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Hillary Clinton Faces Major Blowback On Twitter After Claiming Nancy Reagan 'Started A National Conversation' On HIV And AIDS

by Jesse L. / Mar 11, 2016 05:54 PM EST
Hillary Clinton found herself in hot water on Friday after erroneously claiming in an interview with MSNBC that Nancy Reagan starting a dialog in America on the AIDS epidemic.
President Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan in the 1980s

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton found herself in hot water on Friday after erroneously claiming in an interview with MSNBC that Nancy Reagan started a dialog in America on the AIDS epidemic during her husband Ronald Reagan's presidency in the 1980s.

"It may be hard for your viewers to remember how difficult it was for people to talk about HIV/AIDS in the 1980s," Clinton told the cable news network MSNBC during their coverage of the former first lady's funeral.

"And because of both President and Mrs. Reagan, in particular, Mrs. Reagan, we started national conversation when before no one would talk about it, no one wanted to do anything about it and that too is something that [isn't] really appreciated, with her very effective, low-key advocacy, but it penetrated the public conscience and people began to say 'hey, we have to do something about this too.'"

The pushback on Twitter was swift and sharp.

"While I respect her advocacy on issues like stem cell & Parkinson's research, Nancy Reagan was, sadly, no hero in the fight against HIV/AIDS," tweeted Chad Griffin, president of The Human Rights Campaign, an organization that endorsed Clinton earlier this year.

James Thilman, special projects editor for the Huffington Post agreed.

"By the time Reagan first uttered the word 'AIDS' in public, thousands of Americans had already died," Thilman's tweet read.

The sentiment echoed the prevailing belief among patients' rights supporters for decades.

"In the history of the AIDS epidemic, President Reagan's legacy is one of silence," Michael Cover, former associate executive director for public affairs at Whitman-Walker Clinic, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2003.

"It is the silence of tens of thousands who died alone and unacknowledged, stigmatized by our government under his administration."

The Twitter comments were posted as replies to Clinton's attempt to walk back her remarks at Reagan's funeral with a clarification on the microblogging website.

"While the Reagans were strong advocates for stem cell research and finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease, I misspoke about their record on HIV and AIDS. For that, I'm sorry," read the Clinton campaign's tweet.

AIDS activist and founder of Treat Action Group, Paul Staley, who has been living with AIDS-related complex since first being diagnosed 1985, told the news website Gawker that while he appalled by the former Secretary of State's comments, he is prepared to accept Clinton's apology and move on.

"Thank God I'm not a single issue voter, or she would have lost my vote with this insulting and farcical view of early AIDS history," he said.

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