THC in Pot Affects Monkey SIV; Half-Baked HIV Reports Follow

By Benjamin Ryan (Editor-at-Large, POZ)

marijuanaA study showing that a component of marijuana modulates the disease progression of the simian version of HIV in the guts of monkeys has led to a rash of hyperbolic and highly inaccurate reporting of the research in the popular press. Publishing their findings in AIDS Research and Human Retroviruses, investigators from Louisiana State University (LSU) and the Tulane Primate Center gave twice-daily injections of delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main psychoactive element of marijuana and one of more than 60 cannabinoids in the drug) to four rhesus macaque monkeys and gave a placebo to another four monkeys during a 17-month period. Then they infected the primates with SIV, HIV’s simian cousin.

Analyzing the differences in duodenal, or gut, tissue between the two groups of monkeys above five months after they were infected with SIV, the investigators found that the THC-treated macaques had a higher level of CD8 central memory T cells and a higher level of a specific kind of CD4 cells that scientists believe may be summoned to restore CD4s killed by the virus, as well as an increase in the expression of certain cytokines that indicate a less inflammatory state.

Ultimately, the findings identify potential mechanisms that THC affects and that can in turn alter the course of SIV disease.

To read the reports in various online new sources, however, much greater scientific leaps had been made.

The study’s lead author, Patricia Molina, MD, PhD, a professor at the LSU Health Sciences Center, New Orleans, expressed in a email to POZ her “frustration with the liberal, inaccurate, and wrong approach that the journalists have taken to interpreting our results.”

The Daily Beast ran a headline that touted, “Weed Could Block H.I.V.’s Spread. No, Seriously.” And yet, as the article itself pointed out, the study was not conducted on marijuana, but on one of its ingredients. Furthermore, the study did not cover, nor did it make any projections about, THC’s ability to impede, much less outright block, the spread of HIV from person to person. ThinkProgress, meanwhile, put it rather more equivocally, if still inaccurately: “Marijuana May Help Stop The Spread of HIV.” The Guardian Liberty Voice went the furthest, with its headline: “HIV Infections Cured With Cannabis a Real Possibility.” The study was not concerned with a potential cure, nor even a systemic examination of THC’s effects on SIV throughout the monkeys’ bodies, but only analyzed the effects of the drug in the gut region.

To read these three particular reports (there are others) in chronological order, it would appear that Liberty Voice and ThinkProgress each essentially copied the reporting, much of it erroneous, in The Daily Beast. ThinkProgress even lifted a clause of telling similarity out of The Daily Beast, which wrote: “Mirroring other studies that link marijuana to HIV, the study illustrates…” ThinkProgress parroted, “This isn’t the first study to report a correlation between cannabis and HIV.” The study did not “link marijuana to HIV.” Rather, it examined a link between THC (which is a cannabinoid, not cannabis itself) treatment and changes in HIV disease progression—an important distinction. Previous studies have looked at whether medical marijuana helped battle symptoms such as nausea, pain and appetite loss among people with HIV.

All three stories mistakenly reported that the macaques were already SIV positive when they received the 17 months of THC, although in fact the primates were not infected until after the end of the THC treatment.

Perhaps most outlandishly, The Daily Beast stated, “In 2011 alone, 636,048 people died from AIDS.” That figure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, represents the total number of people throughout the entire HIV epidemic in the United States who have received an AIDS diagnosis and who have since died. An estimated 15,529 people with an AIDS diagnosis died in 2010.

In addition, both The Daily Beast and Liberty Voice mistakenly called SIV “RIV.” And Liberty Voice reported that “hundreds of researchers have reported that THC was able to pierce the RIV virus in monkeys.” There were not hundreds of researchers working on this paper, nor did they discover that THC pierced “RIV.” Additionally, “RIV virus” is redundant, since the “V” stands for “virus.” (ThinkProgress also referred to the “HIV virus.”)

