Will Your 11-Year-Old Boy Get Cancer from Gay Sex? Networks Avoid Angle As They Push HPV Shots

An advisory panel to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that the HPV vaccine be given to boys aged 11 to 12, and not just girls. Why? Boys aren’t at risk of cervical cancer.

Gardiner Harris’s front-pager at the New York Times Wednesday eventually explained (on page A-16) that “controversy is likely to intensify with the committee’s latest recommendation because many cancers in men result from homosexual sex.” But the medical correspondents on TV couldn't manage any scientific accuracy on this matter. Instead, the gay angle was completely missing from network TV coverage:

ABC had no specifics on Tuesday’s World News:

DIANE SAWYER: And, of course, right here at home, last night, rich told us that the government was about to recommend that all of America's boys as well as girls get the vaccine against the HPV virus, linked to cancers and possibly even heart disease. Well, today, it's official. A key advisory panel to the CDC recommended boys ages 11 and 12 and young men ages 13 to 21 be vaccinated. Not just girls, who, as we know, are at risk for cervical cancer.

On Monday’s World News, correspondent Dr. Richard Besser told of a man “married 21 years” getting throat cancer from HPV. “Phil's case is one of more than 8,500 HPV-positive head and neck cancers this year, a number that's increased dramatically over the last decade. They think men are getting it from women, getting the virus through oral sex or other forms of close contact.” Some may, but that's not the only mode of sexual transmission.

CBS Evening News assigned medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook to the report, but he skipped troubling specifics:

PELLEY: Government health experts made a controversial recommendation today about the vaccine for the human papilloma virus or HPV. Routine vaccinations are already recommended for girls beginning at age 11. but today the federal panel said that boys should be vaccinated as well. We asked Dr. Jon LaPook to look into this.

DR. JON LAPOOK: Susie Silver was the head of the CDC recommendation. Last year she made sure her son Bennett got his first HPV vaccine when he was 12. And her reasons were clear.

SILVER: I`m making sure that he`s safe. Making sure that the women that he`s with in the future are safe.

LAPOOK: HPV is spread through sexual contact. It is linked to cancer. The vaccine is effective in preventing cervical cancer in females and anal cancer and genital warts in both sexes.

NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman offered the same spin:

Millions of girls have already received the HPV vaccine, and today the Centers for Disease Control expanded those same recommendations to include boys. Under guidelines approved today, the CDC recommends all boys 11 to 12 years old be vaccinated, three doses over the course of six months, to prevent HPV and HPV-related diseases. Why so early? The vaccine needs to be given before a young person becomes sexually active to give the body a chance to build antibodies to fight HPV if a person is exposed.

Each year there are 18,000 HPV-related cancers in women, mostly cervical cancers, and 7,000 HPV-related cancers in men. Last month the virus was linked to mouth and throat cancers, and in a report released just yesterday, new research links HPV to the number one killer of women: cardiovascular disease.

This politically correct vagueness unfolded repeatedly with CNN medical correspondent Dr. Elizabeth Cohen. At 10 am Tuesday, they suggested controversy, but only about the safety of the vaccine:

KYRA PHILLIPS: We'll get to the controversy in just a second.

COHEN: All right. Three reasons to recommend it to boys. One, boys, when they get HPV, the human papillomavirus, it increases their chances of getting genital warts and certain types of cancer. So, that's two reasons for the boys themselves. Plus, boys -- when they have this virus, they're the ones who give it to the girls. When the girls get the virus, it increases their chance for getting cervical cancer....

PHILLIPS: All right. And we talked so much about is it safe or not? There are a lot of critics out there.

COHEN: You know, within doctors, there is not a controversy. Doctors will tell you this is a safe shot.

Cohen echoed this in the 11 am hour: "What it says is that if boys get this shot, it could prevent them from getting genital warts in the future, it could prevent them from getting certain cancers in the future, and -- and this is the third of the three-for -- it can prevent them from giving that virus to girls when they are sexually active later in life."

And again in the noon hour: "We've heard so much about how HPV can cause cervical cancer, and that's why girls were recommended to get the shot several years ago. But what a lot of people don't know is that HPV can hurt boys, too. It can give them genital warts and it can give them certain types of cancer. And they can also then spread that virus to girls during sexual contact."

On NPR’s All Things Considered, reporter Richard Knox found no controversy, but at least had some specifics: “HPV is strongly associated with cervical and other reproductive cancers in women; in men, cancer of the penis. In both sexes, it can cause genital warts, anal cancer, and cancers of the mouth and throat.”

The New Yorker magazine attacked conservatives for the expected wave of "sexual denialism" in response to this report. But it would seem that liberal denial is quite evident in the news coverage.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis