IV stands loom over the babies, the plastic bags slowly dripping fluids down tubes and through needles into the veins in their arms or legs. Some of the infants have Broviac catheters inserted into a vein in their chests. These feed them nutrients and medicine….
Gore is walking now among the babies, the camera crews in front of him walking backward, shooting their pictures and, inevitably, knocking into things…. Gore walks through the unit, nodding and pointing, and then finally gets to the showstopper, the headline act: the AIDS baby….
Gore picks up the very small boy, who is wrapped in a blue blanket, and holds him in front of the TV cameras. “This is Baby Robinson,” Gore solemnly announces to the boom mikes. “And Baby Robinson has tested positive for AIDS.”
Gore looks down at the child and begins talking in a goo-goo voice. “What do you think about all these lights, huh?” he asks. “Huh?”
Gore then smiles into the cameras. “I’ve had some experience holding babies,” he says. Then, incredibly, he goes for a joke: “Baby Robinson is not ready to answer questions.”
Our platoon of reporters and camera crews is ushered out and the next platoon is ushered in. “This is Baby Robinson,” Gore solemnly announces to the new cameras. “And Baby Robinson has tested positive for AIDS.”
When Gore is finally, mercifully, through with his repeat performances, he gives Baby Robinson back to the nurses and heads downstairs for a news conference.
In a small administrative office on the ground floor of the hospital … a thin, wasted man in a pink-polka-dot shirt buttoned to the neck sits next to Gore. His name is Brian Snow. He is thirty. And he is dying of AIDS.
“You ever see anything like this?” Gore asks Snow, grinning.
Snow shakes his head a little….
Before the news conference begins, Gore has a stroke of genius. He turns to Snow. “You have a button?” he asks. “They’re going like hotcakes.” Then he reaches over and pins a Gore button onto Snow. Not onto his pocket but onto his shirt collar. That way, the Gore button is sure to appear in all the TV shots and photographs.
When the cameras are in position, Gore begins talking: “This is Brian Snow, who is an AIDS patient at this hospital.” Snow, glassy-eyed, stares straight ahead….
Gore drones on and on and finally turns to Snow. “Brian,” he asks, assuming an immediate familiarity (does Snow call him “Al”?), “do they treat you pretty well here?”
Snow stares at him as if to say: No, the hospital tortures me with ice picks. That’s why I’m here today. Jeez, Louise, what a lunkhead. “Yes,” Snow says in a small voice. “The outpatient clinic is very good. But you get sick, you know, and there’s no place to go.”….
Gore now smiles broadly. “Some people feel they can still get AIDS by shakin’ hands or somethin’ like that,’ Gore says, suddenly dropping his g’s and assumin’ his country voice. That kind of misunderstandin’ has to be dispelled.” And Gore reaches over and shakes hands with Brian Snow, holding it, so the cameras can get it….
One year after the New York primary, I call the Interfaith Medical enter and ask what became of Baby Robinson and Brian Snow…. Snow had become ill just moments after the Gore news conference and had been hospitalized. He was later released and lost contact with the hospital. Given the advanced state of his disease, a hospital spokesman said, he was now presumed to be dead.
Baby Robinson…was not really a baby with AIDS. He had just tested positive for the HIV virus. Half of such babies never develop AIDS. And a month after the New York primary, Baby Robinson had been discharged from the hospital and had been placed in a foster home by a child placement agency. Now he was probably “perfectly normal.” I had just one other question: Since the primary, had Al Gore or anyone from Al Gore’s staff ever inquired as to the health or welfare of either Brian Snow or Baby Robinson?
“Never,” I was told. “They never have.”
After reading that, can anyone look at Al Gore again without thinking of Brian Snow or Baby Robinson?