Wimbledon faded into insignificance in the face of a much more deadly game being played out in the Aids arena. It began with a front-page story in The Sun (23 Jun) headed “Aids Maniac on Killer Spree”. It alleged that a 24-year old Birmingham haemophiliac had “deliberately infected four girl lovers”.
How The Sun could have known this man’s motivation when, at this stage, it didn’t even know his name, is a mystery. But the agenda was set. Here was a near-perfect tabloid story, with all the classic ingredients on which our disgusting popular press thrives: Aids, death, maniacs, perverts.
The following day The Daily Star named the man at the centre of this tragedy. On its front page was a photograph of Roy Cornes who was transformed overnight from being “just one of the lads” into being an “Aids monster” and an “Aids pervert” and, indeed, “public enemy number one”. The ball of blame had been lobbed squarely on to his shoulders, forcing him into hiding as the press hysteria mounted.
Day after day they discovered new information about Mr Cornes’ private life. His wife had been a prostitute and he had been “unremittingly promiscuous”. By the judicious use of these tasty titbits of salaciousness, the papers were able to distance their readers from Mr Cornes’ life, just as they do from those of gays. Mr Cornes, it seemed, had been swirling in a cesspit not dissimilar to that inhabited by the tabloid-version homosexuals.
The idea that there is an “underbelly” of life in Britain in which aimless young heterosexuals swirl around was best illustrated by an article in The Daily Mail (26 Jun) which explored the “sub-culture revealed by this week’s Aids scandal”. Their reporter, Sandra Parsons, nominated the Stirchley area of Birmingham – where Cornes originated – as the cesspit, describing it as “the kind of place you drive through with no other thought than perhaps momentary relief that you don’t live there.”
Ms Parsons revealed that in this soulless, hopeless “shabby world” where “reckless, rampant promiscuity” exists on a “shocking scale” there is what she called “a third route of HIV transmission” (after homosexuality and dirty needles).
The local MP assured the reporter that “these young men and women are not peculiar to her Selly Oak constituency – counterparts can be found in every city.”
And so, it seemed, the complacency which The Sun and other papers had encouraged among heterosexuals was misplaced. Peter Mandelson in The People (28 Jun) put it this way: “One thing the so-called Aids ‘time-bomb’ Roy Cornes has taught us is that there is no such thing as high-risk categories of people exposed to the virus. Anyone can catch it. For years, Aids has been regarded as a homosexual disease. No more.”
Richard Littlejohn in The Sun (25 Jun) was not so easily convinced, “Champagne corks must have been popping in gay bars all over Britain this week,” he wrote. “The news that one girl has died of Aids after heterosexual intercourse and three other women have been infected by the same man has put the disease back on the front pages. The homosexual lobby will seize on these unfortunate women to ‘prove’ that Aids is not exclusively a ‘gay plague’ … I am not among those who have ever claimed that Aids is exclusively a ‘gay plague’. But homosexual sex – along with intravenous drug use is the predominant method of transmission. That’s why it was disturbing to read that homosexuals are trying to persuade schools to distribute pamphlets to 12-year-olds promoting their sexual preference. Why not just hand out dirty needles at the school gates?”
Then came the call for legal sanctions to be introduced to curb the “deliberate” spreading of Aids. Thought-free leader-writers rushed into print with cries for punitive measures to be taken against those with HIV. “The idea that anyone can freely go round spreading Aids as an act of revenge sends shivers of horror through the country,” said The Star (23 Jun) which had obviously come to believe its own fantasies. “A new law should be rushed through to make this evil act a crime.”
The Sun went even further: “Dame Jill Knight believes that individuals who behave as Cornes did should be detained in a mental hospital. There are also suggestions that they should be castrated. These are proposals that merit urgent study.”
The Independent, fortunately, refused to be swept away on this tide of hysteria: “The harsh reality is that matters of sexual behaviour are notoriously difficult to regulate. Those who indulge in casual or promiscuous sexual behaviour should be aware of the dangers. And ministers should not be bounced by one tragic case into wholesale changes in the law.”
The minister responsible for all this, Virginia Bottomley, also resisted the mad clamour from the ignorant fools in Wapping and ruled against the introduction of any such law.
It was then left to The News of the World to lob the ball back into our court, when it alleged that Cornes had not infected his girlfriends by means of “normal” intercourse but by “dangerous kinky sex” (28 Jun).
“Three ex-lovers say he persuaded them to perform an unnatural act, usually indulged in by homosexual men”. Yes, but what “act”? Surely it was beholden on The News of the World to tell their readers what this “act” was so that they could avoid it. Would The News of the World name it? Not likely – after all it’s a family newspaper. They couldn’t possibly say anal sex or buggery or sodomy or bum-fucking. That would be far too honest and straightforward.
No, you had to look elsewhere to find out what they meant. Geraldine Bedell in The Independent (5 Jul) took issue with the idea that anal sex among heterosexuals is rare and unusual. She revealed that The Kinsey Institute’s 1990 New Report on Sex “reviewed seven studies over 40 years to estimate the number of women who have experienced anal sex at least once. ‘Our conservative estimate is that 39 per cent have done so’ adding that between 20 and 43 per cent of married women had tried it.”
