Perhaps the wider world does not share my interest in the internal goings-on at Pacifica. I do have a personal interest. I grew up listening to WBAI and it helped make me who I am, for what that’s worth. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was an exciting and lively thing that showed a kid growing up in the intellectual wasteland of suburban New Jersey that there was a fascinating world out there. It not only featured radical politics (of all kinds—the coverage of the early gay movement was an eye-opener) and first-rate news reporting (I have vivid memories of the live coverage of May 1968 in Paris), but also some serious high culture (the Ring Cycle on Washington’s birthday).
Now, of course, things aren’t so inspiring. Which is sad, because WBAI and its four sister stations in the Pacifica network are five strong signals in big, important cities (New York, Berkeley/the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Washington, and Houston). Its signals can reach a fifth of the U.S. population. And this valuable resource is deep into a long trajectory of decay. If Pacifica dies, it can never be reconstituted. Yeah, there’s the Internet, but terrestrial radio is far from dead.
So, because I care…
The Null set
Alternative health guru Gary Null is returning to WBAI, five days a week. Null, who was fired by the previous program director Bernard White (probably because he was a rival power center, not for any principled reason), is a classic snake-oil salesman, with an unctuous manner and a selfless self-presentation that is actually a mask for a raging egomania. His long-running show on WBAI helped make him famous and rich (he sold the premiums given away during his fundraising stints to the station “at cost,” which is a risible concept when you”re talking miracle cures).
I’ve got personal experience of two of the “healers” he had on his show. One was the late Dr Emanuel Revici (who died in 1998). My uncle, who was dying of advanced prostate cancer, was brought to Revici by his wife (my mother’s sister). Revici saw him for five minutes, handed him three unlabeled vials of fluid, and billed him for $500. My uncle took the stuff, and died a short while later. The other: my father, who was then about 80, consulted another of Null”s “healers” because of some arthritis-like pains he felt in his knee. The healer diagnosed my father with “cytomegalovirus infection” and prescribed a round of intravenous vitamin C infusions at $100 a pop. CMV infections are ubiquitous—over 90% of Americans aged 80 and over carry the virus. And vitamin C is very cheap—the markup must have been on the order of 50 times. These two characters are nothing but quacks in a very profitable line of business.
Null is also an AIDS denialist. On hearing the news that WBAI was bringing him back to the air, ACT-UP New York circulated a flyer containing some classic and recent quotes from Null on the topic of HIV/AIDS. Some delights, the first batch from a show on WNYE radio, June 4, 2010, followed by a 15-year-old observation he’s never retracted:
“All the celebrities who say yes, we need more drugs and better condom use in Africa, it has nothing to do with condoms. It has nothing to do with vaccines or drugs- the real causes of AIDS in Africa. And we’ll give you the statistics that show you all of the figures from the World Health Organization are wrong.”
“I have over 2,000 of the smartest scientists in the world… all saying the same thing in their own words. Everything about AIDS is a lie, it’s a fraud being perpetrated.”
“The evidence is overwhelming that AIDS is not contagious, AIDS is not sexually transmitted or caused by HIV.”-David Rasnick, as read (approvingly) by Gary Null“
And, this 1995 classic from Null’s website: “There is, in fact, no support for the idea that AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease anywhere in the world.”
In response to criticism (from, among others, a letter from Marilyn Ringstaff of a Georgia-based women’s health group) for giving a platform to such nonsense, the chair of WBAI’s local station board, Mitch Cohen (who describes himself as a “moderate” 9/11 Truther, which I suppose is some sort of relief), sent around a letter defending Null’s claims. (Full text, along with Ringstaff’s original letter to which he was responding, appended below.) Cohen summarizes his own position:
I certainly have many questions as to the entire history of HIV, its relationship to what is called “AIDS”, ecological impacts and causes for disease based on toxic dumping and pollution, and the appropriateness of pharmaceutical treatments for the “disease”. After all of these years, most of them remain unanswered in a way I consider to be satisfactory.
He asks a series of questions, starting with “Does HIV exist?,” moving on to “What do we mean ‘to cause’?,” and “Do anti-virals work to save people’s lives?” that suggest that Cohen thinks that science is a fraud perpetrated by idiots, and that there aren’t legions of people alive today who would be dead without modern AIDS therapies.
I don’t doubt that there are all kinds of therapies and practices in the “alternative” armamentarium that are useful and less toxic than the orthodox kind. But these need to be tested rigorously, with full disclosure of the contents of the elixirs and the results of their application. Now, Null & Co. circulate their propaganda through self-reported testimony with no outside check on their veracity. Those who died, like my uncle, aren’t called upon to be guests. And this gang of alterna-health types tap into the suspicions of the dominant discourse so prevalent on today’s left—a reflexive skepticism that’s as anti-intellectual as the reflexive credulity of so many in the mainstream.
Sad. But Null will probably bring in megabucks in the next WBAI fundraiser, so who cares?
Dear Ms. Ringstaff,
Your letter makes a number of assertions about what Gary Null believes, let alone says over the air, without documenting your claims.
I cannot speak for Gary (and wouldn’t dare try to!), but as a former member of the Holistic and Alternative Treatments Committee of ACT UP-NY, as coordinator of the NoSpray Coalition against toxic pesticides, as a Brooklyn Green Party organizer — and as someone who has witnessed relatives, friends diagnosed with HIV and AIDS (and who are said to have died from opportunistic infections related to it) — I certainly have many questions as to the entire history of HIV, its relationship to what is called “AIDS”, ecological impacts and causes for disease based on toxic dumping and pollution, and the appropriateness of pharmaceutical treatments for the “disease”. After all of these years, most of them remain unanswered in a way I consider to be satisfactory.
