Charles Ortleb’s Truth to Power takes you inside the New York Native, one of the most unique and consequential newspapers of the twentieth century. Shortly after starting his small gay New York City newspaper in late 1980, one of the biggest scientific and political stories of our time fell into his lap in the form of the AIDS and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome epidemic. What he did with that story has secured his newspaper’s place in history. Under his guidance, a succession of intrepid journalists did some of their greatest work uncovering the crucial facts about the labyrinthine epidemic.
Ortleb made the decision to follow the facts wherever they led. His team of uncompromising investigative reporters inevitably stepped on the toes of the most powerful people in the medical and political establishment. Perhaps not surprisingly, the latter fought back by seeking to discredit the New York Native and even, in time, close its doors. But Ortleb stood his ground for as long as possible and as a result the world now can have a clear understanding of the relationship of AIDS, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and HHV-6, the transmissible virus that now threatens everyone on this planet.
Anyone who has wondered why the medical establishment will not tell the truth about the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome epidemic will find the disturbing answer in Truth to Power.
What makes Ortleb so unusual is that not only did he have the natural instincts of a journalist, editor and publisher, but he was also a poet, a fiction writer and a budding political philosopher. Truth to Power is not just a compelling work of journalism and history, but also a major contribution to the intellectual life of our time.
“Charles Ortleb, as editor-in-chief and publisher of the New York Native, was and remains the Izzy Stone of science reporting. He was fearless in his pursuit of the origins of the AIDS epidemic and the government’s response in the 1980s. When his newspaper began to diverge from the dogmatic mainstream, however, he was ostracized by the very people he was seeking to inform. In addition, his laser-like focus in the Native on the simultaneous emergence of so-called “chronic fatigue syndrome”—a topic to which he assigned a full-time reporter, Neenyah Ostrom—was laudable. These disorders remain too much alike to arbitrarily submerge one in favor of the other, as the government has done without blinking for thirty years. Ortleb took considerable risks to profitability by pursuing every avenue of investigation on these matters. Yet, as much as Ortleb was criticized, the Native was also a “must read” of its time. When I was reporting my own book on the latter disease, I frequently spied the Native on the desks of high level scientists at the National Institutes of Health. As much as he made them uncomfortable, everyone in the AIDS research establishment wanted to know what Ortleb was going to report next. Ortleb’s caustic humor and piercing analysis of what he has dubbed “political epidemiology,” and “homodemiology” by the Centers for Disease Control alone makes Truth to Power worth the read. But the history he recounts here is crucial reading for anyone who missed the Native in its heyday or who didn’t “get it” the first time around. Given the recent rise of infectious disease alarms around the world, Truth to Power is, additionally, remarkably timely for those who seek to understand what drives the American public health establishment in times of crises. A rollicking, fascinating and important memoir.”
—Hillary Johnson, author of Osler’s Web, Inside the Labyrinth of the Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Epidemic