However, The NoW’s revelations were enough for heterosexuals to breathe a sigh of relief; they were off the hook again and the blame was back with us. The Sunday Telegraph (28 Jun) wrote of the “self-righteousness of homosexuals whose spokesmen have effectively intimidated the media and officialdom into censoring a grim truth: though Aids is not a ‘gay plague’, it is nevertheless the gay community’s promiscuity which created the principal vector for the spread of Aids into Western society. Though many victims showed great dignity in the face of death, some in the gay community did not. One of these quite deliberately made it his business to spread the infection, coupling with gay men in one city after another, then flaunting his Kaposi’s sarcoma and saying, ‘This means I’m going to die. And so are you.’”
The Daily Express cried: “If Aids is as serious a threat in societies like ours as we are constantly assured, then we must start treating it seriously – no matter what offence that gives to those, the homosexual lobby for example, who might find such an approach unwelcome. Aids has no rights.”
Further ammunition was given to the peddlers of the “gay plague” mentality with the revelation that of the 700 people being treated for Aids and HIV infection at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, none had acquired it from “normal, heterosexual intercourse”.
The London Evening Standard (9 Jul) said that “Unless the Health Department shows less fear of pressure groups and more determination to eradicate Aids by targeting those most at risk, the killer virus may eventually spread to the general population. The gay community, though understandably chary of such moves, should surely welcome them because it is their lives that would be saved first if the spread of the disease were contained. Aids should be made a notifiable disease at once.”
The gay community has been agitating for some time for educational resources to be redirected at those groups most affected. Such ideas were previously labelled “special pleading” by “the powerful gay lobby”. It seems that The Standard is just beginning to catch up.
The papers unanimously called for the lifting of the “veil of secrecy” which they say covers Aids. Why is there no large-scale testing programme, they wanted to know. Why is Aids not a notifiable disease, like measles, mumps and food poisoning? Why do “irresponsible” Aids agencies recommend that people in “high risk groups” think twice before taking HIV tests?
The answers to these questions are to be found in their own pages. Who wants to take an HIV test, find out they are positive and then, possibly, one day find themselves, their families and loved ones splashed across the front pages of filthy newspapers? What happened to discretion and confidentiality?
On 24 June The Sun editorialised: “This morning we identify Aids victim Roy Cornes as a public enemy. We name him without a scrap of hesitation. We are doing the job that health chiefs in Birmingham, who knew about his activities should have done.”
Why should they have done? This is an issue of public concern, of course it is, and a full discussion of Aids in the public prints is long overdue, but why must it be personalised and sensationalised in this way? Why do they insist on fostering the idea that HIV infection is a “scandal”? Why do they continue to recklessly promote panic and ill-grounded fear with headlines like: “Whose Child Will Die of Aids Next?” (Evening Standard, 24 Jun)
Before these questions could even be discussed, the unwelcome glare of the tabloid searchlight turned from Roy Cornes and on to its next victim, Peter Curran, “a £90,000 a year eye surgeon”. Mr Curran was alleged to be HIV positive and to have conducted 140 operations after his status was known. The News of the World broke the story on 5 July, in a foolishly fear-mongering manner. “He has already made funeral arrangements. And he has started writing his own obituary … But he still carries out several operations a week. Many of his patients are children.”
The Royal College of Surgeons made it quite clear that there was absolutely no risk to any of the people involved, and a spokesperson said (Evening Standard, 9 Jul): “Mr Curran would have had virtually no hands-on contact with patients in the operating theatre because of the high-tech nature of micro instruments and lasers used in eye surgery.”
It was pointed out in the same article that doctors are far more “at risk” from patients than patients are from doctors. After all, it’s the patients that bleed during surgery! Imagine the uproar if everyone going into hospital for an operation was required to have an HIV test. Would the insurance companies discriminate against them in the way that they do against homosexuals who’ve been tested?
All this was lost on the press. Once more the clamour arose, and the demonising began all over again. Mr Curran was transformed from a saver of sight, a giver of life, into a monster of depravity. “Secret Life of ‘Aids’ Surgeon” said the front page of The Daily Express (9 Jul). “Eye specialist vows to work on as gay lover speaks out.” And once more we had the sad spectacle of someone’s private life dragged out for public scrutiny and derision.
The story was sold to The Express by Stuart Carstairs, a 26-year-old “rent boy” whom Mr Curran invited to stay at his home after he became unemployed. The paper condemns Mr Curran for paying male prostitutes £40 a time for sexual favours. I wonder how much The Daily Express paid Carstairs for his treachery? More than forty quid, I’ll wager.
The Sun “urged that all Aids victims should be named”, although their reasoning for this – as with most other things in Sun editorials – was unclear. What is clear is that if this kind of panic-mongering goes on much longer, The Sun will get its wish and the result will be that Aids will go underground.
