Editorial, Opinion

EDITORIAL: Charlie Sheen’s HIV confession appears fishy

Charlie Sheen revealed on the “Today” show Tuesday that he is HIV positive and has paid people more than $10 million to keep it a secret from the public.

In an open letter posted on the “Today” show’s website, Sheen wrote that in response to his diagnosis, he took a “temporary yet abysmal descent into profound substance abuse and fathomless drinking.”

Sheen said that he didn’t know where he caught the disease, but always used condoms and informed his sexual partners of his diagnosis. However, eventually those close to Sheen blackmailed and extorted money from him.

Shortly after Sheen’s interview, one of Sheen’s ex-partners, porn actress Bree Olson, told Howard Stern in a SiriusXM interview that she learned of Sheen’s diagnosis “right along with everyone else,” according to The New York Times.

Andrew D. Gilman, chief executive of CommCore Consulting, said Sheen acted more out of “financial desperation” than moral obligation, the Times reported.

Justin Bieber also appeared on the “Today” show Tuesday and requested a dressing room “as far away from Charlie as possible,” a “Today” insider told Jezebel. Though it’s not clear why Bieber wanted a distant dressing room, Jezebel speculated that Bieber might have been worried about catching HIV from Sheen through the air (which, for the record, is impossible).

Very few people would admit to liking or even caring for Sheen before his confession. His contributions to society consist of acting on a pretty okay sitcom and providing wild celebrity antics for E! News to cover. And now he’s trying to rebrand himself as a philanthropic do-gooder, if his open letter on the Today Show’s website is any indication. Why should we care if he’s spent the last five years surrounded by prostitutes, drugs and wads of cash if he wants to change?

Magic Johnson is probably the first celebrity who comes to mind when most people think of HIV/AIDS. Though we have yet to see what Sheen will do with his public diagnosis of this disease, Johnson leaves a strong record to follow. Johnson started his own foundation to help educate people about HIV and the severity of the disease. Granted, people saw pre-HIV diagnosis Johnson in a much more positive light than pre-HIV diagnosis Sheen.

When Sheen closed out his letter optimistically by writing that his “philanthropic days are ahead of [him],” he subtly alluded to following Johnson’s charitable streak. Whether this means donating to existing charities or starting his own, we’ve yet to see.

Like it or not, there is still a definite stigma surrounding HIV in the United States. If a friend told you they were HIV-positive, you’d react quite differently than you would from hearing about a distant celebrity’s HIV status. The fact that Sheen chose to keep this a secret for years and then wrote a dramatic letter to complement his appearance on “Today” shows that we’re still sensitive when it comes to HIV. And worse yet, we all listened and ate it up.

As for Justin Bieber, he probably wasn’t acting out of a place of ignorance. Associating with Sheen is the last thing Bieber needs to do when he’s trying to make the general public love him again. Sheen’s poor reputation isn’t attuned to Bieber’s new mature, born-again image. Cut the kid some slack. It’s just media gossip. The media would have a grand old time if Bieber thought he could catch HIV through the air, but we can assume he’s not that dumb.

Nobody will ever know if Sheen was honest with every one of his partners. It’s difficult enough for ordinary people to disclose that they have HIV, and the average person doesn’t have to worry about friends leaking information to a hungry press. We’d like to think that Sheen was honest and straightforward with all of his sexual partners, but he is only human.

Yes, Sheen’s actions are historically silly, but we should give him a chance. If he’s willing to do something positive with his life, then we shouldn’t criticize him. We should at least see what he comes up with, and then react appropriately. Though it’s likely that Sheen came forward because his blackmailers sucked his funds, he now has an opportunity to improve the world — and his reputation.

Sheen isn’t the HIV-positive celebrity we need, but he’s one of the few we’ve got. Just as the privileged Caitlyn Jenner isn’t a perfect face for transgender people, Sheen is a less than desirable public figure to be the face of HIV victims across the country. He definitely doesn’t represent all those suffering from HIV, but he does bring the conversation about the disease into the public sphere. That’s at least worth something.

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