Michael Miner did a generally good job of laying out the arguments between Dan Savage and the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association members and AIDS activists who objected to NLGJA's recent honoring of Savage's "Death Takes a Holiday" [Hot Type, September 26], but I do wish to clarify a few points.
First, as far as the signers of the letter with whom I've spoken (Bob Lederer of Poz also circulated it) are concerned, the names of the judges who made this particular decision are not the issue. Our concern is that NLGJA have an awards process that is fair and which supports the goals of the organization, one of which is to promote coverage based, as the group's brochure puts it, on "knowledge and truthfulness."
In this context I find the notion that the judging should not include any consideration of a piece's accuracy to be rather puzzling. I've always thought that a journalist's first responsibility is to get the facts right, whether those facts are going into a news story or into a commentary. While no one would expect the judges to fact check every line, it doesn't seem too much to ask that a piece receiving an award at least be in the ballpark in terms of accuracy.
It is also important to note (as I emphasized to Miner) that so far NLGJA has handled this issue seriously and appropriately. If we succeed in stimulating an organization-wide discussion of how our awards process might be improved, we will have achieved our main objective.
As for Dan Savage, his comments quoted in Miner's piece reflect self-delusion, to put the most charitable face on things. He may find it comforting to believe that Martin Delaney, Cleve Jones, et al never read his article before signing the letter, but the specific and pointed comments that they and others included with their signatures tell me otherwise.
As for Savage's assertion that "this is the first time the premise that HIV is changing from a terminal illness to an illness illness has been challenged by anyone," one can only wonder what planet he has been living on. Here on earth, AIDS service and activist groups have been complaining about the spate of AIDS-is-over stories in the media almost since they began appearing in mid-1996. Personally, I wrote an op-ed carried by daily papers across the country last December saying the idea that "stunning recoveries have become the norm...is dangerous nonsense." But even if Savage missed all of that he can hardly have failed to notice that when his story ran in Seattle he did indeed receive brutal criticism for it, in the pages of the Seattle Gay News and elsewhere.
One final note: I received Miner's article in the mail hours after returning home from the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy in Toronto, at which it was reported that the new anti-HIV drug combinations are failing in as many as 53 percent of patients. That news came days after a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention documenting an alarming increase in gonorrhea cases among gay men after years of stability at low levels. That increase--which will be followed by reports of increased HIV transmission as surely as the sun will rise tomorrow--is hard to explain except as a reaction to media reports declaring an end to the AIDS crisis.
Accuracy counts--especially when the issues we're covering are literally matters of life and death.