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.

Stiffed ‘Fag’ Waiter: Why Media Coverage Matters

Carrabbas

By Bil Browning (Founder and Publisher, The Bilerico Project)

A waiter at a Carrabba’s Grill in Overland Park, Kansas, was stiffed on his tip by anti-gay Christians who complimented his service but also called him a “fag.” The shining examples of brotherly love left a note on the back of their bill.

“Thank you for your service, it was excellent. That being said, we cannot in good conscience tip you, for your homosexual lifestyle is an affront to GOD. (Homosexual slur) do not share in the wealth of GOD, and you will not share in ours,” the customer wrote. “We hope you will see the tip your (homosexual slur) choices made you lose out on, and plan accordingly. It is never too late for GOD’s love, but none shall be spared for (homosexual slur). May GOD have mercy on you.”

If you watch the local CBS station’s report on the event, you’ll notice that the language is markedly different than the printed version posted online. Reporter Sandra Olivas doesn’t read the contents of the note herself, instead relying on a local pro-gay pastor to tell viewers what was said – complete with the obligatory censorship of the word “fag.” However, she repeats the same language left on the note in her actual reporting.

This is problematic. While she’s obviously shying away from repeating the noxious filth spewed by the holier-than-thou pasta lovers and gives a generally positive report, by casually repeating that the waiter has a “gay lifestyle” and the minister has a “homosexual partner,” she reinforces the very language and underlying prejudices of the couple who left the note.

There is no “gay lifestyle” and there is no need to use clinical language about sexuality to refer to the other man’s spouse. No one would say “the black lifestyle” or “his heterosexual partner.” All of the media style guides tell reporters to avoid both phrases – and there’s a reason why.

Olivas’ reporting emphasizes a divide between straight and LGBT people that is simply unnecessary. That “us versus them” mentality is what fed the hateful Christians’ sense of entitlement and superiority that made them think their behavior was okay. After all, media coverage like this is the real choice.

I wrote to Olivas to express my concerns and she wrote back.

Assuming that Olivas’ intentions were good and this was a simple mistake, I sent her an email this morning.

Sandra,

I wanted to thank you for your story on the gay waiter who got stiffed at Carrabba’s Grill. However, I wanted to point out something that is problematic with your reporting.

As a reporter myself who covers LGBT issues, I wanted to point out that you say he has a gay “lifestyle” and is a “homosexual.” Did you also notice that those are the same words written on the receipt by the customer who wanted to degrade him? You’re simply parroting back what they said only you’re doing it nicer.

There is no “lifestyle.” LGBT people come in many shapes and sizes – we’re not one big monolithic group where everyone gets a membership card and is told how to act and what to do. You’d never say “he happens to lead a black lifestyle.” As well, the term “homosexual” has long ago been jettisoned for it’s focus solely on a sex act. All of the major styleguides – including the AP, NLGJA, GLAAD, New York Times, etc – all say not to use it. “Gay” is sufficient.

I noticed that the offensive language was removed from the print version of the story on your website. Please consider these points for your next on-air report. I know there’s likely not a lot of gay news in Kansas, but please don’t use the same language the hateful bigots did. Surely you’re a step above them.

To my delight, Olivas wrote back, acknowledged her mistake, and promised to do better in the future. This wasn’t one of those wishy-washy “thanks for writing me and I’m going to pretend like you said something while still defending my fault” emails either. Olivas took ownership of her mistake like a professional.

Good morning Mr. Browning,

I appreciate your concern and I will keep this in mind for the future. I know words do matter and I would never want to be insensitive to anyone in my reporting. I agree I should have only said partner and left out the word homosexual. The story was proofread by an editor who missed the error as well. So I have made them aware of this too so it doesn’t happen again as we continue to cover similar stories in the future.

As far as the term “lifestyle” I agree with your point as well. However, I was quoting what the customer actually wrote on the receipt as the reason for not tipping the waiter and maybe that wasn’t clarified to the viewer enough.

Again, I appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me.

Thanks again & have a great day,
Sandra Olivas

As someone who’s watchdogged local TV reporters for years on their word choices, I can honestly say that this is the nicest and most professional email back I think I’ve received. Remember when Indianapolis NBC reporter Steve Jefferson was named the “worst reporter in the nation” for his problematic coverage of the murder of a transgender woman and subsequent rejection of any corrections? The station’s news director eventually intervened, corrected the coverage, and arranged for diversity training for newsroom staff. In this case, the information flowed up to editors instead of being forced on the journalists by management.

Olivas is no Steve Jefferson. She was willing to reflect and use her journalism to reflect its true meaning: to be an impartial, unbiased source of news and information without resorting to sensationalism.

The recent success of the LGBT movement hasn’t been solely accountable to the record number of people coming out. A large part of the advances have come just as simply and of the same magnitude: media coverage that reflects our real lives – our trials and tribulations as well as our triumphs. The truth shall, indeed, set us free.

This article was originally published on The Bilerico Project.

