Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Questions About Gupta for Surgeon General

Years ago, when I was a cub health reporter, I remember the political reporters assuring me that the U.S. Surgeon General's position was a largely ceremonial one that political Washington didn't take too seriously.

This surprised me at the time--shows you what I know about politics. It seemed to me the Surgeon General's report of 1964 about smoking was an incredibly important public health policy. And I think Surgeon General Koop opened the door somewhat in a very closed Reagan Administration on AIDS policy.

Obviously, the reason I'm reminded of this is the floating of Sanjay Gupta's name as possible surgeon general nominee. Full disclosure: I worked with Sanjay at TIME and think he's very nice, an excellent neurosurgeon and obviously very telegenic.

But that's the question: is the SG position all about being a good communicator--in which case, Sanjay is a surprising but logical choice. Or is there more to the Surgeon General's position--like actually setting public health policy? If the latter, then--much as I like Sanjay--I remain unconvinced that there aren't people with better public health credentials to take the job.

I am asking about this on Twitter and in private emails and conversations I have been having with fellow journalists and public health types.

Will let you know if I learn anything good, including any interesting posts--as opposed to the many, many me-too posts that merely repeat what has already been said in the mainstream media.

Also, please point me in the direction of good information about whether the Surgeon General's position is largely ceremonial or not.

Update: See Opposition to Gupta as Surgeon General


Anonymous said...

Sanjay has "no gravitas" in the opinion of one group of influential public health bloggers. And THEY know what the SG does ... http://scienceblogs.com/effectmeasure/2009/01/the_post_of_surgeon_general_of.php

Anonymous said...

The Surgeon General position is important, but it has only been seen it of late as a factotum of Bush-carrying, science-undermining placeholders.

I wrote specifically about former Surgeon General Rich Carmona and what he offered during Congressional testimony. It was hair-raising, but it didn’t garner a ripple from progressives. Carmona has excellent emergency preparedness expertise and experience. He testified that he requested to be sent to New Orleans as a Katrina first responder and that he was denied. Gupta never mentioned that.

Gupta, on the other hand, reports advertiser, commercial pharma crap as unbiased health reportage. He stays to a Wall Street Journal, free market, traditional corporate model of healthcare messaging. He is a commercial sell-out, and he also has many undisclosed conflicts of interest.

Moreover, there is a growing body of evidence that commissioned officers of the USPHS working in the DIHS - the branch that Gupta would be attached to - have been used as agents of abuse and torture on immigrant detainees. The Surgeon General would certainly be obligated to investigate that and report, but no one has. Sec HHS Leavitt has methodically weaponized HHS and used it against the health of the citizenry. DIHS, which was accountable to the USPHS somehow magically migrated to ICA and DHS, and no one is investigating or stopping abusive practices. So not unsurprisingly, people are suffering and dying and no one is doing anything about it.

Gupta has never investigated any Bush/Leavitt/HHS policy or practice. He’s remained silent while the FDA and CDC abdicated their oversight and regulatory responsibilities and imperiled the public safety. For the past eight years, Gupta has never questioned a single thing that the Bush Admin has done.

CNN has even proudly announced that it has repressed all coverage of health policy and health reform since Obama contacted Gupta. The public can not be informed by media who deliberately and willfully withhold vital information.