Terry Michael, whose career of more than 40 years in Washington took on the role of journalist, press secretary, educator, and political commentator, died Aug. 7 at D.C.’s Providence Hospital from complications associated with pneumonia and a stroke, according to his sister Kirby Presswood.
He was 70 years old.
Biographical information posted on his website says Michael served most recently as executive director of the Washington Center for Politics and Journalism, which he founded in 1989.
Since its founding the Center has sponsored a highly acclaimed Politics & Journalism Semester in Washington in which Michael taught journalism students about how best to cover politics. Since its first year the program has enrolled about a dozen students each semester from more than 50 affiliated universities.
Presswood said Michael was born and raised in Mount Vernon, Ill., and received a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois.
His biography says he began his career in 1969 as a reporter for the Mt. Vernon, Ill., Register-News and later for the Champaign, Ill., News-Gazette before beginning work in politics in 1972.
He worked as a press aide to Clyde Choate, the Democratic leader of the Illinois House before joining the staff of U.S. Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.) as press spokesperson.
He was the founder and first president of the Association of Democratic Press Assistants in 1977. From 1983-1987, Michael served as press secretary for the Democratic National Committee.
He also served as a press aide to former U.S. Rep. and former U.S. Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) and later served as communications director for Simon’s presidential campaign in 1988.
According to his website biography, Michael served as a guest lecturer on media and politics both in the U.S. and other countries as part of a U.S. State Department program that reaches out to foreign students. He also served as an adjunct lecturer at George Washington University, where he taught ‘Journalism 100: Theory and Practice’ from 1998 to 2002, his biography says.
In writings posted on his website Michael told of how his political leanings evolved to become what he called a “libertarian Democrat.” In numerous commentaries published in publications including the Washington Times, the Washington Examiner, USA Today, the Chicago Sun-Times, and the Washington Blade, among others, Michael criticized the Democratic Party for which he once served as spokesperson as well as the Republican Party.
“Somewhere in the 1990s, I began drifting toward a libertarian political philosophy, summarized in my version…of the traditional libertarian exhortation: ‘out of the board room and out of the bedroom,’” he wrote on his website.
He later refined that view, stating, “Government: out of my bank account and my bedroom, away from my body, and out of the backyards of the rest of the world.”
Michael, who was gay, startled some mainline gay and AIDS activists when he began writing commentaries aligning himself with a small faction of AIDS researchers who disputed the effectiveness and widespread use of anti-retroviral drugs that most experts say ended AIDS as a terminal illness.
Pointing to the harsh side effects of the early generation of anti-retroviral medications, Michael sided with researchers who strongly opposed starting HIV-positive people on these medications before they showed signs of illness.
In recent years, Michael expressed strong opposition to the notion that aggressive treatment of asymptomatic people with HIV with anti-retroviral drugs should be undertaken immediately after someone tests positive for HIV as a means of helping “society.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other government and private AIDS advocacy groups have cited research showing that HIV-positive people effectively treated are far less likely to transmit the virus to someone else.
Citing reports of harsh side effects from AIDS drugs, Michael in a 2009 commentary said the pharmaceutical industry, which had been reaping huge profits from AIDS drugs, was playing a role in promoting the overuse of the drugs.
“Having spent the past three years studying mysteries of the HIV=AIDS paradigm, I am ready to admit I am a full-fledged, out-of-the-closet, HIV-AIDS denialist,” Michael wrote in a Jan. 3, 2010 column in the Washington Times.
“After some pretty tense book reading, almost daily internet-assisted document research, and considerable old-fashioned journalistic interviewing of knowledgeable sources, I have concluded there is not now, there never was a ‘human immunodeficiency virus,’” he wrote. “The single pathogen theory was wrong. A controversial view, to be sure, but one for which I can cite facts and fact-based arguments,” he stated.
Regardless of his unorthodox views on AIDS, Michael and his associates at the Washington Center for Politics & Journalism have been credited with helping young, budding journalists move up the ranks in many of the nation’s most prominent news organizations.
Michael received the Distinguished Service Award from the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2001 and the Presidential Award from the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication in 2002.
He is survived by his sister Kirby Presswod and her husband, Dr. Gary Presswood, of Las Vegas, along with seven nephews and five nieces. He was predeceased by his parents, Floyd Harris Pigg and Helen LaVern Copple Pigg of Mount Vernon, Ill, and his sister Sydney Sue Wolfe and her husband David Wolfe.
His sister said plans for a memorial service are expected to be announced in the fall. The family asks that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Ethics & Excellence in Journalism Foundation, 210 Park Ave., Suite 3150, Oklahoma City, Okla. 73102.