jad Adams, the problem is precisely the opposite: the media are the obedient lapdogs of government science. As Duesberg put it: "The press has been functioning like this [taps tape recorder] for the AIDS establishment. They have been Sonys.… Fauci calls the press and there it goes in the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times . Front page. No Fumento balancing it, no second guy writing what you have said. [They] speak directly to the American public. Immediately. That's the difference." Duesberg's critics complain vehemently about the amount of ink that the media have devoted to him, but Duesberg's perspective is completely the reverse: "I mean, measure it against the … 1,000 [articles] on the virus hypothesis that the New York Times alone publishes a year.… You will have a factor of like 1,000 … to one … in their favor. And that's how it works in the propaganda business. That's why Goebbels and others were so successful." In Britain, Duesberg has acknowledged, the media have been more critical, as have been some alternative reporters in the United States like Farber and Lauritsen. But in general the United States "is actually extremely conformist in many ways," Duesberg has complained.
Various analysts have claimed that reporters covering science and medicine—who often fail to have a thorough grasp of the scientific principles at stake—can become especially dependent on their contacts. "Such symbiosis between journalist and source is common in the American media," according to an analysis by Rae Goodell, "but
especially intense in science reporting." One study of U.S. media coverage of the potential swine flue epidemic found that "in spite of the many hundreds of experts who might have been contacted for comment, the same group of medical spokespeople from government authorities was quoted to the virtual exclusion of anyone else." Duesberg has claimed that the same phenomenon is at work in AIDS reporting. Because journalists are so dependent on their official sources, they decline to cover nonmajority views out of fear of being "frozen out": "They won't get further information on the subject from the mainstream.… And then they're out." After all, he has said, "without AIDS, you can't be a science reporter these days."
"My regard for science reporters is very, very low," Duesberg has concluded; and that's one thing that he, Gallo, and Fauci would all seem to agree on. Yet everyone in the AIDS causation controversy also recognizes the singular importance of playing to the media. In explaining why most people accept the orthodox position, Duesberg told California Monthly : "Science is really now a popularity contest, made by newspapers. You hype something in the press, and people take it from there." Duesberg was being critical, but of course, he has played the same game; and he had little choice but to do so if he wanted to advance his claims in the controversy.