The British popular press has behaved abominably throughout the Aids crisis, and it shows no sign of maturing. As the infection relentlessly spreads, newspaper attitudes and tactics will become an increasing menace not only to those who are ill, but to the whole fabric of society.
Now the Government has appointed Sir David Calcutt to conduct an inquiry into press behaviour generally, and to decide whether statutory regulation is needed. Sir David will be receiving a copy of this column and I hope he will understand that I am not advocating any curtailment on the discussion of HIV and Aids, I simply want it to become more responsible and less cruel. It’s time to call a halt to this mob-handed persecution of sick people. Whatever the newspapers say, their behaviour over the past six weeks has done little to increase knowledge of Aids and much to foster the panic which is so dangerous for everyone concerned.
This time last year we were being treated to mass righteousness in the British press over the outing “scandal”. “Hypocritical”, “fascistic”, “cruel and vindictive” said the tabloid newspapers about the deliberate naming of gay public figures.
Goodness me, but their memories are short! The front page of The Sun (4 Jul), is headed: “BBC Star’s Sex Secret – new soap man-eater Polly has a girl lover.” It was solely concerned with the lesbian life of actress Polly Perkins. Can anyone tell me what the difference is between The Sun’s front page and an outing poster? Except perhaps that The Sun was seen by about ten million more people?
As the Pride festival grows like Topsy, the press coverage of it shrinks even further. This year we got two whole column-inches in the national papers, spread across The Sunday Times and The Independent on Sunday. In its one-paragraph report of the event, The Sunday Times managed to squeeze in the uplifting information that two people had been arrested.
After the traditional invisibility of Pride in the press came the ritual complaints about it. “Your column-inch coverage of Gay Pride 92 was risible,” wrote Andrew Hall to The Independent on Sunday. “Is it really necessary for lesbians and gay men to break the law or expose parts of their anatomy to be ‘newsworthy’?”
The Guardian also got a telling off from a reader for totally ignoring the event, although there was little sign of remorse.
It is astonishing though, isn’t it, that one gay man in court can warrant pages in The Sun, but the extraordinary spectacle of 100,000 homosexuals in one place seems to be of no interest to them whatsoever.
The tabloids seem to have a new angle for their “negative images” campaign. In order to discourage children from the idea that being queer is OK, they have begun to search out young people’s ‘‘idols” and get them to deny that they are gay. The most spectacular example of this recently was Jason Donovan. After the court case, which gave the press all the opportunity they needed to further blackguard our reputations, Mr Donovan is moaning (Sun, 7 Jul) that he gets “abused by gays” every time he goes out into the street, “Jason said furious homosexuals hurl insults and throw things at him when they spot him out walking.”
Mr Donovan was pictured in The Daily Mirror (2 Jul) cavorting with a young lady, kissing and cuddling etc. The accompanying headlines said things like “Heterosexual, girl-loving, straight-as-a-die Jason” and “Well, he did always say he’s not gay.” The whole tenor of the article was boorishly heterosexist: “Stripped to the waist, hunky Jason Donovan canoodles with a beautiful, shapely girl. Which only goes to prove what the Aussie pop star always said. He’s a perfectly normal, red-blooded bloke.”
Mr Donovan purports to be upset that he has caused offence to the gay community, but this sort of reporting and posing just adds insult to injury.
The most persistent case of glad-not-to-be-gay is, of course old crepey-neck himself, Cliff Richard, but new to the fold is “Children’s TV favourite Phillip Schofield” who revealed in an interview with the London Evening Standard that he is not, and never has been, a homosexual. “I would never sleep with a man. I have never felt like it, no, absolutely not.”
Alright, Phillip lovey, calm down, we believe you. But I have a feeling that that simple denial is going to follow you around for an awfully long time.
The Sun (9 Jul) reported a “study of European values” which proudly revealed that “Brits are more prejudiced against gays than most other Europeans. Nearly a third of people do not like homosexuals – compared to an average of under 30 per cent in most countries.”
But doesn’t that mean that two-thirds of people do like gays? Isn’t that an overwhelming majority? Unfazed, The Sun goes on to tell us that “Most Europeans would rather live next door to someone who is mentally unstable than gays or Aids victims”. Charming nation we live in.
Writing in The New Statesman about the evil of religion, Gore Vidal declared open war on the “monotheists” or “sky-godders” who have wreaked such havoc in the world. “Psychopathic hatred of same-sexuality has made the US the laughing stock of the civilised world. In most of the world, where monotheism is weak, private sexual behaviour has nothing to do with anyone else, much less the law. At least when Emperor Justinian, a sky-god man, decided to outlaw sodomy, he had to come up with a good practical reason, which he did. It is well known, Justinian declared, that buggery is the principal cause of earthquakes. But our sky-godders, always eager to hate, quote Leviticus, as if that loony text had anything useful to say about anything except, perhaps, the inadvisability of eating shellfish in the Jerusalem area.”
I’ll be joining Gore’s crusade, too. How about a gay Jihad – let’s take the gloves off and fight back against the evil evangelicals and crazy charismatics who are trying so hard to destroy our lives.