In October 1982, when I was a sophomore in high school, this conversation transpired at a press briefing conducted by Larry Speakes, spokesman for Ronald Reagan.
Journalist: Larry, does the President have any response to the announcement [from] the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta that AIDS is now an epidemic and have over 600 cases?
Speakes: What’s AIDS?
Q: Over a third of them have died. It’s known as the “gay plague.” [Laughter] No, it is. I mean it’s a pretty serious thing that one in every three people that get this have died. And I wondered if the President is aware of it?
Speakes: I don’t have it. Do you? [Laughter]
Update (November 10, midnight)
A reader just sent me an email with a link to an article explaining that it was conservative journalist Les Kinsolving who raised the question with Speakes. I had been wondering about that myself, so was pleased to get this information. The whole exchange is revealing, with Kinsolving, to his credit, becoming more aggressive as it goes on and Speakes becoming more slimy.
As I pointed out over at Crooked Timber earlier this evening, what’s most revealing about this exchange is not the awfulness of the Reagan Administration; it’s that the laughter was so widely shared among the press corps, which included, presumably, some fairly liberal people.