Another CNN health news “exclusive” but why is Clinton an expert on this?

Paul Raeburn on the Knight Science Journalism Tracker leads the charge this time in critiquing a CNN Sanjay Gupta special.  Excerpt:

“Shucks, he’s gone and done it again. In a documentary entitled Deadly Dose that aired on CNN last night, Gupta breaks the news that Americans are overdosing on prescription drugs at an alarming rate, which isn’t really news at all. …

What’s exciting about Gupta’s new report is whom he chose to interview as an expert:

Bill Clinton.

I wouldn’t interview Gupta on presidential politics, and I wouldn’t interview Clinton on drug overdoses.

Gupta apparently thinks otherwise.”

Here is the clip to which Raeburn refers:

Raeburn led the charge this time, but I’ll chime in with some observations of my own.

It’s noteworthy that the first thing Clinton says in this clip is, “I didn’t know that.”

Indeed, what does the learned former President know about accidental prescription drug overdoses that renders him an expert worthy of being interviewed in what CNN publicity folks called “a compelling new documentary”?

The documentary tells us that the President knew the son of a campaign donor who died after mixing a prescription pain reliever with alcohol.  That hardly qualifies as expertise. Or if it does, there are a lot of other “experts” who could’ve been interviewed.

But TV news – including health news – is fast becoming more celebrity spotlight than meat and potatoes journalism.

This was no Milo Radulovich moment – the kind bigtime network TV news used to excel in, when the common man’s story meant more than the celeb’s.  (You can look up Milo’s place in TV news history if you need to.)

CNN publicity folks again trumpeted Gupta’s interview with Clinton as one  “exclusively conducted for the documentary.”  Just two months ago we wrote about CNN and Gupta claiming “exclusive…breaking news…breakthrough” over a hospital’s PR announcement. Maybe it was an exclusive because no other news organization cared to recognize the former President as an authority on this topic.

Maybe the ratings numbers are good when Gupta/CNN turn to Clinton.  They did it with another special, “The Last Heart attack,” spending lots of time on, for example, Clinton’s vegan diet.

Maybe going back to the well repeatedly with Clinton is a matter of returning a favor, since, in 1997, Gupta was selected as a White House Fellow, serving as a special advisor to First Lady Hillary Clinton. (Should disclosure be loud and clear on this each time Clinton is interviewed?)

Maybe we should expect more in CNN’s selection of experts for “compelling” health news documentaries.


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Walter Lipman

November 26, 2012 at 10:16 am

Before anyone makes the very common error of saying that Edward R. Murrow must be spinning in his grave, please note that Mr. Murrow’s remains were cremated, and his ashes scattered on his beloved Glen Arden Farm, here in Pawling New York.