As KING 5 marks 70 years of broadcasting, we look back on a time when rumors and myths were swirling around a frightening new virus, which was killing people.
Some newsrooms were reluctant to talk about HIV and AIDS, but not KING 5.
In 1985, the station went on air with a documentary called Living with Aids. Anchor Jean Enersen set out to understand what was known about HIV and AIDS to dispel myths.
The next year, what was then the Seattle-King County Department of Public Health sent a letter to KING 5, thanking the station for its decision to run the documentary, as well as public service announcements, something other stations would not do.
"KING has led the local electronic media in its contribution to control of both the AIDS epidemic and the resulting public hysteria," the letter said.
“In the early days, everyone was scratching their heads wondering what's happening here. It was very scary,” said Dr. Robert Wood, who signed the letter to KING 5.
Wood is now retired and living in Seattle. He was director of the AIDS project in 1985 and was featured in the KING documentary.
“There was I think a lot of media concern about talking about the populations at risk because they were stigmatized and pariahs. They were gay men, and they were IV drug users,” he said.
A KING 5 poll from 1985 showed there was plenty of misinformation swirling. Sixteen percent of respondents worried they might get AIDS from eating at a restaurant, 14 percent said they avoided restaurants for that reason, 24 percent worried about working with someone who has AIDS, and 29 percent feared they would get AIDS if they used a public restroom.
The station's reporting cut through the rumors.
“The AIDS virus is carried in body fluids. It is not spread by casual contact,” Enersen said in her report. “Not in a restaurant, not in a restroom, and not in the office.”
A lot has changed since then. There's now a pill to prevent HIV transmission, and those who have the virus are living longer lives thanks to advances in treatment.
But there's still a lot of work ahead. Nearly a million people around the globe died from AIDS in 2017.
If Wood were to write a headline in 2018, it would be this:
“HIV and AIDS are still major problems,” he said.