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AIDS @ 30: Media Coverage From the Early Days

By Kellee Terrell

June 10, 2011

Kellee Terrell

Kellee Terrell

This past Sunday, June 5, 2011, news outlets from all across the world commemorated the 30th anniversary of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. From national news sites, such as and, to high profile newspapers, such as the New York Times and the Washington Post, to local newspapers and news stations, there was an influx of reporting on how the epidemic has affected all of our lives over the past three decades.

And it is the first time in a long time (perhaps since the 25th anniversary) that we have seen this many conversations about the epidemic. I admit that I had expected to see more diverse faces -- not just gay, white men -- given just how HIV/AIDS has impacted communities of color. But nevertheless, the overall message from many of the articles and news stories I read was one of hope and perseverance.

One story that touched me deeply was written and filmed by MSNBC's health editor Linda Dahlstrom about Bill Rydwels, a 78-year-old, long-term survivor who was diagnosed with HIV in 1985, the same year he lost his partner of 17 years to the disease. When the video clip ended, up popped a clip from the early 80s with Tom Brokaw talking about a "mysterious cancer that had no cure."

Watching it catapulted me back to another time that I was too young to remember. A pretty scary time when social circles were depleted, and the messages didn't include hope. Instead, they were seeped in fear, darkness and death.

I got really interested in wanting to see more news stories from the '80s to see just how much we didn't know and just how wrong the media was back then. Thanks to YouTube, I found some interesting (and sometimes upsetting) news broadcasts that give us small glimpses of what messages Americans were getting about this disease from mainstream news outlets.

Watching the series of clips below, reminds us all that: Yes, things have gotten better, but the room for improvement is incredibly vast.

AIDS in the Media, the Early Years
(An excerpt from the documentary Common Threads: Stories From the Quilt, 1989)

Mystery Illness Without a Cure
(NBC News, 1982)

Government Eases Concerns Over AIDS
(Independent Network News, 1983)

Rock Hudson "Mystery Illness"
(NBC-New York, 1985)

60 Minutes: Randy Shilts Interview -- Part One
(CBS, 1987)

60 Minutes: Randy Shilts Interview -- Part Two
(CBS, 1987)

CBS Evening News With Dan Rather
(AIDS advocates interrupt Dan Rather, CBS)

Have you seen any early news clips about HIV/AIDS? Please leave a comment with the link.

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for and

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See Also
20 Years of Magic: How One Man's HIV Disclosure Inspired Others
More on the 30th Anniversary of AIDS


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