Apparently, Marcus Welby is too old and Noah Wylie of ER wants a break because Barack Obama's pick for Surgeon General is CNN"s Sanjay Gupta. This is dismaying since Gupta has embraced junk science, has questionable ethics and seems to have been chosen mostly because he is famous. Forget a Team of Rivals: this is the latest example of Obama's Team of Celebrities.
First, Gupta. I don't watch him regularly but I assume (and hope) most of his medical commentary falls well within standard norms. But I was aghast when I heard him talk about cell phones and say he was too afraid to use one without an ear piece. Surely the Surgeon General should take a strong stand against junk science and unreasonable fears. The argument by Gupta and others when it comes to cell phones is sure, there's absolutely no sound scientific evidence they can be damaging and of course believing they can cause cancer goes against everything we know about non-ionizing radiation, but still...you never know. By this logic, there's no reason to be afraid of your TV set but why not watch your favorite shows from behind the couch, just to be safe? Unless you're also afraid of the AM/FM radio signals that bombard you every day, afraid of grocery store item scanners, afraid of the signals that zap you every time you walk in and out of a store so they can check for security devices, there is no sound scientific medical reason to be afraid of your cell phone. If you want to be on the safe side, you should also wear aluminum foil on your head, "just in case."
Gupta also came out on the losing end in my opinion when trying to attack Michael Moore's documentary Sicko. His initial report on the film and subsequent debate with Moore led to CNN having to issue corrections fixing Gupta's errors. They never spotlighted a single factual error by Moore but simply took issue with how Moore cherrypicked the data he cited. Here is CNN's description of their back-and-forth on the facts.
But I'm far more concerned about Gupta's questionable ethics. According to the New York Times, Gupta accepts paid speaking engagements, something no journalist worth their salt would do -- and a practice banned by most media outlets. Why CNN allows this of one of their reporters is a mystery to me, but it means Gupta's conflicts of interest probably stretch from here to Kalamazoo. You can't call yourself a journalist and take money from people you're supposedly reporting on.
Finally, I'm most concerned because the only valid reason I can think of for Obama choosing Gupta is that he's on TV. Certainly, Obama needs someone to challenge him on medical issues: Obama's medical disclosure was shamefully inadequate during the election. (Basically, he offered up a note from his doctor insisting that Obama was fine.) Let's hope that's not a pattern, just like the selection of Gupta seems a pattern. Bush wallowed in cronyism. I hoped Obama would embrace competence. But that's hardly been the case.
Why was Bill Richardson picked for Secretary of Commerce? Given the state of our economy, I would expect Obama to pick someone who lived and breathed commerce and was bursting with smart, progressive ideas about how to stimulate the economy and get us back on track. Instead, by their own admission, Richardson's biggest asset seems to have been his high profile and his Hispanic roots. (Aren't two Hispanics in the Cabinet enough of a show of respect?) Certainly, commerce has not been the laser-like focus of Richardson over the years.
Why was Leon Panetta picked as head of the CIA? (And what possible reason could there be for keeping Diane Feinstein out of the loop on it?) Panetta has zero intelligence experience and even his own supporters agree he'll need to have a staff of advisers who are well-grounded in the intelligence community. Gee, you think? I'd like to imagine that ALL the top people at the CIA had a strong background in intelligence. Panetta's main qualification seems to have been that he's well-known, a celebrity in political circles. Rather breathtakingly, Obama's people insist that one of Panetta's qualifications is that he received intelligence briefings from the CIA when he was the White House Chief of Staff. In other words, because he received briefings from the CIA, he's now qualified to run the CIA. I often read Supreme Court rulings. I guess that means I'm ready to be the Chief Justice.
And how about the hate-mongerer Rick Warren? Did Obama choose to honor a person of faith at his inauguration that reflected his own personal values, someone that celebrated the diversity of this country and showed a respect for people of other faiths and even people of no faith? No, he chose Warren, a man who actively attacks the beliefs of most Americans, spreads hate about gays by comparing them to pedophiles and incest, lies about it, also lied about Prop 8 by insisting he would be thrown in jail if it didn't pass and on and on. So why did Obama choose him? Because Warren is a celebrity. He's famous. Lots of people know him. And even if Warren's beliefs are antithetical to those of most Americans and certainly most of Obama's actual supporters, fame outstrips everything else.
Maybe Sanjay Gupta will prove an effective Surgeon General, if he accepts. He's certainly an effective communicator, a smart man, and an Emmy-winning, best-selling author and celebrity. But first he'll need to clean up his questionable ethics, junk the junk science and embrace the scientific and medical community.
What do you think of Gupta as Surgeon General? Any other Obama picks you're disappointed in?
UPDATE: The New York Times blogs about the debate over Gupta, with links to articles and comments that mention Gupta has also waffled on issues like vaccines and autism, opposes medical marijuana, is considered by many on the left to be in the pocket of big pharma, opposes universal health care, played up the risks of Avian flu in the US to scare up ratings, and other cases where he might be cowtowing to irrational fears or entrenched interests rather than siding with the scientific community.