Each of the news reports did drive home an important consideration: The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug—the same as heroin and LSD—which hinders research into the potential benefits of THC and pot.

Other inaccurate reports can be found in The Huffington Post, High Times, The Fix and Queerty.

To read a press release on the study, click here.

To read the study, click here.

To read the Daily Beast story, click here.

To read the ThinkProgress story, click here.

To read the Liberty Voice story, click here.

This article was originally published on POZ.com.

Be Smart in Covering Michael Sam As First Openly Gay Player In NFL Draft

Michael SamBy Sharif Durhams (Treasurer, NLGJA)

Missouri defensive end Michael Sam’s announcement Sunday that he’s gay will make him the first openly gay participant in the NFL draft, a development that’s likely to be the topic of news and sports media discussions Sunday.

We know from other “coming out” stories, those discussions among well meaning journalists can sometimes go awry.

NLGJA member and hockey writer Tony Jovenitti puts it more bluntly in his “Out in Left Field” blog. Some of the commentary, he says, is moronic:

Most people don’t try to be morons. And most people aren’t inherently morons. Hopefully, they just don’t know any better—and some education will help them. Otherwise, they are just homophobic assholes.

And since most of you probably don’t want to be homophobic assholes, I’m going to do all my straight friends a favor and give you a guide of how NOT to react to the Michael Sam story.

Jovenitti lists “five things that you should never say when you’re talking about this story.” The list is billed as being for friends to help them avoid seeming out of step, but it can apply just as well to journalists who will be talking about this unprecedented development.

The New York TimesESPN and Outsports had early word of Sam’s announcement and all have well crafted coverage of the story.

Robin Roberts Comes Out

Robin_RobertsRobin Roberts, the co-host of Good Morning America on ABC, thanked her longtime girlfriend Amber Laign in a Facebook post on Sunday, December 29:

At this moment I am at peace and filled with joy and gratitude.

I am grateful to God, my doctors and nurses for my restored good health.

I am grateful for my sister, Sally-Ann, for being my donor and giving me the gift of life.

I am grateful for my entire family, my long time girlfriend, Amber, and friends as we prepare to celebrate a glorious new year together.

And with that, Roberts came out. In addition to her professional merits, Roberts has been in the spotlight for her very public battles with breast cancer and myelodysplastic syndrome.

By most accounts, Roberts was out to family and friends for years, just not out publicly. Reactions in general seem mostly muted, except from reliably anti-gay commenters.

And speaking of gay, it seems that “gay” instead of “lesbian” was the headline word of choice:

‘GMA’ anchor Robin Roberts publicly acknowledges she’s gay (CNN)

Robin Roberts Comes Out as Gay (E!)

Robin Roberts: No Secret She Was Gay (TMZ)

Sure, the “Yep, I’m Gay” 1997 Time magazine cover of Ellen DeGeneres used the word “gay” instead of “lesbian” but that was then, as they say. Was the use of “gay” this time around just for headline brevity or as a catch-all phrase?

Why Robin Roberts Coming Out as Gay Isn’t News — But Is Still Significant” by Brent Lang at The Wrap also uses “gay” in the headline, but gives some thoughtful analysis:

Robin Roberts coming out as a lesbian this weekend is not really news, but it’s still significant …

Coming out may be quotidian among celebrities, but discrimination against the LGBT community is alive, rampant and legally sanctioned. As Jack Mirkinson of The Huffington Post notes, the public relations fiasco surrounding A&E’s handling of Duck Dynasty star Phil Robertson’s anti-gay remarks, shows this form of bigotry is not only tolerated by broad swaths of the population. It’s embraced …

By coming out they are helping people like Phil Robertson recognize that they are on the wrong side of history — and that’s worth a few headlines.

