During a White House press briefing today, an exchange between Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino and Les Kinsolving, a reporter from the arch-conservative Media Research Center and a frequent visitor to White House press briefings, was bizarre.
Considering the news splayed all over the mainstream media last week that HIV/AIDS rates in the United States are either rising or remaining steady, it's important – no, crucial – that our federal government address the story.
President Bush sincerely believes that his administration's handling of HIV/AIDS in the United States has been stellar – he considers it his greatest public health success.
But why did Perino jump all over Kinsolving when he tried to bring up the issue? Well, Kinsolving was obviously mining for some gay-bashing time. And, according to Katie Couric's blog, historically some of Kinsolving's questions in the briefing room are so outrageous other reporters will get up and leave the room.
Still, Perino cut him off so unequivocally as if inquiring about the latest CDC statistics on HIV/AIDS in this country was unsuitable discussion for the press room. It's obviously not and Perino displayed poor judgment in the way she shut him down:
Q: Two domestic questions. The Media Research Center — with the Centers for Disease Control's statistics that HIV/AIDS in the U.S. is still a great deal higher among men who have sex with men —
MS. PERINO: Let's move on to the next question. I'm not even going to dignify —
Q: No —
MS. PERINO: I'm not, Les, unless you want to just move on altogether. What's your next question?
Q: All right. In major cities like Washington, Chicago and San Francisco, there are reports that gay bathhouses facilitate —
MS. PERINO: Okay, Keith, go ahead. Les, it's inappropriate —
MS. PERINO: — to bring up those questions in the briefing room.
Q: AIDS isn't that —
MS. PERINO: Just stop it, stop it.
So he's a nutcase. But is it that difficult to turn the question into a discussion of what our administration is doing on behalf of HIV/AIDS prevention? Perino makes it seem as if discussion about HIV transmission in men who partner with men is "undignified." She missed an important opportunity to say to Kinsolving, "Les, if you want to know what President Bush thinks of the latest CDC statistics on HIV/AIDS, it's this." Perino then could have taken a moment to tell reporters what our government is doing to prevent HIV transmission among gay men, in response to some extremely current news.
Also, why weren't there other reporters in the room to pick up this thread and throw some honest queries to Perino about our inability to curb HIV/AIDS transmission in this country? Stay tuned to tomorrow's White House press briefing to see if any intrepid reporters will be brave enough to hold Perino's feet to the fire and turn a homophobic series of questions into a scientifically valid, public health discussion.
To read the entire transcript: