This article revisits 1980s media coverage about the AIDS epidemic in the United States. Using insights from feminist media and affect theory, I examine the widespread perception that both science and journalism failed in their responsibility to report accurately about AIDS. The AIDS crisis intensified deep debates within both fields: about how scientists should translate complicated scientific issues into clear messaging about risk, and how reporters should frame and amplify those messages. Scientists and journalists also had to contend with new pressures from activists, “citizen scientists,” and conservative culture warriors. In battling over what should be reported about AIDS, scientists, journalists, and advocacy groups all accused their opponents of the sins of sensationalism and fearmongering. Revisiting these debates helps us understand today’s challenges around “risk messaging” about COVID-19 and the difficulties of differentiating between “healthy” and “unhealthy” fear.

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