Ronald Reagan Remembered: First Public Discussion of HIV/AIDS
The following press conference is the first public mention of AIDS in the Reagan White House. At that time 200 Americans had died of a new infectious disease. Reagan himself did not mention AIDS for three more years.
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Press Briefing by Larry Speakes
October 15, 1982
The Briefing Room
Q: Larry, does the President have any reaction to the announcement -- the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
Mr. Speakes: What's AIDS?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It's known as "gay plague." (Laughter.) No, it is. I mean it's a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
Mr. Speakes: I don't have it. Do you? (Laughter.)
Q: No, I don't.
Mr. Speakes: You didn't answer my question.
Q: Well, I just wondered, does the President ...
Mr. Speakes: How do you know? (Laughter.)
Q: In other words, the White House looks on this as a great joke?
Mr. Speakes: No, I don't know anything about it, Lester.
Q: Does the President, does anyone in the White House know about this epidemic, Larry?
Mr. Speakes: I don't think so. I don't think there's been any ...
Q: Nobody knows?
Mr. Speakes: There has been no personal experience here, Lester.
Q: No, I mean, I thought you were keeping ...
Mr. Speakes: I checked thoroughly with Dr. Ruge this morning and he's had no -- (laughter) -- no patients suffering from AIDS or whatever it is.
Q: The President doesn't have gay plague, is that what you're saying or what?
Mr. Speakes: No, I didn't say that.
Q: Didn't say that?
Mr. Speakes: I thought I heard you on the State Department over there. Why didn't you stay there? (Laughter.)
Q: Because I love you Larry, that's why. (Laughter.)
Mr. Speakes: Oh I see. Just don't put it in those terms, Lester. (Laughter.)
Q: Oh, I retract that.
Mr. Speakes: I hope so.
Q: It's too late.
This transcript was quoted at the beginning of Jon Cohen's book, Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine, 2001.
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Copyright 2004 by John S. James. Permission granted for noncommercial reproduction, provided that our address and phone number are included if more than short quotations are used.
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