Media Cooks Up Claim That Soy Sauce Treats, Even Cures HIV

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

soy_sauceSoy sauce has become the latest supermarket item to contain the answer to HIV, according to a savory smorgasbord of reporting in the popular press. But don’t go downing bottles of the brine just yet, because there’s a small problem: The HIV-fighting molecule in question is not actually known to be in soy sauce at all, it is only “related to flavor enhancers found in soy sauce,” according to the press release from the University of Missouri School of Medicine that spawned the media reports.

The tall tale began in 2001 when the Japanese soy sauce manufacturer Yamasa, while searching for a flavor enhancer for the popular condiment, synthesized a molecule known as EFdA, which belongs to a family of compounds called nucleoside analogues. Eventually, laboratory research found that EFdA is a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor (NRTI), which is a class of HIV-fighting drugs included under the nucleoside analogue umbrella. Not only that, but the molecule is highly effective at fighting HIV.

In a prime example of how the popular press tripped up on the finer details of this story, the LA Weekly, which lifted most of its article verbatim from the university press release, claimed, “A compound found in soy sauce may be more potent than the current top antiviral therapy in fighting HIV…. Seventy times stronger, in fact.”

Not quite. The molecule’s strengths are particularly notable when compared with those of the popular HIV drug Viread (tenofovir). For starters, EFdA is at least 10 times more potent at combatting “wild-type” (non-drug resistant) virus than Viread. And when HIV that has been exposed to Viread develops a particular resistance mutation called K65R, EFdA is 70 times more effective than Viread at fighting the Viread-resistant virus. (Thus, issuing a blanket statement about the molecule being perhaps 70 times stronger than other antiretrovirals is misleading; highly specific context is required.) In other words, the K65R mutation causes EFdA to become hypersensitive to the virus, making it even more effective as an antiretroviral to combat Viread-resistant virus than to fight wild-type.

Sarra S. Herzog, a spokesperson for Merck, which licensed EFdA from Yamasa two years ago, said she could not discuss the molecule’s development at this time, except to say that it is not in Phase II trials.

As for the widespread claims in the press that soy sauce itself contains an HIV-fighting component, the phenomenon appears to have stemmed from the University of Missouri press release, which initially had a headline claiming, “Soy sauce molecule may unlock drug therapy for HIV patients.” (After POZ alerted the university to the error, the headline was corrected.) Stefan Sarafianos, PhD, an associate professor of molecular microbiology and immunology and biochemistry at the University of Missouri School of Medicine, said in an email to POZ/AIDSMeds that he bears “some responsibility for the misunderstanding in the press,” because in editing the press release he overlooked the faulty headline.

The initial draft of the press release also stated that EFdA is 70 times more potent than Viread, but left out the important fact that this is in the context of Viread-resistant virus. This perhaps explains the LA Weekly’s snafu on this point.

Sarafianos still stressed in his email that “EFdA is a very promising molecule.” And in the press release he stated the molecule “is less likely to cause resistance in HIV patients because it is more readily activated and is less quickly broken down by the body as similar existing drugs.”

As for the award for the most creative headline in the press? It goes to Tech Times, which touted: “Soy sauce may hold answer to HIV cure. You heard that right.”

To read the University of Missouri press release, click here.

To read the LA Weekly story, click here.

To read the Tech Times story, click here.

To read a longer article on EFdA from the University of Missouri, click here.

To read a 2013 paper in Retrovirology on EFdA’s hypersensitivity to Viread-resistant HIV, click here.

This article was originally published on

HIV/AIDS Underreported on Evening Cable News

MMFA_logo_vectorIn 2013 and the first quarter of 2014, weekday evening cable news shows on CNN, Fox News and MSNBC underreported major stories on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and research, according to an analysis by Media Matters.

In 2013, CNN had 11 mentions, with MSNBC and Fox News each having four mentions. In the first quarter of 2014, CNN and MSNBC each had one mention, with Fox News having no mentions.

Shows included in the analysis: The Situation Room, Erin Burnett OutFront, Anderson Cooper 360, Piers Morgan Tonight, CNN Tonight, The Five, Special Report with Bret Baier, On The Record with Greta Van Susteren, The O’Reilly Factor, The Kelly File, Hannity, The Ed Show, Politics Nation, Hardball with Chris Matthews, All In with Chris Hayes, The Rachel Maddow Show and The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell.  

News transcripts between January 1, 2013, and March 31, 2014, were searched on Nexis. Segments on HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment, research and history were included. Crime stories involving HIV/AIDS were excluded, as well as passing mentions and reruns.

To read the analysis, click here.

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.

Jenna Wolfe’s big news: She’s pregnant (and gay)

By Matthew E. Berger (NLGJA board member and vice president of Dezenhall Resources, a crisis communications firm in Washington, D.C.)

It’s been a pretty big week so far for LGBT news, with the much anticipated two days of hearings before the U.S. Supreme Court on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. But I was also struck by the other LGBT media news of the week, how it was handled and what the headline was not.

