AIDS activists rushed onto the sets of the “CBS Evening News with Dan Rather” and PBS’s “MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour” Tuesday night, disrupting the live broadcasts with their protests about the lack of news coverage of AIDS during the Persian Gulf War.
Shortly after 6:30 p.m. EST, as Rather was beginning the CBS evening newscast, one protester jumped in front of the camera, shouting, “Fight AIDS, not Arabs!” The camera shifted off Rather and then momentarily went black. Rather mentioned the incident on the air later, saying: “I want to apologize to you for the way the broadcast came on the air tonight. There were some rude people here tonight. They’ve been ejected from the studio--our apology.” CBS officials would not comment on how the small group of protesters had gained access to the studio.
At about the same time, seven protesters got into the “MacNeil/Lehrer” studios in New York. “Three of them chained themselves to the news anchor desk and one of them attempted to chain themselves to Robert MacNeil,” a spokesperson for the PBS program said. Notified of the disturbance by the show’s director, co-anchor Jim Lehrer in Washington, D.C., extended an interview with a guest. The protesters were not seen during the broadcast.
But when the show returned to New York, MacNeil referred to the protest, saying: “It was a group of protesters . . . who complained that we in the media are spending too much time and attention on the war in the Middle East, which will never kill as many people as are dying of AIDS.” MacNeil said that his program had devoted a lot of coverage to AIDS and would continue to do so.
For the regular West Coast feed of the CBS newscast, producers reworked the opening of the newscast so that the disruption was not seen by West Coast viewers, although they did hear Rather mention what happened in New York. References to the disruption on “MacNeil/Lehrer” also were aired on the West Coast.
At NBC News headquarters in New York, an official said that four demonstrators were stopped at the security desk. ABC officials said that they had not seen any demonstrators.
At the New York headquarters of the activist group ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), spokesman Ron Goldberg said of the TV protests: “It was not an ACT-UP action but individuals working on their own. We support them.”
ACT-UP has declared today a “day of desperation” in New York, calling for marches and other actions to protest the level of government funding on AIDS.