cooked in Rolling Stone
Say 'bug chaser' HIV story is a work of fiction
Half a year into his tenure as managing editor of Rolling Stone, Ed Needham has his first major controversy on his hands, and darn if it isn't a doozy.
The Feb. 6 issue contains a story about "bug chasers," gay men who knowingly have sex with HIV-positive partners in hopes of acquiring the virus. The phenomenon itself isn't new, but Rolling Stone's angle -- that a quarter or more of the gay men who contract HIV this year will have done so intentionally -- is.
Thereís just one problem: The health officials quoted in the article now insist they said no such thing.
According to the story, Dr. Bob Cabaj, the director of behavioral-health services for San Francisco County, "estimates that at least twenty-five percent of all newly infected gay men" are bug chasers, whether they acknowledge themselves to be or not.
But wait. "Thatís totally false. I never said that," Cabaj tells Newsweek. "And when the fact checker called me and asked me if I said that, I said no. I said no. This is unbelievable."
Dr. Marshall Forstein, director of mental health and addiction services at a Boston clinic, is also cited in the piece as saying that bug chasing is a growing phenomenon, one that doctors at his clinic deal with on a regular basis. "That is entirely a fabrication," Forstein tells Newsweek.
Both men say that bug chasing is actually fairly rare, and claim that they said as much to Gregory Freeman, author of the Rolling Stone article. Their fear is that Freemanís story will sensationalize one real but relatively minor aspect of a much larger public health crisis, with HIV infection rates once again on the rise.
The political ramifications of claiming that many gay men who contract HIV are literally asking for it canít be ignored. Indeed, the article has already gotten play in the conservative press. The Drudge Report mentioned it on Tuesday, and Freeman appeared on Fox News Channel the following night to discuss the issue.
Freeman, a freelance writer and author of non-fiction books, insists his recollection of the interviews in question is accurate but admits that he did not tape them. Needham says he stands by Freeman's reporting and the magazineís fact-checking. A Wenner spokesman contacted by Media Life says Needham has nothing further to say about the matter.
Meanwhile, the episode is certain to give ammunition to those who criticized Jann Wenner for putting the editor of a beer-and-babes men's magazine in charge of Rolling Stone.
January 24, 2003© 2003 Media Life