How Not to Interview an HIV-Positive Person
Last week The View’s Candace Cameron Bure (formerly of Full House) and Raven-Symoné (once of The Cosby Show) sat down with former Who’s The Boss? child star Danny Pintauro, who recently opened up to Oprah Winfrey about his HIV-positive status. The interview was cringeworthy from beginning to end. Whether it was Symoné’s assertion that there are “different ways to catch AIDS” or Bure’s decision to ask Pintauro if he takes “responsibility for his promiscuous behavior" or even Pintauro’s relatively new role as an HIV-positive advocate, the interview was a train wreck.
The truth is, almost every single question Pintauro was asked served as an example of what not to ask a person who just revealed their HIV-positive status. And in the hope that Bure and Symoné can pinch off five minutes from watching reruns of their glory days to read this, let’s correct their horrendous line of inquiries, piece by piece.
After Bure asked Pintauro why he chose now to come out about his status, Symoné followed with this:
“It goes back to when you were 27 years old, and, uh, how did it start? How did the meth problem start?”
Save for some poor wording, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with this question. But as Pintauro begins to detail his experience with a drug that is plaguing the gay community, he asserts that it isn’t just because he was a former child star, Symoné rudely interrupts:
“Stand up for that. Let’s say that again, it is not just because we are child stars that we go through this. It’s not just because of that.”
Yeah, because this interview is all about you. That’s So Raven. Moving on…
As Pintauro continues to fumble through his answers, Bure asks him to recall the day he found out about his status. Pintauro begins his story of finding out on his lunch break and returning to work, where he finished the shift, then went home to cry.
To emphasize this next point, let's stress that his last sentence ended with “went home and cried.”
This is not the end of the question. It is just the beginning. The process of accepting your status is a long and cumbersome one, and the first day a person finds out is usually a big blur. But instead of pressing Pintauro further on his experiences to invite the audience into what a person goes through when newly diagnosed, she abruptly switches gears.
That’s when it happened.
“I want to know, do you … do you take responsibility for your actions, for being promiscuous, going into a lifestyle of having heightened sex because of the meth that you were using?" probes Bure. "I want to know what the message is because you are the new, you want to be the new face of HIV.”
First, promiscuity doesn’t cause HIV. Unprotected sex does. A person can have sex with as many people as they want and sleep well at night knowing that they have nothing to worry about. But here is a problem with The View. A journalist conducting an interview shouldn’t have one — a view! Or, at least, a journalist shouldn’t let it be known. Bure fails miserably at this, because we know exactly what her view is, and it is one filled with pseudo-moralizing shame and judgment.
Second, by coming out of the closet and making himself completely vulnerable to the unintentionally ignorant views of people like Symoné and Bure, Pintauro is already “taking responsibility” for his actions. He is sharing his story and holding nothing back so that others who may suffer from the same addictions do not make the mistakes he has made.
Not to be one upped by her View antagonist, Symoné chimed in with her now-trademark tone-deaf zingers:
“There’s also different ways to get AIDS, it’s not just through sex, it’s a lot of different ways.”
Are you tired yet? Because I am tired. Tired of continually correcting these dum-dum statements that should be as long-gone as Bill Cosby’s career. No, Symoné, there is only one way that a person can be diagnosed with AIDS. AIDS is a diagnosis given when a person’s HIV has progressed to advanced stages and their T-cell count dips below 250. There are many ways to contract HIV, and a person who is diagnosed with HIV today may never be diagnosed with AIDS as long as they stay on the proper treatment.
Symoné followed up with a question that wasn’t for Pintauro but for his husband, who was sitting in the audience.
“I have a question for your husband. Please tell me if this is too personal," she began, before proceeding to ask an incredibly personal question. "Um, hi, I have a question for you … You guys have been together for three and a half years, do you have protected or unprotected sex?”
Then, the camera focused in on Pintauro’s husband, who appeared visibly uncomfortable, and for good reason.
Not only is this too personal, it is incredibly offensive and rude. First, Symoné is assuming that his husband is HIV-negative. Second, she is including someone who has not agreed to be interviewed about his HIV status. Third, she missed an incredible opportunity to allow Pintauro to educate the TV audience. She could have asked the ways in which Pintauro and his husband stay safe together. She could have asked Pintauro about the methods he uses to keep from transmitting the virus. But no, instead she chose to fumble on the biggest opportunity she had to elevate the discussion around HIV and educate her viewers about how, in 2015, an HIV-positive man or woman can partake in healthy, loving, and virtually limitless sexual and romantic relationships.
Pintauro is new to the game of HIV activism. Therefore he gets a pass for letting Bure and Symoné get away with their stigmatizing approach to questions. But HIV-positive people will soon expect him to sharpen his responses and quash such an inappropriate and insulting exchange in the future.
TYLER CURRY is the senior editor of HIV Equal Online, an online publication that covers news and views central to issues related to sexual health and HIV awareness. To learn more about the HIV Equal, visit www.hivequal.com or follow Tyler Curry on Facebook or Twitter at @iamtylercurry.