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PUNCH LINE: (ACT UP v. NYT, 1989)




 

Village Voice - August 8, 1989

If some 400 cops were yanked from their normal rounds and pressed into duty guarding the city's most important newspaper -- smack in the middle of the mayoral campaign in which the paucity of police on the beat has become a major issue -- it would be rather bizarre of the rest of the press took no notice, don't you agree? Yet that's what happened when, last Tuesday, 150 members of ACT UP demonstrated on front of New York Times publisher Punch Sulzberger's residence at 1010 Fifth Avenue and then marched to West 43rd Street.

This demo was preceded by a Sunday zap in which outlines of dead bodies were stenciled on the streets around Sulzberger's pad, and the neighborhood decorated with stickers emblazoned, "All the News That Kills." By the time ACT UP's troops arrived for Tuesday's picketing, they found the sidewalk in front of chez Sulzberger torn up and barricaded, and a waiting army of police who forced the demonstrators onto a side street.

"We were astonished at such a massive police presence for a peaceful protest," says ACT UP spokesman Jay Blotcher. "There were paddy wagons, communications wagons, undercover cops wearing fluorescent wristbands everywhere." When ACT UP paraded down to the Times building, they found a phalanx of cops blocking access to 43rd Street. Only after threatening a sit-down in Times Square were the protesters finally allowed to picket on the sidewalk opposite the Times.

(The NYPD says there were 200 police at each end of the demo, which means they outnumbered demonstrators nearly 3 to 1.) "AIDS Crisis Escalates While N.Y. Times Sleeps" was the headline on the leaflet ACT UP distributed, which asked: "Why, instead of actively investigating the work of federal health organizations, does the Times merely rewrite [their] press releases? ... Such compliance makes the Times a mere public relations agent for an ineffective government.... Why did the Times, in its June 29 editorial (Why Make AIDS Worse Than It Is?) dismiss a new federal study finding a 33% under-reportage of AIDS infections in the US? This callous editorial assured its general readership that AIDS will be over soon, once infected members of undesirable risk groups die off." ACT UP has requested a meeting with Sulzberger, Max Frankel, and top editors to demand "that the Times begin aggressive reporting of potentially lifesaving medical treatments" and "a journalistic investigation into the government's dismal response to this health crisis." Frankel's office said, "He is on vacation and has not seen their letter." Sulzberger is also on vacation.

AP says their daybook listed ACT UP's demo, but only KISS-AM and WBAI aired reports; the Times, of course, was so well insulated from its angry readers by the boys in blue that no whisper of the siege (or of the remarkable deployment occasioned) penetrated the columns of the newspaper of record. The TV blackout was total, the other dailies silent as graves.



 


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Information in this article was accurate in August 8, 1989. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.