The Rock beat.
There is a limit, isn’t there? And huffing-and-puffing KABC-TV Channel 7 blew past it Wednesday night.
It’s one thing to inform the public about the growing danger of AIDS, as relentless reporting about Rock Hudson’s condition has done. It is quite another to panic the public with hysterical reporting, as Channel 7 ran the risk of doing Wednesday night.
Hudson was again the lead story on the station’s 11 p.m. gossip mill. “Is it possible,” asked reporter Harold Greene, “that Rock Hudson transmitted AIDS to actress Linda Evans during love scenes” on “Dynasty”?
Not nearly as possible that Channel 7 was being irresponsible by even making the suggestion, just as was the Orange County Register in running a similar innuendo-laden story from Knight-Ridder on Wednesday above a picture of Hudson and Evans with his hand on her shoulder.
Hudson made some appearances on “Dynasty” last season as a wealthy horseman courting Krystle Carrington. He and Evans did have kissing scenes. But there is no evidence that AIDS can be transmitted through casual kissing, as a medical expert noted during the same KABC newscast.
“Still,” the undeterred Greene continued, “the word around town tonight is that Linda Evans is more than a little concerned.”
The “word around town?” Whose word? What town? Had Greene canvassed Hollywood? Pacoima? West Covina? Had he conducted a phone survey of Beverly Hills? Malibu? West Hollywood? Perhaps he was referring to a highly reliable town that requested anonymity.
Harold of Hollywood also reported that other TV actresses may be reluctant to have kissing scenes with possibly gay actors and that Aaron Spelling, producer of “Dynasty” and other ABC series, had “offered to pay for AIDS testing” for cast members.
“I swear on my children, that’s absolutely not true,” Spelling said Thursday. “Not only would we not pay, we haven’t even talked to anybody about it. They (Channel 7) never even called me about this. They have no humanity.”
Channel 7 was called for comment, but a station spokeswoman said news director Terry Crofoot was in a meeting, unable to immediately return the call.
Spelling said he spoke to Evans Wednesday about media-pumped rumors that she was concerned about having AIDS, and that she said, “I am not sick and I’m not frightened of anything. Where do these stories get started?”
Who knows? But they get repeated on Channel 7.
The issue is not whether the unsubstantiated stories about Evans’ alleged fears and Spelling’s alleged AIDS tests offer are true. Nor is it the lack of documentation, which is shoddy journalism.
The issue is that some stories, even if true, are better left unreported if they are flimsy and serve only to titillate.
All KABC did Wednesday night was undercut the good reporting it had previously done about AIDS by seeming to validate the notion that AIDS can be spread through casual association.
What’s the next step, surgical masks for the entire nation? Shipping AIDS victims to a remote island? Maybe Harold Greene can get AIDS merely by mentioning it on TV.
When the story about Hudson having AIDS first broke, Spelling said that he had two hopes. One was that Hudson would recover. The other was that the media would not transform Hudson’s illness into a carnival.
And? “It’s going beyond my wildest nightmares,” Spelling said. “Rock has gotten as much coverage as Ronnie (concerning President Reagan’s colon cancer). All that can be said about Rock Hudson has been said, yet they go on and on.”
Spelling said he turned down requests from ABC News, CBS News and NBC News to use “Dynasty” footage on news stories about Hudson. He said that ABC News President Roone Arledge apologized to him after ABC used footage anyway.
“We’re just not going to become part of this witch hunt,” Spelling said. “It’s taken all this time for gays to come out of the closet. And now this is driving them back into the closet.”
It’s obvious that, despite all the recent media coverage of AIDS, even more public education is required.
A letter arrived here Wednesday from a reader who expressed anger with Hudson for “knowingly endangering the lives” of Evans and other “Dynasty” cast members by appearing on the set in a “contagious state.”
Contagious state? Well, the writer noted, wasn’t Hudson the “only passenger” on the chartered Air France jet that returned him to Los Angeles? Was the writer suggesting that AIDS is transmitted like measles or chicken pox?
The media have been all over the Rock Hudson story from the beginning, reporting that he was possibly terminally ill and in Paris for treatment for AIDS. They quoted his spokeswoman, his publicist, doctors and just about everyone else who had ever seen the actor on TV and in the movies. They repeatedly showed recent footage of him looking ghastly.
It was tacky. But Hudson is a celebrity and a Hollywood institution, so fair game. The coverage has even focused desperately needed attention on the growing problem of AIDS. Wonderful !
But it also has bordered on sensationalism.
Hudson, perhaps wishing to spend what time he has left at home, flew to Los Angeles by chartered jet Monday, arriving in the middle of the night, when just about everyone was asleep.
Except the media.
The camera crews were at the airport to intercept Hudson at 2 a.m., as if he were human contraband being illegally sneaked into the city under cover of darkness. Pictures of him being wheeled from the Air France jetliner on a stretcher--shown on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and local stations--were an obnoxious violation of the privacy of a possibly dying man. Though blurry, his face was plainly visible on the screen.
Everyone, movie star or not, is entitled to a certain amount of respect and consideration at a time of personal tragedy. But TV, in its vulturous scramble for competitive advantage, sees it differently. Welcome home, Rock.
And the beat goes on.