When Doubling the Money Isn't Enough: Media Slam Bush AIDS Plan

On May 30, the Bush administration asked Congress to provide $30 billion to help fight AIDS in Africa, doubling the current level of aid – and was tarred as miserly by the American media.   

The media also derided the plan's modest abstinence education program, citing many critics but no defenders of abstinence education.  CNN even dredged up a year-old quote from former president Bill Clinton to attack abstinence programs.  The governments of Kenya, Zimbabwe and Uganda apparently know something elite U.S. reporters don't: teaching abstinence is effective in reducing the spread of AIDS in Africa


$30 billion may sound like a lot of money, but several media outlets believe America failed morally by not giving more.  The New York Times jumped into the fray with a May 31 news article quoting unnamed experts:  “AIDS advocacy organizations praised Mr. Bush for proposing the additional money, but said the plan — which he said would provide drugs for 2.5 million patients — did not go nearly far enough toward meeting the international community's stated goal of treating the estimated 10 million patients in developing nations.”

The San Francisco Chronicle echoed the not-enough line, citing one source: “Dr. Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance…said the plan falls far short of what would be necessary to cover the 12 million people thought to need antiviral drugs by 2013.”

The Los Angeles Times quotes Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) as saying Bush's plan “needed to go further” but failed to cite a single Republican or defender of the president. 

The newspapers also failed to note that America already furnishes almost half the total aid to Africa.  Shouldn't other nations help to foot the bill?  Why must America always go it alone?   

Is America really a land of Scrooges?  Not according to the facts.

 The Hudson Institute reported in 2006 that, including private giving, the United States, with 4 percent of the world's population, gave 47 percent of the total aid to developing countries in 2005.  One third of US aid went to sub-Saharan Africa, the same percentage as for the developed world as a whole.  The United States is a generous country, but you wouldn't think so just listening to the media.    

The media reserved their greatest ire for the abstinence element of the program.  Journalists attacked abstinence education savagely, sometimes directly but most of the time through critics, both named and unnamed.  USA Today cited a Democratic U.S. Representative: “Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., criticized requirements for programs requiring abstinence education.”

On May 30, CNN News quoted anonymous sources: “Critics say there is little evidence that abstinence programs are as effective as other programs, such as condom-based prevention.”

The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Mark Cloutier of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation: “Cloutier said Congress should drop the requirements that one-third of prevention dollars be spent on abstinence programs.”


ABC's Charles Gibson let Dr. Paul Zeitz spout off unchallenged: “About 30 percent of the prevention money is required to be used for programs that focus on abstinence. And there's no evidence that it's worked.”

By failing to explain what “prevention money” means, CNN, ABC and the Chronicle left a misleading impression that a third of the Bush program's AIDS funding is going to abstinence.  In fact, the abstinence funding is a third of the AIDS prevention efforts, which represent twenty percent of the entire package.  

Not a single media outlet we could find bothered to cite any defenders of abstinence funding.  CNN did manage to find a year-old slap against abstinence by former president Bill Clinton, who responded in classic doublespeak: “An abstinence-only program is going to fail….but it's a mistake to walk away from that message altogether.”

In any case, Clinton, Dr. Zeitz and the AIDS critics are wrong.  Abstinence education has functioned extremely effectively in Uganda, Kenya and Zimbabwe

Ravaged by AIDS in the late 1980s, Uganda devised a new plan to stop the problem: ABC, for Abstain, Be faithful, use Condoms.  The Ugandan government educated its population about the dangers of infidelity while pushing for condoms for married people.  The Guttmacher Institute studied the country in 2003 and found that the AIDS rate in Uganda plummeted from 15 percent to 5 percent between 1991 and 2001, even while the rate increased in surrounding countries.  A Cambridge University study found the downward trend continuing into 2005.    

Kenya and Zimbabwe have begun to follow Uganda's example with astounding results.  Since both countries started pushing abstinence in the 1990s, AIDS rates have dropped by more than half.  U.N. researches say AIDS deaths have caused part of the fall, but they also admit that “behavior change has helped.”

David Niedrauer is an intern with the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.