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Newly Unearthed Tapes Reveal Reagan Administration’s Shocking Response To HIV/AIDS

The Reagan administration’s historically apathetic response to the HIV/AIDS crisis is the subject of a harrowing documentary short. 

In honor of World AIDS Day, Vanity Fair debuted “When AIDS Was Funny,” a new documentary short by filmmaker Scott Calonico that shows how the administration shrugged off the spread of HIV in the mid-1980s. 

Featured in the movie are never-before-heard audio tapes from three separate press conferences in 1982, 1983 and 1984 in which White House Deputy Press Secretary Larry Speakes can be heard laughing and even cracking homophobic jokes at reporters’ questions about the crisis. 

“If we come up with any research that sheds some light on whether gays should cruise or not cruise, we’ll make it available to you,” Speakes, who died in 2014, is heard saying to a reporter in 1983.

When asked about President Ronald Reagan’s take on the crisis in 1984, Speakes responded, “I haven’t heard him express concern.” When the reporter pressed further, he added, “I must confess I haven’t asked him about it.” 

Calonico juxtaposes those recordings with images of AIDS patients at Seattles Bailey-Boushay House in the 1980s. The effect is maddening and altogether chilling. 

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