Dr. Sanjay Gupta pulls name from consideration as surgeon general

CNN and the Obama administration cite personal reasons. The medical correspondent's views and activities had come under fire from some quarters.

March 06, 2009|Mike Dorning

WASHINGTON — CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta withdrew Thursday from consideration to be the next surgeon general, with the network and Obama administration officials attributing his decision to professional and family reasons amid a campaign by some liberal interest groups to block his selection.

CNN reported that Gupta, a neurosurgeon, decided to withdraw so that he could continue to practice medicine, work as a journalist and spend more time with his family.

Administration officials cited the same reasons.

"Sanjay Gupta was under serious consideration for the job of surgeon general. He has removed himself from consideration to focus more on his medical career and his family," said an Obama administration official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Obama officials disclosed two months ago that the well-known broadcaster was the president's top choice for a job that is in many ways the public face of medicine in the United States.

Gupta's selection quickly aroused opposition.

Some groups cited his critical reporting on government-run healthcare systems.

Some liberal physicians raised the possibility of conflict of interest because Gupta had participated in television programming on a health channel for doctor's offices. The programming was partly underwritten by drug companies.

Gupta's withdrawal was the latest in a series of unexpected problems the administration has encountered in filling senior positions -- problems that have consumed time, energy and political capital.

Some of the problems have involved such issues as failure to pay taxes or meet other legal obligations.

Others have centered on political infighting among interest groups that supported Obama in his bid for the White House.

This nomination fell into the latter category: Just days after Gupta's name was disclosed as a possible choice for surgeon general, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), a supporter of universal healthcare, mounted a public campaign to mobilize opposition in Congress.

Conyers argued that Gupta's past criticism of government-centered healthcare meant Gupta would not be vigorous enough in advocating for the poor and disadvantaged.

For several years, Gupta has been co-anchor of a CNN- produced healthcare show distributed monthly via flat-screen TVs provided free to doctor's offices.

The show is sponsored by healthcare, consumer and pharmaceutical companies that want to get their message directly to patients, according to the website of AccentHealth, a privately held company that distributes the programs and sells them to advertisers.

Dr. Quentin Young -- who heads Physicians for a National Health Program, a group that advocates for single-payer, Canadian-style national health insurance and other changes in the present system -- and other critics cited occasions when Gupta favorably mentioned sponsors' brand-name drugs.

"His record is not a good one here," Young said.

CNN's director of public relations, Jennifer Dargan, said that Gupta's on-air comments had always been under the editorial control of CNN and unrelated to any advertising contracts, which are handled by a separate company.

"Dr. Gupta has no relationship with the advertisers of the program -- monetarily, editorially or otherwise," she said.

Others on the left complained about Gupta's treatment of Michael Moore's film "Sicko." They complained that his on-air "fact-check" of Moore's movie was inaccurate; Gupta eventually apologized for an error.

On the other side, some thought it was a brilliant stroke for Obama to install a familiar television personality in a position some call "the nation's physician."

Gupta "understands medicine, and he's a compassionate physician with integrity," said Joycelyn Elders, a surgeon general during the Clinton administration. "One of the most important jobs as surgeon general is to be able to communicate. I think he certainly can do that."

Gupta's withdrawal keeps the door open for another neurosurgeon who has been mentioned as a possible surgeon general: Dr. Gail Rosseau of Chicago, an early supporter of Obama's.

One of only 300 female neurosurgeons nationwide, Rosseau, 52, is chief of surgery at the Neurologic and Orthopedic Institute of Chicago and an assistant professor of neurosurgery at Rush University Medical Center, a Chicago teaching hospital.

Rosseau went through a preliminary vetting process late last year, including interviews by key senators and members of Congress on various health committees.

She was teaching at a neurosurgery conference in Egypt on Thursday and could not be reached for comment.



Tom Hamburger in our Washington bureau and Bruce Japsen of the Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.

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