Document:Language of Politics

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The Language of Politics and Politicians
by Celia Farber

"You Bet Your Life"
27 September 2006


The word that most ubiquitously appears near the word AIDS is “war.”

The now 26 drugs, in four classes, that have been marketed to tackle the elusive, endlessly cunning virus have been described as the armanentarium in this war. In addition, there are scores of drugs that have been developed to offset the side effects of the anti-HIV drugs.

The battleground for the war on AIDS is the human body – now almost exclusively human bodies in the developing world – and those who advocate conventional AIDS drug regimens share a belief that any degree of destruction to the human body is still preferable to allowing the virus to go unchecked. They repudiate any and all research pointing to the possibility that being HIV antibody positive may not mean that a person will get sick or die.

One memorable piece of AIDS war propaganda, from the South African front, was astonishingly titled: “Criticising Nevirapine is Just Plain Evil.”

The activists and AIDS professionals vowed to sue their government if the drug was not approved. “I can say without a shadow of a doubt...we’ll take them to court on this,” said Mark Heywood, head of the AIDS Law Project at the University of Witwatersrand. “And we’ll do it with the best scientific authorities in the world.”

One has to wonder how the pharmaceutical industry manages to engineer such fantastically propagandistic reportage as this. It poured out of the South African, US and European media, through the wire services, on television. Thousands of journalists tsk-tsk-ing and shaking their heads at the prospect of the President of South Africa and his cabinet and drug regulatory agency wishing to further investigate what was banned for use in all western women, which had already killed a number of South African women, and which the FDA had just banned yet again. Mbeki himself was rarely quoted: Others always spoke for him, being sure to use words like “sluggish” to depict his efforts to protect his people.

In an interview with British journalist Joan Shenton, for the South African TV show Carte Blanche, Mbeki hardly sounded like the madman he’d been universally portrayed as: “It wouldn’t sit easily on one’s conscience,” he said, “that you had been warned and there could be danger, but nevertheless you went ahead and said let’s dispense these drugs.”

“If you sit in a position where decisions that you take could have a serious effect on people, you can’t ignore a lot of experience around the world which says this drug has these negative effects... I think a lot of the discussion that needs to take place about the health and treatment of people does seem to be driven by profit.”

Contrast this to a Bush administration spokesman on the same topic at the same time.

A reporter pressed McClellan on the truth about nevirapine, and the following surreal exchange transpired:

“You’re talking about saving lives, but this drug has lethal effects including liver damage. How are you saving lives one way, and then letting somebody die from a lethal effect another way?”

McClellan said:

“I take exception to the way you characterize that, April. The President’s plan is about saving lives. And we want to make sure that people who are afflicted have lifesaving drugs available to them, or people in those afflicted areas have lifesaving drugs available to them.”

© 2006 by Celia Farber
Originally published at "You Bet Your Life"