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May 16, 1990

News Media Have 'Discovered' CDC

JAMA. 1990;263(19):2584. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03440190040017

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THE FIRST "media epidemic" due to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) appeared after a 1983 article (JAMA. 1983;249:2345-2349).

Before that story, says Don Berreth, CDC public affairs director in Atlanta, Ga, "we handled 3 calls a day [about AIDS]. The day after [the JAMA article appeared], it was 50, and it was 50 every day for a long time."

The AIDS epidemic "has changed the way this agency is covered" by the news media, Berreth says. Until the emergence of AIDS, it had been done primarily by "a handful of science writers for major newspapers who understand the issues and nuances." Broadcast journalists rarely generated their own medical stories from the CDC.

As AIDS became more of a societal than science story, though, reporters with a lot less savvy were assigned, and it "required [the CDC staff's spending] more time with them to get the story right," Berreth says. Even then,