PRINT January 1992


Johnson and “Johnson”

ON NOVEMBER 7, 1991 AIDS finally became national news. Despite the massive efforts of AIDS activists for over a decade to educate the public and the media, only a few stories had broken through. The deaths of Rock Hudson and Liberace were treated largely as circulation-boosting scandals by the tabloids; the death of Ryan White was a tragic human-interest story, not unlike the fate of a child fallen into a well. But during an afternoon press conference—called just as the Thomas-Hill affair began to lose its urgency, just as neo-Nazi David Duke was achieving legitimacy with appearances on Donohue, Nightline, and Larry King—the reality of the disease collided with the spectacle-obsessed, commodity-consuming culture once and for all. Basketball superstar and major corporate sponsor Magic Johnson had tested positive for HIV. It was the lead story on every broadcast that night, and front-page

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