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journalists criticize "down low" coverage

African-American
journalists criticize "down low" coverage

African-American journalists attending the National Association of Black Journalists conference last week say the media has unfairly covered the "down low" phenomenon--in which men have sex with both men and women but don't tell their female sex partners about their male relationships--making it seem like black men are far more likely to do so than men of other ethnic groups, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Some members of the African-American community and some AIDS experts have linked the down low phenomenon to rising HIV infection rates among African-Americans, particularly black women, saying that the men are becoming infected through unprotected sex with other men and then transmitting the virus to their female sex partners who believe their boyfriends and husbands are heterosexual and monogamous. But African-American journalists say the phenomenon isn't limited to only black men, pointing out that former New Jersey governor James McGreevey, a white man, admitted last year to secretly having sex with men while married to his wife.

They also say that by focusing on the down low phenomenon, journalists have missed key opportunities to address other issues that play roles in the rising HIV infection rates among blacks, including homophobia, a lack of access to health care services, AIDS stigma, and ongoing misconceptions about HIV and how it is spread.

"We have missed the mark by focusing on AIDS and by demonizing black men," Wall Street Journal reporter Steven Gray said at the meeting, according to the Journal-Constitution. "I think it created a bogeyman for black women without proper context."

But J.L. King, author of the book On the Down Low, which fueled much of the media coverage of the phenomenon, says it is important to address the topic in order to make African-Americans aware that they should take steps to protect themselves against HIV and should not assume that their sex partners are being faithful. "I have met too many women and men infected with HIV because they have been lied to in relationships," King said at the conference, reports the Journal-Constitution. King says he is working on a second book on the subject.

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