Throughout the four decades of his TV career, Graham Kennedy was no stranger to outrage. Last week, Melbourne shock jock Derryn Hinch made sure Kennedy’s death followed in similar style.
Just one day after Kennedy, 71, died, Hinch announced that not only was the King of TV a homosexual, but also he’d died of AIDS.
Within hours, however, Hinch was proven to be wrong when results of Kennedy’s blood tests revealed he was HIV-negative at the time of his death.
No one stepped forward to claim Hinch had been wrong about Kennedy being gay. That was a fact which had been known in the media for years and had been hinted at in Graeme Blundell’s biography King: The Life And Comedy Of Graham Kennedy. Kennedy, however, never commented on his personal life.
The reaction to Kennedy being outed as gay was a dismissive who cares? and was quickly overshadowed by Hinch’s HIV allegations, particularly when it was revealed Hinch had been told the story was wrong before he went to air.
Hinch, however, stood by his story.
It’s news. He was a famous person, Hinch told Crikey.com.
It’s no big deal if you tell the truth. This is the truth, I’m a journalist and I tell the truth.
Hinch later told Ray Martin on TV’s A Current Affair that if he was wrong he would apologise. Despite the publication of Kennedy’s medical records, Hinch refused to back down.
But many have questioned why allegations around a dead man’s HIV status became a headline story in the first place.
Adrian Lovney, president of ACON, said he was concerned that Hinch’s story had such an impact on the national media.
The fact that people make a story out of someone’s status proves that HIV is still an issue, Lovney said.
What Hinch did was not acceptable on any level. It was pitched as a smear against Kennedy and the fact it was so newsworthy says something about AIDS.
Derryn Hinch tried to turn himself into the story, but the fact remains that it was still a story that had a resonance with so much of the Australian media.
Living with HIV and AIDS is not the stigma that it was 20 years ago, but this story still has an impact and that is regrettable.
The National Association of People Living with HIV/ AIDS also responded to Hinch’s allegations, issuing a media release criticising the broadcaster.
Using someone’s supposed HIV status to attack and revile them is a shameful, despicable act, NAPWA president Gabe McCarthy said.
Doing so when the person is unable to defend himself is simply beneath contempt.
The fact that someone with Mr Hinch’s profile is prepared to use their position to attack people living with serious illness for the purpose of making a salacious attack of this kind shows just how far we still have to go, she said.
Reactions to Hinch’s allegations included comments that they were disgusting, vile and shameful.
Andy, a caller to Hinch’s program, told him: You are a skid mark on the jocks of Melbourne society.
The fury over Hinch’s claims surprised Melbourne radio station 3AW, which broadcasts the Hinch show.
Clark Forbes, 3AW’s program manager, said it was not shameful to have AIDS and he had been surprised listeners had taken it as an attack on Kennedy’s character.
If Derryn had said he’d died of cancer or a heart attack there wouldn’t have been a flicker of a problem, Forbes told the Herald Sun.
Derryn said he had rock-solid evidence and on that basis it was not a difficult decision to run with the story.
Sydney psychotherapist Stewart Clarke believes if Hinch used the AIDS angle with Kennedy as a blatant grab for attention, he misjudged the way Australian society now views the AIDS virus.
I actually think people were more outraged by the false accusations than they were about it being AIDS, Clarke, who has worked extensively in the HIV/ AIDS community, told the Star.
The whole thing fell flat, and that says something about us as a society.
There is still a degree of discrimination, but my experience is that it has been normalised. I think Hinch misread how far the wider community’s attitudes have progressed in terms of recognising HIV and AIDS.
People responded to the false representation of a beloved figure more than to a fear of AIDS. There is not the same paranoia and hysteria that there was in Rock Hudson’s day.
Still, the whole thing grabbed a day of media attention -“ and I am sure that was Hinch’s objective all along.