Journalist fired after claiming a man launched a ‘HIV attack’ by spitting in a police officer’s mouth

Reiss Smith January 13, 2020
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HIV protestors outside of CBS New York's headquarters.

Protestors have rallied outside of CBS New York's headquarters. (Getty)

CBS New York has confirmed that a reporter who named a man and revealed his HIV status in a dangerously misleading report has been dismissed.

The journalist was sacked after writing an article suggesting that a man put a police officer at risk of acquiring HIV by spitting in his mouth after he had been arrested for stealing a yoghurt at LaGuardia Airport.

The alleged incident was described as a “HIV attack” in a tweet penned by the reporter, who also wrote that the “suspect admitted they spit into an officer’s mouth knowing they had HIV”.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention makes clear, HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva.

“This online story should not have been published. It does not meet our journalistic standards, nor does it reflect our core values,” CBS New York told Gay City News (GCN).

CBS refuses to identify reporter who named man living with HIV.

While the “suspect” was named in the article, the author was not, with the byline left empty.

CBS New York has allowed the reporter to remain anonymous, declining a request by GCN to identify them.

“The person who wrote and published the story and social media post failed to review the copy with our news managers,” its statement continued.

“This individual is no longer employed by CBS New York.”

A spokesperson made clear that Tony Aiello, who was listed under the “filed under” section of the article, was not the journalist in question despite social media speculation. PinkNews has contacted CBS New York for further comment.

Port Authority union criticised for furthering stigma.

The article relied on quotes from the Port Authority Police Benevolent Association (PAPBA) union, which continued to connect the man’s HIV status to his arrest after the initial report.

“The problem is when a person with an infectious disease has a weapon, we have a problem with that,” the union’s public information officer Bob Egbert told GCN after the CBS story went viral.

GCN said that PAPBA has “not apologised or retracted any comments” a month after the report was first published, leading to heavy criticism from campaigners and LGBT+ groups. The union has been contacted by PinkNews for further comment.

Housing Works, which work to combat “the twin crises of AIDS and homelessness”, accused the union of trying to “create hysteria” around New York bail reforms which allowed the man to be released while facing charges.

Sean Strub, founder of POZ magazine, called it “a disappointing reality that HIV stigma is alive and well”.

“But when HIV stigma is perpetuated by law enforcement leadership, as in the comment from the PBA spokesperson, it is not only disappointing and irresponsible, but dangerous,” he told GCN.

“Just as bad was the CBS stations’ tweet headline referring to an ‘HIV attack’. That newsroom needs some serious remedial education, starting with a basic science course about what the actual routes and risks of HIV transmissi­on.”

Related topics: arrest, HIV, HIV stigma, New York, police

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