Sunday, The Los Angeles Times profiled AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) president Michael Weinstein, the man who in recent years has bedeviled adult performers and producers from the comfort of his 21st floor office in a Sunset Boulevard skyscraper. The story attempts to offer a three dimensional portrait of a complex and infuriating man: a single-minded local czar in the fight against HIV/AIDS who also sports a history of being selfishly caustic, negligent to AHF’s purported mission and generally disingenuous.
“Los Angeles County leaders once thought the world of Michael Weinstein,” L.A. Times writers Seema Mehta and Abby Sewell note, citing a platitude-drenched “1992 proclamation that still hangs behind Weinstein’s desk,” in which officials declared him “a dynamic and inspirational leader” and “an unrelenting and tireless force in the struggle to stem the tide of HIV infection.”
But as the saying goes, that was then and this is now.
In the intervening two decades, the Times notes, the relationship has degenerated into something The Times likens to “a dysfunctional marriage, tied together by finances and need, but strained by lawsuits, acrimony and accusations of improper spending.”
County leaders, now engaged in a furious legal and ballot-box battle with Weinstein, accuse him of spending his nonprofit’s funds on a “personal vendetta” against the county rather than on critical services for people living with HIV and AIDS.
“He’s out of control,” county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said recently.
More than anything else, Weinstein emerges as a master at public relations spin. The Times notes:
Just last week, as Los Angeles counted down to the New Year, Weinstein and the organization he leads once again grabbed headlines. Gay marriage opponents called for a boycott of Pasadena’s iconic Tournament of Roses Parade because the foundation planned to have a gay couple wed on its float in front of millions of viewers.
After critics decried the display, alternately, “as inappropriate or having nothing to do with the group’s mission to stamp out HIV and AIDS,” Weinstein, ever the puritan, “countered that encouraging committed relationships in the gay community helps stem the virus‘ spread.”
In remarks to TRPWL, adult producer/director Ernest Greene called Weinstein “a relentless self-promoter,” and noted that “AHF, under his direction, has devoted ever more resources to slapping up self-congratulatory billboards all over town and meddling in the political process in areas completely inconsistent with the goal of reducing HIV risk to the general public and lending support to those already infected.”
According to the Times story,
Weinstein’s foundation holds $30 million in county contracts to provide HIV and AIDS services. But the county has repeatedly accused the group of overbilling — which he denies — and he has accused the county of improperly awarding contracts to other organizations and using the audits to retaliate for his complaints about how health services are delivered.
In fact, as reported last year, AHF has a long history of ripping off taxpayers.
The Times profile notes that Measure B, AHF’s $2-million campaign to force adult film performers to wear condoms, “may be the issue that has most flustered local officials. They are still embroiled in a struggle over how to enforce it, and question the wisdom of spending so much money on an industry that has seen relatively few transmissions, instead of in communities where AIDS is growing most quickly, notably among gay and bisexual men of color.”
Ernest Greene agrees, and noted that “porn performers make up a vanishingly small percentage of the 30,000 or so new infections in L.A. County as a whole over the past dozen years that none of AHF’s noble efforts have successfully protected.”
Porn mogul Larry Flynt, who also opposed the condom mandate, said Weinstein had “played the press beautifully” on the issue.
“If the whole industry had to respond to his demands, the whole industry would just shut down. But that’s not going to happen,” Flynt said. “He’ll get his 60 minutes of fame, I guess.”
Weinstein maintains that protecting porn workers is the right thing to do. But he also concedes that the campaign is a public-relations windfall: “We got more publicity for safer sex and condoms than we ever could have gotten any other way.”
Christian Mann, general manager of adult production house Evil Angel, told TRPWL, “Though Weinstein admits that Measure B has been a massive windfall for AHF, he fails to mention that it costs the city and county of Los Angeles — in terms of lost revenues and taxpayer dollars that could be better spent.”
“It doesn’t achieve one single verifiable benefit,” Mann, who also serves on the board of Free Speech Coalition (the adult business trade association which opposed the law), adds. “That transmission of HIV on adult movie sets is not occurring and certainly doesn’t require a law that protects nothing, stifles business and suppresses expression.”
Most devastating of all, adds Greene, was AHF’s war against the Adult Industry Medical Healthcare Foundation (AIM), which had successfully provided state-of-the-art STD testing to the porn community since 1998 and which was driven out of business by the ruinous expense of fighting off AHF’s nuisance suits. “Thus far that’s been the only substantive accomplishment of his rat-in-heat campaigning on the issue, but he’s going to keep right on pushing no matter how many court houses he gets tossed from for his tactics because nobody says no to Michael Weinstein! He’s grandstanded himself into the media again and again on this non-issue and that, evidently, makes it worthwhile to endanger performers by undermining the industry’s existing system of safeguards and attack constitutional protections that allow him to spout his lies from every platform with which mainstream media eagerly provide him.”
