Friday, January 9, 2009

What to make of the Gupta Kerfuffle?

Sanjay Gupta's nomination to the office of Surgeon General, and the resultant mini-tempest in some parts of the blogosphere (see here and here, for instance), may offer a glimpse of the coming relationship between President Barack Obama and the progressives who catapulted him to the presidency. At the moment it doesn't look altogether pretty, although of course Obama hasn't even taken office yet, making dire assessments a touch premature.

Those keeping score will recall that Gupta provided an assessment of filmmaker-puckster-agitpropster Michael Moore's documentary on US healthcare, Sicko, as a piece for Wolf Blitzer's CNN show "The Situation Room." (Hard to write the name of that show with a straight face.) Gupta gave a three-minute review of the film, pointing out some perceived inaccuracies, and ending with the near-hyperbolic statement that Moore had "fudged" some facts--in other words, consciously played fast-and-loose with the truth in order to support his view. Moore took umbrage, leading to a debate on Larry King Live (no, really--a debate on a serious issue on Larry King; you can't make this stuff up) in which Moore and Gupta defended their turf.

I don't want to re-create that debate here as the two links up top do an admirable job of laying out, with some precision, the problems that the Sicko smackdown has for Gupta's credibility as Our Nation's Doc. For my own part I think that this does not disqualify him for the job, that his appointment isn't really going to have much impact on healthcare policy, and that the original report that was the source of the fight wasn't nearly as lopsided as some bloggers (even Paul Krugman) suggest--though I do agree that it was most unfortunate for Gupta to use the phrase "fudged the facts." Gupta may not have wholly endorsed Moore's views, but he didn't exactly say a McCain-like the-fundamentals-of-our-healthcare-system-are-sound, either.

What I find much more troubling than the content of Gupta's piece (or, for that matter, the entire coverage in Blitzer's "Situation Room"), is the sheer length of it. Three minutes were given to analyze/rebut/celebrate Moore's argument--and Michael has two minutes to respond after we hear from these sponsors! How anyone can even begin to fathom the nature of the problem, let alone the solutions, in three minutes time is beyond me. And watching medical personnel waltz around in scrubs as part of the B-footage is not deeply edifying, either. If Gupta thinks that this is what constitutes a serious discussion about healthcare, then it doesn't bode well for his tenure as Surgeon General.


  1. This is not the only appointment that is a bit weak tea... We were hoping for a lot more guts but I think there is a fair amount of politics and being careful, and humility about knowing he doesn't know everything. I'm hoping to continue giving him the benefit of the doubt. We'll see at mid-term. He has some big issues to tackle that just can't have much visible progress in the short run. A nearly impossible job has been handed the guy.

  2. I agree that Obama has a tough road ahead. What has me very worried is that his initial moves appear to be Clintonesque, with a heavy emphasis on "consensus building"--which from what I've been able to gather involves letting ideological opponents have their way despite losing at the ballot box. Don't want to insert my own political views here too much, but if I had wanted a Clinton in office this time around, I could have voted for one. Instead I decided to go with the guy who was talking about change; now we see if that was for real or just a hollow slogan. I'm not sure if the Gupta appointment is indicative of Obama's apparent lack of boldness, or is just a shrewd move in picking a well-known media personality for what is mostly a PR job anyway.