I don’t see the point in shutting off that process of questioning, of challenging. In fact, I find it disastrous.
On Gary Null’s prior programs on WBAI, discussion of AIDS and HIV accounted for around 10 percent of his programs, maybe less. And, contrary to your (and others’) inferences, he never, ever promoted his line of products on the air.
No doubt he benefited financially from his on-air popularity, the same as most authors do who are interviewed over the airwaves. But Null was always careful to be very circumspect about his claims, and allowed — even invited — contrary opinions on his show (unlike many hosts at WBAI).
That is why in all the attacks upon Null that I’ve seen concerning this matter, there are very few actual quotes from Null provided by those calling for banning Null from the airwaves. And of those few quotes, not a single one actually provides evidence as to the claims they are marshalled to support.
Furthermore — and again unlike most other show hosts at WBAI — Gary Null has agreed to open up his show to those who disagree with him, and to engage in public debates on this and other issues.
Gary Null was arbitrarily fired without any sense of due process from WBAI 6 years ago NOT for making reckless scientific statements on the air, but for running afoul of the then Program Director. Many of those who decry the “arbitrary” decision to return Gary Null to his previous timeslot said nothing at the time about the arbitrary decision to fire him and his audience, along with several other popular producers (such as Robert Knight, for example). So I take such protests from those people as examples of opportunism and hypocrisy.
You write as though anyone who questions the science around HIV and AIDS are all in the same camp, or hold the same views. As you know, for many years the AIDS and HIV critics were hardly united — they had (and still have) many divisions among them, over such questions as:
– Does HIV exist?
– Does it exist according to Koch’s postulates for “isolating” a micro-organism?
– If it exists, is it always present in AIDS cases?
– Can HIV be detected in people who do not have AIDS?
– Could it be a marker for disease and not the cause?
– What do we mean by “to cause”?
– If the virus exists, could it have been produced as part of biowarfare experiments by the US Government?
– What is the role of “Co-Factors” and why are they needed to cause this disease?
– Do people die of AIDS, or from Opportunistic Infections?- What is the role of malnutrition in AIDS in Africa?
– Why are the definitions for what constitutes AIDS different in different parts of the world, unlike the definition for every other disease?
– Is AIDS a disease or a “syndrome”? What’s the difference?
– Did AZT kill more people than it helped?
– Do anti-virals work to save people’s lives?
– What are the roles of viruses in the body?
– How accurate are the tests for the virus? For antibodies?
– Are the tests themselves based on flawed science? (Kerry Mullis’ view.)
– Are the anti-virals’ side effects more debilitating than what they are supposed to be fighting?
– Can rigorous nutrition and supplements fight AIDS better than anti-virals?
On and on and on. These and other questions still haunt our lives. To shut off that debate, to assume that people’s views (including Null’s) don’t change over time as more knowledge becomes available, or that there is only one Truth and you are its emissary, is … well … let’s just say that attitude is harmful.
To preclude people from hearing contrasting views on all of this is reprehensible.
Let the people hear the arguments; let the people ourselves decide.
Mitchel Cohen, Chair, WBAI Local Station Board*
*for ID purposes only
PS. Two decades ago I’d written several articles myself on the questions I had (and continue to have) pertaining to HIV/AIDS, and published them in the journal I edited, “Red Balloon”. I also wrote a long introduction to a pamphlet I published that featured a very good alternative critique by Bob Lederer, who has since become a proponent of the mainstream view on HIV/AIDS but who had a very different view back then.
I’ll be glad to send it to you in electronic form, upon request.
November 15, 2010
To whom it concerns:
We are writing as individuals and organizations who are deeply distressed by WBAI’s recent restoration of supplement-entrepreneur Gary Null to the airwaves of WBAI Radio five days a week.
We are gravely concerned about this prospect and the consequences for people at risk of and living with HIV. Mr. Null and his frequent radio guests support the notions, among others, that HIV does not play a role in causing AIDS; that the disease is not transmitted sexually or via dirty needles; that HIV tests are meaningless; and that antiretroviral drugs are not only poisonous but can actually cause AIDS. Legitimate concerns and grievances about the pharmaceutical industry are eclipsed and diminished by this life-threatening stance.
The spread of false claims about HIV and AIDS is deadly, and particularly harms the poor communities of color most devastated by HIV/AIDS. Disinformation about HIV has caused the unnecessary suffering and death of an estimated 300,000 men, women and children in South Africa alone (see Mbeki Aids denial ’caused 300,000 deaths’ ).
Both the existence of HIV and its role in the causation of AIDS has been amply demonstrated (see, e.g., AIDSTruth.org | The scientific evidence for HIV/AIDS). Among the destructive effect of spreading these falsehoods is to reduce condom use, increase infection risk and dissuade people from the use of life-saving antiretroviral therapy (among other modalities).
We respect the station’s longstanding free-speech tradition, and support open debate on critical public health issues. We also deeply appreciate the fiscal difficulties facing WBAI and the Pacifica network. However, the notion that WBAI’s survival is dependent on relying on Mr. Null while spreading a message of death is antithetical to the mission of the station and of the Pacifica Network to which it belongs.
We call on WBAI management to immediately reverse its decision to add Mr. Null’s program to its schedule.
Marilyn Ringstaff, CNM, JD
Women of W.O.R.T.H., Inc.
1513 Dean St.Rome, GA 30161
Women’s Organization for Reproductive & Total Healthcare (“W.O.R.T.H”)
a Georgia nonprofit corporation . . . because women are worth it.
Women of Worth