Remarks made in Australia last November by the popular TV personality "Judge Judy" Sheindlin against needle exchange and injection drug users continue to "follow her around," according to the New York Post, Thursday, March 9, following the launching by DRCNet of the web site DumpJudgeJudy.com.
During a book talk in Brisbane, Australia last fall, Judge Judy was quoted in The Courier Mail as saying, "give [addicts] dirty needles and let 'em die," and "I don't understand why we think it's important to keep them alive," calling needle exchange to reduce the spread of AIDS and other infectious diseases an idea advocated by "liberal morons."
Judge Judy was soon slammed from both sides of the globe. Bob Aldred, chief executive of the Alcohol and Drug Foundation of Queensland called Judge Judy's comments "callous and deplorable," quoted in the Melbourne newspaper "The Age," saying "the arrogance of a TV celebrity using the tragedy of young lives struck down by drugs for her own commercial gain is nothing short of repulsive." In the United States, prominent conservative commentator Arianna Huffington slammed Judge Judy in her nationally syndicated column, with an editorial titled "The New Callousness."
An Internet-based campaign aimed at the Judge Judy show's sponsors began to percolate, as DRCNet, together with allied organizations such as the Harm Reduction Coalition, Family Watch and Drugsense, circulated lists of Judge Judy advertisers and contact info. Three Judge Judy sponsors, Herr's Potato Chips, Papa John's Pizza, and a joint venture of Shell Oil and Chase Manhattan Bank, responded by e-mail that they would cease running ads on the Judge Judy show. Feeling the pressure, Sheindlin released two public statements on her web site, http://www.judgejudy.com, on 11/30/99 and 12/3/99.
On 12/21/99, the campaign received coverage in the unlikely venue of supermarket tabloids, with simultaneous articles appearing in both The Globe and The National Enquirer. On Feb. 18, a caller to the CNN program "Larry King Live" show challenged Judge Judy about the incident. Later in the month, activists in New York planned to protest a Judge Judy book talk, but called the plans off after learning she was reading from a children's book. Earlier this week, DRCNet launched a web site, DumpJudgeJudy.com, (http://www.dumpjudgejudy.com), to enhance the anti-Judge Judy campaign and raise awareness of drug-related HIV and hepatitis and the urgent need for needle exchange programs.
Last Tuesday, 3/7, the popular
web site APBnews.com covered DumpJudgeJudy.com and the Judge Judy campaign
Papa John's spokesman Brian Jennings told APB, "I regret ever advertising on her show," continuing, "We stopped it as soon as we found out about her adverse views. We have nothing to do with Judge Judy, nor will we ever."
APB's story led to a Thursday, 3/9 article in the New York Post titled "Judge Judy sorry... sort of." Sheindlin told the Post, "If they're looking for me to say I'm sorry to the families who lost children or loved ones [to AIDS or drugs] -- absolutely. I feel badly if words that I used hurt them. But am I going to apologize to a [drug advocacy] group that has an agenda -- absolutely not. This group has an agenda, and that's legalizing drugs." Sheindlin said she doesn't remember her exact, original quote, but claimed it was changed or taken out of context.
Borden explained to the Post, "[t]hrough her callous remarks she has made herself fair game, and we intend to use this episode [as a platform] to discuss an important public health issue." (The Post article can be found online for several more days at http://www.nypost.com/03092000/entertainment/1269.htm.)
Members of DRCNet's Board of Directors who are prominent in the AIDS field made comments in a statement released by DRCNet announcing the web site. Board member Keith Cylar, Co-executive Director of Housing Works, the nation's largest minority-run AIDS services organization, said, "Ignorant is too good a word for her views," explaining, "Syringe exchange protects not only the lives of drug users, but their families and sexual partners, present and future."
Board member Joey Tranchina, Executive Director of the AIDS Prevention Action Network (APAN), stated, "No person who proudly and unrepentantly consigns whole groups of human beings to horrible death from AIDS can ever be considered an acceptable spokesperson for any product or an attractive personality for any entertainment. By these comments, Judy Sheindlin has made herself unwelcome in any decent American home." (APAN is a needle exchange program that achieved legality under a California law passed late last year.)
Experienced sources have told us that DumpJudgeJudy.com could be a hot story if Judge Judy's sponsors continue to drop her. Please visit http://www.dumpjudgejudy.com to help. Our site offers e-mail, web form links and sample text to contact the sponsors online, making it easy for you to join the campaign. The site also includes a petition to state legislators asking them to make needle exchange and pharmacy syringes sales legal, a "Don't Come Back" section of responses Australians have written to Judge Judy, information about needle exchange and more. Please visit http://www.dumpjudgejudy.com and forward this article to your friends too. And please let us know of other sponsors you see advertise on Judge Judy, and forward us any correspondence you receive back.
WHY IS THIS IMPORTANT?
Judge Judy's comments dehumanized people with drug problems and harmed efforts to improve drug policy. Even if she was sincere when she told the Post she felt "badly if words that I used hurt" families who've lost loved ones to AIDS or drug abuse, her other comments are scarcely more positive. She talks about how addicts "rob and maim and murder" and how her sympathy is with the victims of crime and the children born addicted to drugs.
No one should doubt that crime by addicts and prenatal drug exposure are serious, often tragic problems. But nowhere in any of her public statements does she acknowledge that most addicts don't "rob and maim and murder" nor even commit low level property crimes. Nowhere in any discussion of this issue has she acknowledged that the worst prenatal substance exposure problems are due to the legal drugs alcohol and cigarettes, nor to our knowledge has she called for those drugs to be prohibited. By attempting to cast all addicts as violent, child-abusing monsters, Judge Judy is unfairly demonizing an entire, vulnerable class of people.
And most bafflingly, she has failed on repeated occasions to explain why children, even under the worst of circumstances, are better off being born with AIDS -- the inevitable, horrific consequence of the unavailability of sterile syringes. Only an extraordinary leap of illogic gets one from "some addicts commit crimes" to concluding that deadly, incurable epidemic diseases should be allowed to spread unchecked through the population. The spread of disease places untold numbers of wholly uninvolved third parties as well as injection drug users at risk. Nor does she acknowledge the great weight of evidence showing that not only do needle exchange programs reduce the spread of HIV, but that they do so without increasing the use of drugs, hence do not contribute to the drug abuse problems that she decries.
Your efforts can keep the controversy going and bring dumpjudgejudy.com publicity that will fuel positive discussion in the popular press and attract new supporters to the issue and the organization. Please visit http://www.dumpjudgejudy.com and please help us spread the word.
LINKS RELATED TO THIS CAMPAIGN
official Judge Judy web site:
Judge Judy's 11/30 statement:
Judge Judy's 12/3 statement:
Arianna Huffington's column
slamming Judge Judy:
Media Awareness Project archive
of relevant articles:
Family Watch, organization
that contributed to the write-the-sponsors campaign:
Harm Reduction Coalition:
DRCNet's 11/19 Judge Judy
article and action alert:
DRCNet's 12/6 Judge Judy
DRCNet commentary on Judge
3/7 APBnews.com article:
3/9 New York Post article: