Ethical issues for CNN & Sanjay Gupta

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Longtime Poynter Institute ethics guru Bob Steele – now a professor at DePauw University – published a column, “Dr. Sanjay Gupta Covers Obama’s Health Care Policies with Competing Loyalties.” Excerpts:

“My heightened concern focuses on the erosion of Gupta’s journalistic independence given his two-plus months of discussions with the Obama administration about becoming surgeon general. …

Gupta’s withdrawal from consideration deserved scrutiny it did not receive on CNN Thursday night. Larry King had a buddy-buddy chat with Gupta that elicited little insight. But King’s show is more entertainment than journalism.

However, on “Anderson Cooper 360,” which is a news program, Cooper said how happy he was Gupta was going to stay at CNN and lobbed a few simple questions his way. There was no serious attempt to probe why Gupta had stayed in contention for over two months only to withdraw now. No effort to report on what his pulling out might mean to an Obama administration that has lost a number of appointees. No references to concerns about Gupta voiced by some politicians. …

It was ironic that CNN used a breaking news label for the interview, imparting the event with that sense of importance, then treated Gupta’s interviews like soft news. …

It sure appears to me that CNN and Gupta are on a collision course filled with competing values and competing loyalties, one that could affect future coverage. In his wrap-up of the interview, Cooper teased Gupta’s upcoming coverage of the administration. …

For a couple of months we’ve had Sanjay Gupta in the running to be one of Obama’s trusted allies. As surgeon general he would have had a key voice in the President’s health care policy. While Gupta was, in essence, interviewing for the surgeon general’s position, he was likely interviewing the President as well, not as a reporter but as a potential team player. He was bound to learn some insider information.

That’s where the ethical challenges surface. To whom does Dr. Gupta owe loyalty? Can he serve the public with comprehensive reporting uninfluenced by his White House connections? Can he fairly report on an administration he almost joined? Can he fairly report on critics of Obama’s health care plans?”

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Comments (8)

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Rogue Medic

March 8, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Dr. Gupta occasionally produces some good reporting, but overall has been a disappointment. When CNN posted a story, Brain-dead baby recovers (, Dr. Gupta and CNN ignored emails requesting a correction of this error. An error that has persisted for over a year. An error that should be evident to anyone with even minimal medical training.
In other words, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to see the error. If you do happen to be a brain surgeon, you should find this to be unacceptable. For some reason, Dr. Gupta does not, even though he is the chief medical reporter for this network.


March 8, 2009 at 11:48 pm

While Gupta is perhaps okay as a TV personality, he does not have the qualifications to serve in the role of Surgeon General of the US. There are major concerns.
1. As a media figure, Gupta has been disturbingly cozy with Big Pharma. He co-hosts Turner Private Networks’ monthly show “Accent Health,” which airs in doctors’ offices around the country and which serves as a major conduit for targeted ads from the drug companies.
2. He has openly opposed progressive health reform, and cited false information in an effort to discredit Michael Moore’s film “Sicko”. Ultimately, it was found that Gupta distorted the facts.
3. In 2003, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, he publicly downplayed concerns about the dangers of Vioxx. It was removed from the market a year later by its manufacturer, Merck.
4. Media watchdog groups have also expressed concern about lack of objectivity in his reporting: and

K Walsh

March 8, 2009 at 11:50 pm

I recommend Marcia Angell, MD for Surgeon General. She is a physician, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, now Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Dr. Angell is highly respected and has worked hard for ethics and scientific integrity her entire career. In 1997, Time magazine named Marcia Angell one of the 25 most influential Americans.
She wrote the book, “The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It.” A few of her articles include:
• Industry-sponsored clinical research: a broken system. JAMA 2008.
• Excess in the pharmaceutical industry. CMAJ 2004
• Editorial policies on financial disclosure.(Comment)Nat Neurosci 2003
• America’s other drug problem: how the drug industry distorts medicine and politics. New Repub 2002
• Medicine: the endangered patient-centered ethic. Hastings Cent Rep 1987
Marcia Angell, MD is eminently qualified, “clean” politically, and would bring ethics and integrity to the office of Surgeon General.


March 16, 2009 at 12:11 am

I am so shocked that in Dr. Sanjay Guptsa’s interview with Bill Clinton about embryonic stem cell resaerch, he never bothered to correct Clinton about embryos. Clinton said “..will only use embryos before they are fertilized and don’t have the potential to become a human being”. An embryo is a fertilized ova(egg). Once the fertilized egg starts to divide (which it won’t if it is not fertilized) it is considered an embryo for at least the first 14 days and as much as seven weeks into development. How could a doctor let that pass? To those of us who know the difference, (I am a nurse) it could only be because Sanjay is in cahoots with the democrat lies and lets ignorance prevail. Shame on him!