Campaign outsider by john r. carroll y gasset


Any newspaper must, by definition, aspire to be the “paper of record,” and yet when it came to this newspaper’s coverage of gay people and AIDS in the early ’80s — when the disease was morphing into a national crisis, and when rights that had been won a decade earlier, after the Stonewall Riots, were once again being jeopardized — The Times’s own record was checkered at best. Information about the spread of illness was often scant, judgmental or distressingly vague — even while reporters on the Science desk were trying their best with an ever-evolving story. The social and emotional toll of AIDS and the resulting queer movement were, when covered, often buried in the back of the newspaper (on a page called Styles of the Times), far from national news stories that were deemed important enough for the front page. Famously, it would take President Ronald Reagan more than four years to acknowledge the disease publicly. And it took until 1983 for The Times to run an article about the disease on Page A1, two years after the first reports of symptoms.

Charlotte Brontë wrote “Jane Eyre”; Emily Warren Roeblingoversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.

This Sunday’s special print section, “Scenes Unseen: The Summer of ’78,” features that era and the photographs taken in the parks. It touches on several trends that didn’t last: eight Times photographers’ brief stints shooting for the parks department; the bell-bottoms and tube socks of parkgoers; the decrepit state of city parks in the late 1970s; and the once burgeoning popularity of the tabloid format in the city’s newspapers.

As the redoubtable Jim Dwyer write in the introduction to the portfolio, “Six months ago, a conservancy official cleaning out an office came across two cardboard boxes that had been sitting around for decades. Inside were 2,924 color slides, pictures made in parks across New York City’s five boroughs late in the summer of 1978. No one had looked at them for 40 years.”

“I just got off the phone, not long ago, with a young firefighter I’m very concerned about. He’s a young kid, he’s a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he told me what he saw today was worse than anything he saw in a warzone. He carried a young girl who had a brother killed at the scene, I actually know the father, he just ran the race today … and the daughter, the girl, my friend Sean the firefighter picked her up and he carried her to an ambulance and he said when he put her down he realized her leg was missing. And he went back to the scene and he told me he crawled on his legs and his hand and his knees trying to find her leg and he couldn’t find it.”

Seán saw one of his friends from Dorchester, Bill Richard, standing there in shock. Bill and his wife, Denise, had brought their three children, nine-year-old Henry, eight-year-old Martin and six-year-old Jane, to watch the runners cross the finishing line across from Boston Public Library. It is a great family tradition, something done by thousands of families. They were standing in front of what police believe was a backpack containing a pressure cooker loaded with ball bearings and nails when it exploded.