LA Daily News Publishes Muddled Editorial on Mandatory Condoms

LOS ANGELES—The LA Daily News published an editorial Monday on the effort by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation to use the ballot initiative process to force rubbers onto the performing penis of every Los Angeles porn stud. Sadly, the editorial is so replete with errors that it appears to have been written by an intern and then given an unedited green light by a distracted or disinterested editor. The only possible justification for the muddled nature of the editorial is the paper’s historically sparse coverage of the industry, which is shameful enough given the Daily News is a Porn Valley paper.

To be fair, the editorial does try to take a realistic look at the issue, citing the anticipated difficulty enforcing a mandatory condom provision as its reason for not endorsing the AHF plan wholeheartedly, and posing the rhetorical question, “Does a city that can't police medical marijuana dispensaries or rogue billboards hope to enforce a law to wear condoms on movie sets?”  

But the editorial also reveals a depressingly naïve understanding of the passions that motivate AHF and its opportunistic president, Michael Weinstein, when it describes AHF’s effort to “combat the spread of AIDS and thus spare as many people from contracting the horrible disease” as “virtuous.” Even more egregiously, the paper exposes its lack of knowledge about state laws regarding HIV when it claims, “The state already mandates testing for HIV.”

As far as this writer is aware, the state does no such thing. It does already require by way of Cal/OSHA  the use of "barrier protections" on set by the few adult performers who are not independent contractors, but not testing. Just to make sure, a call was made to an industry attorney knowledgeable on the subject who said he too was unaware of any HIV testing required of porn performers (or anyone) by California. Perhaps they were thinking of the industry itself, which does have a multi-jurisdictional testing regime.

The Daily News is not the only mainstream news outlet to make this sort of mistake, but that is scant consolation when errors like these (and others proliferated by the Los Angeles Times in its coverage and editorializing of the mandatory condom issue) could have repercussions far beyond the effort made to write them. Citizens of Los Angeles still look to the city’s two remaining dailies for guidance on important issues, and when the papers get it wrong people get it wrong, and when people get it wrong they vote based on bad information.

Equally tortured are the editorial’s comments regarding the most recent move by Weinstein to get a mandatory condom initative on the Los Angeles County ballot by way of a new health permit requirement for porn producers. The Daily News likes that idea better than the city initiative, which has been opposed by City Attorney Carmen Trutanich, but still thinks it will be difficult to enforce for reasons that betray a lack of understanding of the economic reality for many companies in the industry.

“While producers of porn movies would be required to pay for inspections, and face fines if they violated the law, profits for adult movies are such that even a proposed $1,000 fine would be worth the risk of being caught,” it states. “And what's to say that as soon as the inspector leaves the set the condoms wouldn't come off?”

Still, they reason, “The San Fernando Valley is a major center for porn movie production, so there's justification behind requiring a county health permit.”

Of course, the decision in 2004 by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to impose health permit requirements on bathhouses was made in order to keep people from having unprotected sex in an attempt to stem the number of new HIV cases in the gay community. The county made its decision based on data provided it by Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the county's public health director, who has also been involved in the attempt to control sex on porn sets. As AVN has reported over the past few years, Fielding has himself used questionable data in terms of both STD infections within the industry and the number of performers who have contracted HIV on set. Plus, of course, adult performers, unlike many (perhaps most) bathhouse and massage parlor patrons, are tested monthly for STDs, and performers are aware of their partners' test results before any coupling takes place.

Considering the heightened emotions and politics endemic to these issues, not to mention the philosophical ramifications of imposing legal requirements on, in the case of bathhouses and massage parlors, people’s sexual behavior, it is all the more important that both the Daily News and the Los Angeles Times get their facts straight and not assume that any party in this vicious battle occupies the moral high ground.

As it is, AVN has reported on the false information used by AHF’s signature-seekers to gather the necessary number of names for the city ballot. These reports, plus our recitation of the other factual errors repeatedly disseminated by AHF and others, including the Los Angeles Times, have been contained in many stories published over the years. That neither paper will consider these claims, and apparently will not even entertain the idea that AHF might be motivated to make false claims regarding the industry or to engage in fraudulent petition gathering, is unfortunate.

The Daily News, unlike the LA Times, which wholeheartedly endorsed the AHF initiative, at least recognizes the likelihood that “for most people, the health of porn actors is a remote issue—not to mention a personal choice,” but that equanimity is undone by the paper’s inability to separate fact from fiction, not to mention its naïveté regarding the real reasons why AHF is so determined to force condoms on porn performers while denying the effectiveness of a testing regime that has kept the industry’s infection rates below that of even the general public. 

For an altogether different perspective on what the passage of a more stringently enforced manadatory condom law would mean, check out this biting opinion piece (also in the Times!) by Ted Rall, who appears to understand the industry better than most people in it.