What the Media Learned from Chelsea Manning

ChelseaManning_tv-400

Freelance writer and NLGJA member Christopher Carbone has penned a nice summary in The Advocate about media coverage of Chelsea Manning:

“I am Chelsea Manning. I am a female.” With those eight words delivered in a statement read by Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show on August 22, the former Army private and convicted WikiLeaks whistleblower once known as Bradley became the most well-known transgender person in the world, the subject of news industry angst as media grappled with how to refer to Manning and which pronouns to use.

And NLGJA got a shout out:

At the outset, several news organizations, including Reuters and The New York Times, initially referred to Manning by masculine pronouns. Within hours of the announcement, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association issued a statement urging the media to use feminine pronouns and to respect Manning’s wish to be known as Chelsea. The next day, the Times announced that it was following the NLGJA’s guidance on the issue.

Let’s hope more mainstream outlets adopt this guidance.

Gawker and Shepard Smith

In a recent article, NYT media and culture columnist David Carr asks: “What if Gawker tried to out an anchor at Fox News and no one cared?”

gawkerA Gawker article claimed that Fox News anchor Shepard Smith supposedly yelled at a waitress at a bar in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea back in March.

Oh, and his date was a man:

Aha. Cue the innuendo, the salacious follow-ups and the specter of mainstream media outlets picking up the item with a pair of tweezers. Except after the post was published, there was nothing but crickets, other than a piece in Slate wondering aloud why Gawker had bothered. Otherwise, there was no significant pickup, and no broad expression of outrage.

We know why: The culture has moved on. People see other people who happen to be gay at their workplaces, in their schools and on their televisions. Somewhere along the way, what was once a scarlet letter became just another consonant in the personal résumé. And now that gay marriage is a fact of life, a person’s sexual orientation is not only not news, it’s not very interesting.

The majority of the country supports same-sex marriage, and among people 18 to 29 years old, a demographic that makes up the bulk of Gawker’s audience, polls show that 70 percent believe that gay marriage should be legal.

The frisson of the Gawker tidbit was supposed to derive from the contextual equation — Fox News + gay = hypocrisy — but the channel has hardly been of one voice on the issue and there is no indication that it has any special obsession with sexual orientation, like, say, Gawker.

Carr then circles in on Nick Denton:

Gawker, which is run by Nick Denton, who is openly gay, seems to have a bit of a thing for homosexuality. Until Anderson Cooper of CNN decided to publicly announce that he is gay, the site pounded on him over and over, more or less demanding that he acknowledge it.

Eventually Mr. Cooper wrote an open letter saying he is gay, and there was a short burst of coverage, but nothing changed in terms of how he was seen, which suggests most people have moved on …

By doing a takedown on Mr. Smith, Gawker, which trades on its bracingly modern approach to news, comes off as moralistic and invasive, while Fox News seems oddly open-minded and pragmatic in comparison.

Of course, by writing about the Gawker coverage, I’m implicated even as I cluck my tongue, obsessing over someone obsessing over someone else’s sexuality; it feels icky and very meta at the same time. I made quite a few phone calls mulling it over and talking with people, trying to understand if I was pointing at a problem or just becoming part of it.

Michelangelo Signorile chimed in at HuffPost Gay Voices:

And this is where Carr’s statement that “being gay carries no higher burden” is so infuriating: He just doesn’t see that, in fact, by not reporting that a male public figure is out in public with a “boyfriend” when an incident occurred, when you would normally report that he was with a “girlfriend” if he were straight, you’re actually giving gays special treatment rather than treating gays equally. You’re also enforcing the closet and keeping gays invisible.

I’m sure Carr considers himself gay-supportive, but his view is paternalistic and, to borrow a phrase he hurls at Gawker, “old school.” He doesn’t seem to get the idea that we’re not going to get any further on LGBT visibility and equality if we keep coddling people of privilege and treating the reporting of public figures’ sexual orientation as if it were a revelation of terrible information that could psychologically damage them forever. And he doesn’t see that that’s not a consideration when reporting relevant details about other issues that public figures would rather not see reported.