Florida publisher garners apology from student newspaper for HIV misinformation

by Fred Kuhr

OutSFL publisher and editor Jason Parsley took aim at his alma mater Florida Atlantic University late last year, after the student newspaper — the University Press (UP) — published an HIV-related story on November 7 that included a reference to an HIV-positive former student as having a “curse” as well as medical misinformation about HIV.

OutSFL publisher and editor Jason Parsley

“The whole story was poorly written and contained numerous factual errors about HIV. This is 2023, not 1987, HIV is not some new disease we’re still learning about,” Parsley wrote in a November 17 editorial in OutSFL, based in Wilton Manors. “Medical misinformation about HIV was rampant in the ‘80s and ‘90s, so to see students spread it and have so little care to get it right — that’s unconscionable.”

Parsley noted that he initially contacted the student newspaper numerous times with corrections and concerns, to no avail. Eventually, editors did update the story online and included an editor’s note, but errors and misinformation remained, according to Parsley.

He also asked two colleagues in HIV and LGBTQ media to read the story. “Both agreed with my corrections,” wrote Parsley, “pointed out other errors I missed on my first read, and added their thoughts.”

“The student newspaper … is a learning institution and so it should be granted some leeway to make mistakes,” wrote Parsley. “But what infuriates me is the cover-up that has slowly unfolded since the story was posted. … Some might think that this is what you get with a student newspaper. But students don’t get a pass. They shouldn’t. Their words carry weight. Words have power. Even words by students. They have to learn to take this seriously.”

On November 20, four days after the OutSFL editorial was published, the student newspaper’s editor in chief, Jessica Abramsky, posted an apology on the UP’s website. OutSFL reprinted that apology in its November 23 edition.

“On November 7, the UP published a story about a trans artist and an FAU alum who uses art to raise awareness for HIV. The story contained medical misinformation regarding what HIV is and how to prevent it. When the editors learned of the mistake, we took action to correct the story with accurate medical information. We sincerely apologize to our readers for the errors.

“The story also included a quote from the artist, who is HIV positive, portraying HIV as a curse. A paragraph after the quote referred to HIV as a curse. We understand how that can be offensive to anyone living with HIV or who knows someone who lives with it or died from AIDS. We have since removed that sentence and sincerely apologize to anyone we offended. We weren’t very thorough in our editing, and we should have been. We will be more careful going forward with fact-checking stories.

“As the editor in chief, I accept full blame for the errors and assure all readers that I’m working closely with the editorial staff to address these issues so they don’t occur in the future.”

In the November 30 issue of OutSFL, Parsley wrote in a followup editorial, “Last week, I called on the student newspaper at Florida Atlantic University to retract a botched story about HIV. While they didn’t remove the story, they did apologize to their readers for spreading ‘medical misinformation’ – among other things.”

Volume 25
Issue 10

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