Nearly three years ago, on January 24th, 2011, Weinstein wrote that AHF’s position “on condoms in porn comes from [AHF’s] stand in favor of protecting the public health.“
He added, “People of goodwill can disagree on this issue but character assassination by the porn industry of AHF or myself will not succeed because AHF’s record of saving hundreds of thousands of lives is a matter of historical record.”
Sure, we can give the devil his due — but let us not forget that Michael Weinstein also profited off of each and every one of them.
The Times also recounts Weinstein’s push, in 2000, for a West Hollywood ballot measure requiring bars to provide free condoms.
West Hollywood City Councilman Jeffrey Prang, who opposed the measure, noted that the city already had a voluntary free-condom program. But that failed to meet Weinstein’s standard, resulting in a costly but unsuccessful campaign that “alienated people,” Prang said.
As The Times notes, posters suddenly appeared all over West Hollywood calling Weinstein a “Condom Nazi” and “an enemy of the gay community.” But the posters, which included the demand, “Stay out of our bedrooms, AIDS Healthcare Foundation,” also asserted that the actual purpose of Weinstein’s condom campaign was “so his organization can make money off of AIDS.”
At the time, The LA Times reported that, “Weinstein, whose organization could be in the running for a future city contract to distribute the condoms, called that a ‘big lie.’”
Ever the grandstanding opportunist, Weinstein quickly complained that the posters were “an ugly act of anti-Semitic and homophobic hate,” and called a press conference to denounce the attacks and “condemn this act of hate speech.”
“As a gay man and a Jew, my people were double victims of the Holocaust,” Weinstein said. “Nazis committed mass murder. Using that term not only insults me as a Jew and a gay man but it degrades the lessons of history.”
In 2009, Weinstein recalled the event: “Ten years ago my picture was wheat-pasted across West Hollywood with the words ‘condom Nazi’ scrawled across it. Needless to say, as my Jewish and gay brethren had suffered the most at the hands of Hitler, I was deeply offended.”
“I know you have been working on this issue for a while,” Diaz wrote. “However, I can’t resist thinking that you are earning your West Hollywood name, ‘Condom Nazi’!”
Weinstein’s unguarded response —
“…and proud of it.”
Mehta and Sewell also explore Weinstein’s troubling record on HIV/AIDS issues — actions that have led many in the community to conclude Weinstein is a self-serving egomaniac.
In recent years, Weinstein’s group has disagreed with many in the AIDS community over Truvada, a drug that studies have shown could substantially reduce the risk of infection. Despite winning FDA approval in 2012, he argued, the drug had not been proven effective for prevention and could discourage condom use.
Dázon Dixon Diallo, chief executive of SisterLove Inc. in Atlanta, was incensed when Weinstein’s group sent out a press release opposing the treatment for women, without consulting women’s organizations focused on that exact issue.
“They are bullies,” she said. “And they have plenty of money to bully others with.”
The question of how Weinstein spends money is a constant among his critics, who say the organization spends too much on lawsuits, political activities and publicity maneuvers like the float at the Rose Parade. They say the funds would be better spent on direct services to patients. Foundation medical staff members launched a bid to unionize last year, concerned that care was taking a back seat to advocacy and public relations.
Weinstein, who expected to earn roughly $390,000 in 2013, says that both have been fundamental to the foundation since its inception, pointing to the mission statement printed on its business cards: “Cutting-edge medicine and advocacy, regardless of ability to pay.”
According to Greene, a member of Weinstein’s own staff “described his M.O. as ‘fund-raking by litigation.’ Case in point: when Pfizer introduced Viagra AHF ‘offered’ its consulting services to the company, ostensibly to help prevent the new E.D. drug from giving rise to more high-risk behavior. The asking price for Mr. Weinstein’s advice was five million dollars. Pfizer politely declined, whereupon AHF sued the company for fifty million dollars in the full knowledge this would send Pfizer stockholders running for the exits. Pfizer knuckled under and gave AHF its contract and the suit was promptly dropped.”
Mann concludes, “In my opinion, guys like Weinstein too often have good intentions but lose their way and end up as the worst kind of Machiavellian — with means and ends that are both unjustifiable.”
“There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance,” Weinstein told the Times, and for once, Greene agrees: “In every way possible he profits from the misery of others and grows richer and more arrogant as a result. We can only hope that his mad, quixotic decision to take on the most powerful politicians in the county will prove his undoing, making room for someone who cares more for public health than personal gain to return AHF to its original mission.”