To say that choosing CNN’s Sanjay Gupta for U.S. surgeon general caught most people by surprise is an understatement. Sure, he has credentials – Gupta is a neurosurgeon and is on the faculty at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. During the Clinton administration, he was a White House fellow and special adviser to former first lady Hillary Clinton. And as the CNN go-to guy for health stories, Gupta is seen as a trusted voice. (Not to mention that People magazine named him one of the sexiest men back in 2003).
But not everyone is convinced. The issue, to some, appears to be style over substance. “He’s a fine communicator and does a good job covering subjects for a consumer audience,” writes Val Jones on Getting Better with Dr. Val. “But I don’t think he has the gravitas or appropriate experience for the role of Surgeon General of the United States.”
Conversely, Robert Schlesinger on the Thomas Jefferson Blog writes that this may not be such a bad thing. “The job description for surgeon general is ‘America’s chief health educator.’ Say what you want about cable news and the irritating trend toward highlighting personalities over substance; and say what you want about Gupta specifically; but public education involves some of the same skills one develops working on television news.” And the WSJ Health Blog reader poll finds that two-thirds believe tapping Gupta is a good call.
Trudy Lieberman, on CJR’s Campaign Desk blog, concludes that Gupta has proven himself to be an adept communicator/health educator, as well as a pitchman. She also notes that last fall, she wrote that Gupta botched a description of John McCain’s health plan, giving CNN viewers a confusing and ultimately misleading explanation of both McCain’s proposal and the individual insurance market, where many uninsured people must turn for coverage.
Meanwhile, Merrill Goozner of GoozNews points out that Gupta has been one of the hosts of Accent Health, a TV network beamed into medical waiting rooms and sponsored, in part, by drug makers. As Gooz points out, if Gupta has ties to industry, he ought to disclose them right away so his qualifications can be fully vetted. Of course, if he doesn’t, his media colleagues may have more stories to pursue.
But what do you think? What exactly should the Obama camp consider when selecting a surgeon general?
Update: Politifact.com’s Truth-O-Meter is back and has an interesting explanation of what the surgeon general’s job is.