The Road to the NLGJA Hall of Fame

By Mark Segal (Publisher, Philadelphia Gay News)

What surprised me most at the National Lesbian Gay Journalists Association annual convention in Boston last week was the concern for print media.

Granted, print media is having a hard time at present; it doesn’t know how to monetize its online material and print circulations are on the decline. So, that led me, at the last minute, to completely change my acceptance speech for my induction into the NLGJA Hall of Fame.

First, to give some perspective to audience members who didn’t know me, I detailed my activism background. Those of you who have read this column regularly know that the timeline went: Stonewall, Gay Liberation Front New York, the founding of Gay Youth, disruptions of “CBS Evening News” with Walter Cronkite … then the founding of PGN.

PGN Masthead

I first told them of our early days in which we put up with bombed vending boxes, vandals destroying our office, only having one IBM Selectric typewriter and using press type for headlines. We even had The Thunderbolt, the nation’s white supremacist magazine, put us on their hit list. No journalism organizations allowed us to join (now I sit on their boards).

Then to give them optimism, I explained that PGN now owns its own building, equipment, all our bills and taxes are paid to date and we employ a full-time staff of 14 with full benefits. That is success in print media.

Then the important part — how did we become so strong? It’s a simple formula, at least to me. A strong business department that makes the funds to hire award-winning journalists to put out not an LGBT newspaper, but the highest-quality journalistic newspaper that serves the LGBT community. It was easy to explain that. PGN is the most-awarded LGBT publication in the nation. Yes, I said that with some of the other publishers present.

Stories that readers can get only in your newspaper bring readers, so publications shouldn’t be afraid of controversy and strong opinion pieces, and allowing those who disagree with you to do so in your letters to the editor or in op-ed pieces. But the most important is investigative reporting. Here I recalled Tim Cwiek’s 10-year saga on the Nizah Morris case, which prompted a new report by the city’s Police Advisory Commission, and rule changes at the Philadelphia Police Department. No other paper that I know of would put the resources into such a story for so long.

Hard news and features keep you relevant. We were out front on the Boy Scouts and the city’s decade-long battle with that group began in our pages, while we also covered the dangers of pumping parties, requesting a reporter to spend a night on the streets with homeless gay youth.

Media has changed and print must embrace and innovate. I explained that we have partnerships with philly.com and Philadelphia Business Journal, the first such partnership in the nation. Our work with the Philadelphia Multi-Cultural News Network, which not only allows PGN to work with a full range of diverse publications but has helped more than 20 newspapers, making Philly a vibrant, diversified newspaper city.

I had much more I could have added, but my time limit was running out. My desire was to bring new ideas and optimism, and I believe I succeeded.

Mark Segal, PGN publisher, is the nation’s most-award-winning commentator in LGBT media. He can be reached at mark@epgn.com. This article was originally published on epgn.com.

TV Stations Miss Real Story Behind HIV-Positive Inmate

By James Miller (Media Critic, WFPL)

prisonIn the early days of the AIDS epidemic, most people had no idea how AIDS was transmitted. Even as late as 1999, many people believed that they could get AIDS from public toilets or sharing drinking glasses with an HIV-positive person. These erroneous beliefs were at least partially attributable to homophobia, but misinformation from irresponsible news reporting was likely also to blame.

One would think that in 2013 this type of reporting would be long gone, but three Louisville, Kentucky, TV stations are uncritically repeating assertions from authorities about the dangers of HIV and urine.

WHAS, WLKY, and WDRB all reported essentially the same story which appears to be based on a single arrest report: an HIV-positive inmate at Louisville Metro Corrections allegedly threw a cup of his own urine onto a corrections officer.

The corrections department decided to destroy the officer’s clothing and send the officer to a local hospital for “treatment and decontamination” despite the fact that HIV cannot be transmitted through urine. So the inmate’s HIV status is entirely irrelevant, unless some enterprising reporter decides to write a story about the fact that the Department of Corrections is still treating urine from an HIV-positive prisoner as if it was a deadly infectious substance.

According to earlier reports, the DOC even charged this same inmate with attempted murder for exactly the same act back in February, even though there is no risk of catching HIV from urine. It’s like charging someone with attempted murder for throwing a glass of water on somebody else.

Chris Hartman, director of the Fairness Campaign, called these stories “gravely irresponsible reporting” and agreed that “the real story is the inappropriate way in which Metro Corrections handled this incident.” He also speculated that Metro Louisville’s HIV Prevention Services “would be happy to have a conversation with Metro Corrections and give them some education on this issue.”

As of Thursday, July 25, the story was one of the most popular on WHAS.com. I’m sure overblown stories like this are great for clicks and shares, but the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s Principles of Journalism specifically caution against “inflating events for sensation.” Perhaps next time, reporters will dig a little deeper past the press releases and arrest reports and look for the larger story.


James Miller is WFPL’s media critic and a journalism teacher at duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky. This article was originally published on WFPL.org.