New York Times writer David Dunlap compares the US media’s reaction to ebola to what followed after his own paper’s Lawrence Altman made the first notable mention of AIDS in 1983:
I can easily imagine the metro desk of 2015 jumping in to follow up on Altman’s account: “Find out who’s died. Call Larry [Kramer]. Reach out to the families. Speak to neighbors. Try to talk to the patients. What hospitals are they in? Who are their doctors? Learn everything you can. When did they get sick? Where do they live? How old are they? And we’ve got to be clear about possible risks.”
The metro desk of 1981, to which I also belonged, did nothing.
The next article in The Times appeared in August. It was by The Associated Press. By then, more than 100 cases of Kaposi’s sarcoma and pneumocystis pneumonia had been reported, overwhelmingly among gay men, almost half of whom had died. Readers waited four months for the next report, on page D24, by United Press International, as five or six new cases were appearing each week.
The Times was “setting the tone for noncoverage nationally,” Randy Shilts wrote in “And the Band Played On” (1987). “There was only one reason for the lack of media interest, and everybody in the [Centers for Disease Control] task force knew it: The victims were homosexuals.”
To date only one person has died of ebola in the United States and President Obama has made numerous nationally televised speeches on the issue. We all know how Ronald Reagan handled AIDS.