REAGAN AND AIDS. One of Ronald Reagan's most shameful legacies was his indifference toward the then-emerging AIDS epidemic. This press briefing, conducted by Reagan spokesman Larry Speakes in 1982, is a good reminder of what things were like then.
Granted, Reagan doesn't appear personally in this briefing, and much of this has more to do with what some people thought was a laff riot at the time. But the Reagan White House's lack of interest in a disease that would soon decimate the gay community is palpable.
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 is taken from the prologue to Jon Cohen's 2001 book, Shots in the Dark: The Wayward Search for an AIDS Vaccine, the full text of which can be found here.
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