Henwood on Gary Null and the death of Pacifica
Pacifica death watch (cont.): Gary Null editionDoug Henwood
Perhaps the wider world does not share my interest in the internal goings-on at Pacifica. I do have a personal interest. I grew up listening to WBAI and it helped make me who I am, for what that’s worth. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was an exciting and lively thing that showed a kid growing up in the intellectual wasteland of suburban New Jersey that there was a fascinating world out there. It not only featured radical politics (of all kinds—the coverage of the early gay movement was an eye-opener) and first-rate news reporting (I have vivid memories of the live coverage of May 1968 in Paris), but also some serious high culture (the Ring Cycle on Washington’s birthday).
Now, of course, things aren’t so inspiring. Which is sad, because WBAI and its four sister stations in the Pacifica network are five strong signals in big, important cities (New York, Berkeley/the Bay Area, Los Angeles, Washington, and Houston). Its signals can reach a fifth of the U.S. population. And this valuable resource is deep into a long trajectory of decay. If Pacifica dies, it can never be reconstituted. Yeah, there’s the Internet, but terrestrial radio is far from dead.
So, because I care…
The Null set
Alternative health guru Gary Null is returning to WBAI, five days a week. Null, who was fired by the previous program director Bernard White (probably because he was a rival power center, not for any principled reason), is a classic snake-oil salesman, with an unctuous manner and a selfless self-presentation that is actually a mask for a raging egomania. His long-running show on WBAI helped make him famous and rich (he sold the premiums given away during his fundraising stints to the station “at cost,” which is a risible concept when you”re talking miracle cures).
I’ve got personal experience of two of the “healers” he had on his show. One was the late Dr Emanuel Revici (who died in 1998). My uncle, who was dying of advanced prostate cancer, was brought to Revici by his wife (my mother’s sister). Revici saw him for five minutes, handed him three unlabeled vials of fluid, and billed him for $500. My uncle took the stuff, and died a short while later. The other: my father, who was then about 80, consulted another of Null”s “healers” because of some arthritis-like pains he felt in his knee. The healer diagnosed my father with “cytomegalovirus infection” and prescribed a round of intravenous vitamin C infusions at $100 a pop. CMV infections are ubiquitous—over 90% of Americans aged 80 and over carry the virus. And vitamin C is very cheap—the markup must have been on the order of 50 times. These two characters are nothing but quacks in a very profitable line of business.
Null is also an AIDS denialist. On hearing the news that WBAI was bringing him back to the air, ACT-UP New York circulated a flyer containing some classic and recent quotes from Null on the topic of HIV/AIDS. Some delights, the first batch from a show on WNYE radio, June 4, 2010, followed by a 15-year-old observation he’s never retracted:
“All the celebrities who say yes, we need more drugs and better condom use in Africa, it has nothing to do with condoms. It has nothing to do with vaccines or drugs- the real causes of AIDS in Africa. And we’ll give you the statistics that show you all of the figures from the World Health Organization are wrong.”
“I have over 2,000 of the smartest scientists in the world… all saying the same thing in their own words. Everything about AIDS is a lie, it’s a fraud being perpetrated.”
“The evidence is overwhelming that AIDS is not contagious, AIDS is not sexually transmitted or caused by HIV.”-David Rasnick, as read (approvingly) by Gary Null“
And, this 1995 classic from Null’s website: “There is, in fact, no support for the idea that AIDS is a sexually transmitted disease anywhere in the world.”
In response to criticism (from, among others, a letter from Marilyn Ringstaff of a Georgia-based women’s health group) for giving a platform to such nonsense, the chair of WBAI’s local station board, Mitch Cohen (who describes himself as a “moderate” 9/11 Truther, which I suppose is some sort of relief), sent around a letter defending Null’s claims. (Full text, along with Ringstaff’s original letter to which he was responding, appended below.) Cohen summarizes his own position:
I certainly have many questions as to the entire history of HIV, its relationship to what is called “AIDS”, ecological impacts and causes for disease based on toxic dumping and pollution, and the appropriateness of pharmaceutical treatments for the “disease”. After all of these years, most of them remain unanswered in a way I consider to be satisfactory.
He asks a series of questions, starting with “Does HIV exist?,” moving on to “What do we mean ‘to cause’?,” and “Do anti-virals work to save people’s lives?” that suggest that Cohen thinks that science is a fraud perpetrated by idiots, and that there aren’t legions of people alive today who would be dead without modern AIDS therapies.
I don’t doubt that there are all kinds of therapies and practices in the “alternative” armamentarium that are useful and less toxic than the orthodox kind. But these need to be tested rigorously, with full disclosure of the contents of the elixirs and the results of their application. Now, Null & Co. circulate their propaganda through self-reported testimony with no outside check on their veracity. Those who died, like my uncle, aren’t called upon to be guests. And this gang of alterna-health types tap into the suspicions of the dominant discourse so prevalent on today’s left—a reflexive skepticism that’s as anti-intellectual as the reflexive credulity of so many in the mainstream.
Sad. But Null will probably bring in megabucks in the next WBAI fundraiser, so who cares?