ABC News reports that President Obama will be visiting the set of the ABC talk show The View tomorrow. The ABC news brief focuses on Obama's low approval rating, and notes that he'll be in "the hot seat" with the show's five women hosts.
Obama, who released a new National HIV/AIDS strategy last month, has a chance to shift the heat to the show's hosts. When comedian D.L. Hughley visited the show in late June, he and host Sherri Shepherd had a "hot topics" discussion that touched on the prevalence of HIV and AIDS among black Americans.
Hughley said, "When you look at the prevalence of HIV in the African American community, it's primarily young women getting it from men on the 'down low.'" Shepherd added: "[HIV/AIDS] is so big in the black community with women because they're having unprotected sex with men who have been having sex with ... with men."
But as Jorge Rivas at Colorlines magazine noted, that's simply not true. Not only has the "down low" myth been debunked time and time again, it's a dangerous idea that deflects attention from the real issues around the high rate of HIV and AIDS among black women. Unprotected heterosexual sex, and limited access to STD prevention and safe-sex tools, plus a lack of health care and regular screenings are the major contributing factors.
No one at The View bothered to correct Shepherd or Hughley. After GLAAD placed an ad in Variety magazine pointing out the misinformation being spread on the widely watched show and calling for a retraction, ABC non-responded, saying: "A guest moderator on the show expressed his interpretation of data about one way the virus can be transmitted. The topic of HIV/AIDS has been raised many times over the show's 13 years, with many voices and opinions contributing to a conversation that we expect to continue as long as The View is on the air."
Clearly, ABC was trying to couch Hughley's statement as opinion. But when ill-informed opinions like Hughley's and Shepherd's are given air on a nationally syndicated show, there's little reason for viewers to think those opinions aren't fact. This is dangerous, if not deadly, because a clear public understanding of the factors that contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS is crucial to containing the epidemic. And while it's doubtful that Obama will directly address the HIV/AIDS mythology being shared on The View, for the sake of building stronger support for his initiative, he should.
--Shani O. Hilton