When President Bush gave a speech on AIDS in Philadelphia on June 23, the New York Times got all moist because he mentioned the word “condoms” just once in his speech. “Bush Backs Condom Use to Prevent Spread of AIDS,” blared the Times headline on the story, signed by David Sanger and Donald McNeil Jr.
Here’s what Bush actually said: “We can learn from the experiences of other countries when it comes to a good program to prevent the spread of AIDS, like the nation of Uganda. They’ve started what they call the ABC approach to prevention of this deadly disease. That stands for Abstain, Be faithful in marriage, and, when appropriate, use Condoms.”
Well, if Messrs. Sanger, McNeil, and their editors knew anything about Administration AIDS policy–or had bothered to find out–they might have mentioned the censorious new anti-condom guidelines issued only the week before the speech, on June 16, by Bush’s Centers for Disease Control, which reveal as a sham the election-year rhetoric mouthed by Bush in Philadelphia.
The new CDC regulations, published in the Federal Register, are mandatory for any AIDS-fighting organization that receives federal money for HIV prevention, and they finish the job of gutting effective, disease-preventing safe-sex education that has been a goal of the Bush Administration since it took office. Far from trying to “learn” from the Ugandans, the regs demand that any sex-ed “content” include information on the “lack of effectiveness of condom use.” In other words, the Bush Administration wants AIDS-fighting organizations to tell people: Condoms don’t work. At the same time, the regs mandate the teaching of the failed policy of abstinence from sex until (heterosexual) marriage.
The Times article didn’t even mention these new CDC censorship guidelines, or include any comment on Bush’s speech in light of them from Administration critics.They even failed to notice the large and noisy ACT-UP demonstration outside the speech. Dissent wouldn’t have been hard to find: When asked about the CDC regs, Representative Barney Frank told The Nation that “one has to reach back to Stalin and Lysenko to find an ideological distortion of science this complete.” And Representative Henry Waxman called the CDC guidelines “shameful,” and only the latest anti-condom move by an Administration whose policies have been “overwhelmingly suppressing and distorting science” for political purposes (as a sop to the Christian right). (One example: the US coalition with Iraq and Iran to stop the UN from teaching young people about condoms–see Doug Ireland, “U.S. and Evil Axis: Allies for Abstinence,” The Nation, May 16, 2002.)
The CDC is the federal government’s single funder of HIV-prevention work; its current head, Julie Gerberding, is a Bush appointee, named by Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson. The new CDC regulations meticulously define the “content” they censor as including “pamphlets, brochures, fliers, curricula,” “audiovisual materials” and “pictorials (for example, posters and similar educational materials using photographs, slides, drawings or paintings),” as well as “advertising” and web-based info. They not only mandate teaching about condoms’ purported “lack of effectiveness,” they require all such “content” to eliminate anything even vaguely “sexually suggestive” or that might be interpreted as “obscene.” That would, for example, forbid teaching how to use a condom correctly by putting it on a dildo–or even on a cucumber.