Jenna Wolfe, the weekend anchor of NBC’s “Today,” announced on air Wednesday that she was pregnant and having a baby with fellow NBC News correspondent Stephanie Gosk. In the segment, Wolfe bantered with Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie about buying strollers and breast pumps, and said she’d be blogging about her pregnancy adventures. Then they went to commercial.

It was typical for a morning program, and not unlike what had happened several months previously when Jenna Bush Hager announced her pregnancy on air (although George W. and Laura Bush didn’t call in this time).

Here’s what wasn’t said: Wolfe and Gosk, who was not in the segment, never mentioned the previously undisclosed news that they were both gay.

While not a household name like Anderson Cooper or Sam Champion, Wolfe is seen regularly on television, yet hadn’t been the subject of rampant rumors. She was choosing to make an announcement of her pregnancy, not of her sexual orientation, and she did it not because of outside pressure or as an act of advocacy, but because she had something exciting to share, and presumably because her audience was going to notice.

Wolfe, Gosk and NBC News didn’t shy away from the fact that the two women are lesbians. But it was never said, not because of shame or embarrassment, but because it wasn’t a big deal. By focusing on the pregnancy and the impending birth of their daughter, they skipped the “coming out” step, as if they’d been out all along.

(Disclosure: I worked for NBC News in 2007 and 2008 as a campaign reporter, but do not know Wolfe or Gosk).

I have always been very conflicted about the public coming out of any celebrity, but particularly of journalists. On the one hand, I am a big believer that having out LGBT people in the public eye is essential for raising a bright light to the civil-rights issues we face and providing role models for the next generation. That’s why I am part of NLGJA.

But at the same time, there has to be a middle ground between being in the closet and announcing you’re gay on the front page of a magazine. Many people live openly gay lives without making headlines. They are out to their family, friends and colleagues, but either do not warrant a public announcement of their sexual orientation or leave that type of advocacy to others. That’s certainly true for some LGBT journalists, who take their role as an objective arbiter of facts seriously and shy away from disclosing personal views and details of their private lives.

We should not assume that the only options are “closeted” and “gay icon.” Many actors, politicians and journalists are out, but just haven’t told you. It was as if Wolfe and Gosk were saying, “I never told you I am straight, so why should I tell you I am gay?”

Wolfe, Gosk and NBC are perhaps making a bigger statement in their handling of this news than if they had the two women on the couch announcing that they are lesbians. What they are saying is that having two gay correspondents shouldn’t make headlines. But that doesn’t mean anyone is ashamed of who they are.

Why Journalists Coming Out (and Being Out) Still Matters

It’s easy to be a little cynical about the news today that Anderson Cooper has confirmed, “the fact is, I’m gay.” His endearing and interesting letter to Andrew Sullivan, who seems to have been out since the moment he burst onto the U.S. journalism scene, demonstrates not so much the painful and heartbreaking story of a closeted journalist, but instead someone who has just had enough with the rumors and innuendo and decided it was time to be honest with the public . . . in the interest of the public.

It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something – something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid. This is distressing because it is simply not true.

I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.

In his letter, Cooper explains why he hasn’t talked about being gay before and why he was concerned that being openly gay would suggest that he could not be seen as objective. What he doesn’t mention is the oft-repeated concern by television journalists that they could lose viewers or harm their employer by being openly LGBT. There is important progress in that.

In reaction to the announcement, NLGJA said on its Facebook page:

NLGJA appreciates Anderson Cooper’s honesty and his decision to publicly come out. Our members share his sentiment that as journalists, not activists, we have a significant role to play as advocates for fair & accurate coverage of the LGBT community in the mainstream media. We have worked hard to ensure that all journalists are comfortable being out in the newsroom and having it not be perceived as detrimental to their ability to do their job.

It’s important to remember that while there has been a number of journalists who have come out on national television in the last few years, the numbers are low enough that you can count them on your fingers and still have fingers left to text. The number of openly LGBT journalists in-front of the camera in major and smaller markets is still abysmally low, with women doing worse than men. Having a successful journalist like Anderson Cooper come out sends the signal that there may also be room to do it if you are in a top 20 market or in one of the tiniest markets in the country.

Cooper’s announcement also reminds us that maybe there will come a time when journalists–or anyone, for that matter–will not have to choreograph their announcement or worry about how they handle being LGBT.  That hope, of course, is something we see in the youngest generation of journalists who are open at the beginning of their careers or even before their careers take off.

That message is brought home by the death of Armando Montaño, a student member of NLGJA who was found dead in Mexico City while on an internship with the Associated Press. Montaño, who was supposed to participate in the UNITY Student Project in August, was a member of both NLGJA and NAHJ.  Mando represented the next generation of journalists for whom being LGBT is not something that needs to be hidden or obsessed about, but instead is just part of who they are as individuals . . . and journalists.

While we can thank Cooper for taking the brave step of coming out and being both a role model and a symbol, we can also thank Montaño for a glimpse into our future when coming-out letters just won’t be necessary anymore.