By Brent Bozell, Creators Syndicate, Inc.
November-December 1993 – On September 11, HBO proved just how effectively a well-hyped movie can promote a political cause. Viewers tuning in to the cable network’s And the Band Played On witnessed not only a well-crafted film featuring an all-star cast, but also an effective fund-raising vehicle for the AIDS lobby.
Based on Randy Shilts’ best seller of the same name, And the Band details the discovery and early research of AIDS in America, focusing on the valiant efforts of researchers at the Centers for Disease Control. They overcome the challenges of poor equipment, scientific infighting and public apathy in their quest to fight the spread of the deadly plague.
HBO claims the film took to task all who were involved in the proliferation of the disease. That’s simply not true. While there were scenes depicting the San Francisco bathhouses and of homosexuals’ resistance to closing them down, the film makers whitewashed the book’s critical view of the gay community in order to appease homosexual groups. HBO deleted scenes depicting drug use, cross-dressing and excessive promiscuity while adding those highlighting monogamous gay relationships. As if that weren’t enough bootlicking, the network had the movie screened for approval by 17 major AIDS and gay groups, lest these organizations be antagonized by the final product.
The story’s victims are gays with AIDS. To say they are responsible for their actions would make them the villains as well, and that doesn’t make sense to HBO. So who should carry the blame? The Reagan administration, of course. Early in the film, the head of research at the CDC fears the allegedly homophobic Reagan administration will cut the fledgling AIDS research budget. Later, a San Francisco congressman complains, “If all the angels came dancing down to earth like the Rockettes, even they couldn’t get a dime out of this administration for anything with the name gay on it.”
Criticism was heaped even higher on Reagan’s refusal to throw open the federal coffers to AIDS research: A news segment reporting a decrease in federal money for public health is juxtaposed with footage of Reagan stating that defense funds would be increased. The camera immediately cuts to a heroic CDC researcher angered to hear additional funding has been denied. At the film’s conclusion, a crawl on the screen sneers, “By the time President Reagan delivered his first speech on the AIDS crisis, more than 25,000 Americans had died of the disease.”
The star of the movie, Matthew Modine, and its director, Roger Spottiswoode, created a scuffle about the film’s deviation from the book. Spottiswoode, griping that the anti-Reagan themes were too soft, said the new version was “hopelessly politicized by a studio that appears to be terrified of its contents.” Modine, however, took issue with HBO’s gay-sanitizing, calling the changes “historical revisionism.” “To pretend that there wasn’t a lot of (fornication) going on would be a lie,” he told Out magazine.
With And the Band, HBO has parroted the AIDS lobby’s ridiculous claims that the Reagan administration’s failure to provide money for AIDS research—at the expense of our nation’s defense—is responsible for the proliferation of the virus.
“Nobody is clairvoyant. It wasn’t clear to anybody in the country, (including) the Reagan administration, what the nature of the epidemic was going to be,” Capital Gang’s Mona Charen, a former Reagan administration official, says. “I don’t see how anybody can gainsay the defense spending of the 1980s in light of the fact that it had success beyond anybody’s wildest dreams —the collapse of (Communism), the biggest threat to the world.”
The running death toll repeatedly flashed on the screen contributes to an undercurrent insisting that AIDS funding must be increased. But what HBO won’t tell its viewers is that since the Reagan years, AIDS has received more funds than any other life threatening disease, even though it is only the ninth leading cause of death. According to Michael Fumento, author of The Myth of Heterosexual AIDS, President Clinton has recently approved another 28% increase in AIDS funding while virtually all other diseases—including heart disease and cancer, which kill thousands more people than AIDS does—took cuts.
“So long as people continue to inject drugs and share their needles, and as long as men continue to have anal sex with other men, the disease will continue,” he added. “People are making that decision.” Not Ronald Reagan.