There is good news and bad in the proposed selection of Dr. Sanjay Gupta as Surgeon General in an Obama Administration. The good news is that a high-profile choice like Gupta, much bigger and more well-known than any Surgeon General in decades, could begin a new conversation on public health in America, with a great deal of authority. One of the biggest problems with our health care system is that it's a disease care system and not a health care one. Our lifestyles are too sedentary, our diets are too high in fat, our attention is not paid to what goes into and through our bodies. Gupta can have an impact on that. Here's Ezra Klein.
But Gupta is not leaving CNN and Time to give out medals. The surgeon general has an informal role as the country's leading medical and lifestyle educator, and it's that role the Gupta is uniquely positioned to fill. There's not a doctor in this country with half his media training and experience, nor one with a rolodex of editors and reporters a tenth as large.
Expect Gupta to be doing more than health education, though. According to Howard Kurtz, Gupta has negotiated "an expanded role in providing health policy advice." And if he's advising the project, he'll almost certainly be advocating for it, too. Which means Sanjay Gupta, arguably the nation's most trusted health care authority, will back on TV screens arguing for Obama's universal health care plan, lending it his credibility as a doctor, a trusted media presence, and the nation's surgeon general. It's a far cry from the days when Ira Magaziner and Hillary Clinton were reform's best known advocates.
The bad news is that Gupta is at the least an adjunct Villager, and his most controversial moment in recent years consisted of shouting down Michael Moore, mainly because he was Michael Moore. It was unpersuasive and abrasive, and does not portend well.
You don’t have to like Moore or his film; but Gupta specifically claimed that Moore “fudged his facts”, when the truth was that on every one of the allegedly fudged facts, Moore was actually right and CNN was wrong.
What bothered me about the incident was that it was what Digby would call Village behavior: Moore is an outsider, he’s uncouth, so he gets smeared as unreliable even though he actually got it right. It’s sort of a minor-league version of the way people who pointed out in real time that Bush was misleading us into war are to this day considered less “serious” than people who waited until it was fashionable to reach that conclusion.
Gupta's role on Obama's health care bill will probably be just to publicly elucidate the policy. But if he treats it with the same disrespect for the facts, that would not help the cause. Stick to lifestyle reports, Sanjay.