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Fact Checking the Media on Charlie Sheen and HIV


In an in-depth interview with Matt Lauer on the Today Show, Charlie Sheen disclosed his HIV-positive status. Before the interview, multiple online media sources released speculative reports that lit up the social media stratosphere in anticipation to Sheen's reveal. Since many mainstream media sources do not typically report on HIV-related news, multiple publications have released stories with inaccurate and inflammatory statements, unknowingly stigmatizing people who are living with HIV.

In an effort to dispel the media's inaccuracies, misstatements, and lies, HIV Equal will continue to update this list of fact checks as the story continues to unfold.

The Today Show: In regard to the likelihood of HIV transmission with an undetectable viral load: "Are you referring to unprotected or protected sex?" Said Matt Lauer. "I'm talking about protected sex," said Charlie Sheen.

Although the use protection may be the optimal scenario, this, unfortunately, was a missed opportunity to stress the importance of an undetectable viral load. Achieving an undetectable viral load reduces an HIV-positive person's chance of transmitting the virus by 96 percent regardless of whether a condom is used or not. To date, there has never been one confirmed case of HIV transmission from someone with an undetectable viral load. This is what we refer to as treatment as prevention, or TasP. 

NBCnews.com: "...The AIDS virus lurks in the body and almost always builds back up in the blood if people stop taking the drugs that suppress them."

False. There is not an AIDS virus, and this use of editorial creativity represents an example of the media attempting to make the story more dramatic and severe. HIV is a virus, and without medication, it can lead to the advanced stages of the virus. AIDS is a diagnosis. 

National Enquirer: “The Charlie Sheen AIDS Cover-Up" 

False. Charlie Sheen does not have AIDS to cover up. In fact, many doctors and activists believe that the term AIDS should no longer be used. HIV is a virus, and AIDS is a term used to describe the advanced stages of HIV. Now that treatment has advanced, there isn’t a need to differentiate advanced HIV with a specific diagnosis, and many believe the term only perpetuates outdated, stigmatic viewpoints.

Moreover, no publication should be reporting on information that comes from The National Enquirer as fact.

Charlie Sheen on TMZ: “My blood is now HIV free.”

Could be sort true, sort of. After TMZ originally broke the news about Sheen’s scheduled interview, the source released a video with the headline, “Charlie Sheen: My Blood Is Now HIV Free.” While trying to capitalize on Sheen’s often-shocking statements, the publication failed to report on the meaning behind his statement.

Regardless of Sheen’s personal style, this one can be classified as “kind of true.” Sheen has reportedly begun treatment and has reached undetectable levels of HIV. He is still HIV-positive, but for lack of better words, his blood could be considered “HIV free,” meaning that he has less than 20 copies of the virus in his bloodper milliliter. HIV, however, lives in the reservoirs of the body, and Sheen will need to continue treatment in order to maintain these levels.

The National Enquirer: "Decades of Debauchery have Finally Caught Up to Charlie Sheen"

False. Promiscuity does not transmit HIV. One exposure to the virus contained in blood, semen, pre-ejaculatory semen, vaginal fluids, anal fluids, or breast milk is how HIV is transmitted. HIV does not discriminate against people who have had one sexual parter or 5,000 sexual partners, nor should the national media. 

The Daily Caller: “Charlie Sheen has AIDS?”

False. No, he doesn’t have AIDS. The term AIDS should not be used when discussing anyone who reveals their HIV-positive status. When it does, please report it in the comments section below. 

BET.com: “The actor allegedly spread the virus to several other women.” 

False until further clarified. As of now, the only publication reporting that Sheen has infected others is The National Enquirer. This is evidence of the failure of the mainstream media’s ability to responsibly report on HIV. Until one of Sheen's sexual partners chooses to step forward and produce test results corroborating her accusation, the media should withhold its statements on other transmission. Sources like BET would typically never cite The National Enquirer as a source, but given the salacious nature of a celebrity who is reportedly HIV-positive, it is evident that respectable publications are willing to compromise their integrity.

Interesting how no source is discussing the responsibility of Sheen’s sexual partners, only that of Sheen's.

Radar Online: "Charlie had sex with multiple partners since learning his HIV status without informing them of his potentially deadly HIV infection," one source told The ENQUIRER."

False until further verified. Again, The National Enquirer has a famous history of fabricating stories. Even though Radar Online isn't widely known as a respected news source, it is this kind of unverified and stigma-fueled language that leads people to keep from disclosing their status to their friends and family. 

News.com.au: "Sheen to Claim He's Cured of HIV"

False. This irresponsible editorialization of Sheen's alleged undetectable HIV-positive status was used to intentionally mislead the site's audience into thinking Sheen was up to his antics as usual. Sheen, who allegedly said he "has conquered" HIV," is referring to his successful use of treatment to acheive an undetectable viral load. Upon clicking the social media link, the headline changes to "Sheen to Make a "Revealing Personal Announcement,'" demonstrating a clear, intentional use of a salacious headline to encourage clicks at the sake of compromising the validity Sheen's statements. 


Check back regularly for updates on this developing story.

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By: HIV Equal