I guess Marcus Welby was too old, said Michael Giltz in Huffingtonpost.com. Barack Obama, it was reported last week, is strongly considering naming Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN’s “chief medical correspondent,” to be the next U.S. surgeon general—an appointment that would be “dismaying” on several levels. It isn’t just the questionable advice Gupta has given his viewers over the years, or the factual corrections CNN had to issue after his on-air spat with Michael Moore over the sorry state of U.S. health care. What really makes this a “dumb pick” is that Gupta was chosen purely because he’s a celebrity. Didn’t Obama promise to put a premium on competence in his administration, after the bungling and cronyism of the Bush years? Why appoint as guardian of the nation’s health a blow-dried TV doctor that People once included on its list of Sexiest Men Alive?
Gupta is “not just a pretty face,’’ said The Economist in an editorial. Gupta happens to be a practicing neurosurgeon and he’s also, crucially, an Indian-American. Doctors “with roots in the subcontinent are greatly over-represented among the country’s medical establishment, but have long felt neglected.” Installing Gupta as surgeon general would score Obama some political points with this growing constituency, as well as with Indian-Americans in general. As for those critics dismissing Gupta as a lightweight, said Troy Patterson in Slate.com, what exactly do they think a surgeon general does all day? “The gig is, at its best, pro-health PR work,” using the bully pulpit of the office to educate the public about their health—in other words, pretty much exactly what Gupta has been doing so successfully for years now on CNN. He’s a perfect fit.
I agree that the surgeon general needs to be a good communicator, said Peter Aldhous in NewScientist.com. “But is this particular communicator the best choice?” Gupta has enjoyed an unusually cozy and lucrative relationship with the drug industry over the years, and is known for constantly urging his viewers to demand the latest expensive medical screening procedure—“even when the scientific evidence indicates that it may not benefit patients.” I can see the logic of appointing a TV doctor to be surgeon general, but not if he’s a shill for Big Pharma and the HMOs. Consider the alternatives, though, said Bill Brownstein in the Montreal Gazette. With only a handful of TV doctors to choose from, we should be grateful Obama didn’t go with that “motormouth know-it-all,” Dr. Phil.