TMZ says sources “close to” NBC have revealed that Charlie Sheen will come out about his positive status to Matt Lauer on Tuesday’s Today morning show. NBC has confirmed that the Anger Management (and Three and a Half Men) star will make an appearance on Today and will be making a "revealing personal announcement."
Sheen has long had a reputation as a party animal who openly acknowledges his relationship with high priced sex workers and his substance abuse, but there's no specific proof that living with HIV is going to be his announcement.
Tabloid media stirred up rumors last week (via mostly terribly stigmatizing and wildly inaccurate reporting), that an A-list Hollywood actor is HIV-positive and has known for years but hasn’t told anyone, not even his sexual partners. Nobody quoted any HIV experts, reported that if he's undetectable on treatment he can't pass HIV to his partners, or even clarified how HIV is transmitted and why AIDS and HIV aren't interchangeable.
Originally reported by Radar on November 2nd, the story didn’t go viral until The Sun suggested Sheen was the unnamed actor afraid that revealing his status would ruin his career.
Radar reported, “Decades of debauchery have finally caught up with one of Hollywood’s top megastars. …He is HIV-positive." The report mentioned "multiple informed sources" who confirmed the story. Trying to take the moral high ground, Radar announced it had "chosen not to identify" the "world-famous actor.” But the publication immediately blew its credibility by getting their facts about HIV all wrong and stating that the actor had “been diagnosed with the deadly virus that usually leads to AIDS itself." [In fact, in the majority of cases, HIV does not lead to AIDS; it's treated and manageable and never evolves into AIDS.]
The Daily Mailalso reported that an unnamed actor “playboy” may have “infected dozens of women” because he’s slept with at least 50 porn stars, one of whom spoke with the British tabloid saying she was afraid to have sex with other women on camera because they could also have HIV now. [In fact, woman to woman transmission is so rare that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just announced it's first verified case last year.]
Capitalizing on transphobia to entice readers, the Daily Mail’s headline screams, “EXCLUSIVE: Porn star who had sex with Hollywood actor secretly battling HIV fears epidemic as she reveals he has slept with at least 50 'adult actresses' AND transsexuals.”
The National Enquirer entered the fray today naming Sheen and quoting an "18-month investigation" they say proves the 50-year-old actor is HIV-positive and trying to keep it a secret.
“Charlie thought he was indestructible and took no precautions — even though he was indulging in high-risk sex practices,” a "close friend" reportedly told National Enquirer.
Sheen, who has bragged about sleeping with more than 5,000 women, has allegedly disclosed to almost a dozen close friends, the Enquirer reports, and if true, at least one of whom reportedly shared that information with the tabloid paper. In an effort to collaborate the story, the Enquirer required their sources to take lie detector tests administered by an independent polygrapher.
Tabloid editors and the general public are titilating at the sensationalism of the case, but nobody has stopped to ask first, if any of it is true, and second, if it's the public's business. Most disappointing for HIV advocates is how inaccurate the reporting has been, perhaps as sensationalistic as the outing of Rock Hudson was 30 years ago.
"With rare exception, outing serves no other purpose than to perpetuate stigma and further marginalize groups that already face frequent discrimination and bigotry," says Kyle Murphy, a public relations and health communications expert who used to work for National Minority AIDS Council. "Whether someone is coming to terms with their sexuality, living with HIV, or addicted to an intoxicant every person has a right to decide for themselves whether to keep their struggle for acceptance to themselves, or to make it public. But when papers dig up gossip like a character from Mean Girls, the resulting banality unfailingly makes being that thing seem undesirable, abnormal, and/or demeaning in some way. Additionally, in order to even appear relevant, coverage of an outing often requires sensationalization, a style that tends to avoid facts, in favor of cheap thrills. This makes the publisher more school-yard bully than legitimate, or even mildly respectable news organization."
Gay celebrity publicity guru Howard Bragman, known for helping many an a-lister come out or deal witha a crisis, told People magazine that he was approached by representatives for Sheen several months ago but never spoke with the actor directly. He told People that he was told that Sheen "is getting treatment, and a lot of people in his life know about it."
Bragman is eager to see the Lauer interview because it will help people feel empathy for the outed actor, but, he says, Sheen "has to be concerned about a fear of litigation from former sexual partners. You don't take that lightly."
Many HIV advocates are awaiting Lauer's interviw with Sheen, in hopes it will at least clarify the medical and scientific inaccuracies in all this tabloid reporting — and, if Sheen is positive, give him a chance to disclose with dignity. Something that so far, the media hasn't been interested in.