Thursday, January 8, 2009

DIAGNOSIS ON GUPTA NOT GOOD

Brian Clark, Daily Green - Gupta is a skilled surgeon who even distinguished himself saving lives in Iraq, while embedded with a Navy unit. But not everyone is bully on the choice. A number of people, including prominent New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, are uncomfortable with the fact that Gupta harshly criticized Michael Moore for his muckraking Sicko, when most observers believe Moore's work holds up better than the "fudging" Gupta accused him of.

For his part, pundit Keith Olbermann had this quip about the possible nomination: "Isn't this like making Judge Judy the Attorney General?" Olbermann argued that Gupta is "transparently TV," and wonders if the media connection is an evolution of the Surgeon General's role. Others have wondered if Gupta has enough public health experience.

Gupta once told Wolf Blizter, "We spend so much of our health care budget towards taking care of people after they've already become sick, instead of preventing some of those diseases in the first place. Medically and morally, it makes a lot of sense to keep people from getting sick in the first place, and I think that has got to be a big component of fixing the health care system overall."

That's a very commendable position, and one we at TDG absolutely support. However, we question whether Dr. Gupta's record -- while including many examples of commendable journalism -- really lives up to such ideals on balance. Now, we take a look back at Gupta's most disturbing positions:

- Chris Mooney blasted Gupta in Columbia Journalism Review for giving wide-eyed coverage of the Raelian cult's highly dubious claims of having cloned a human being back in 2002. Mooney faults Gupta for saying the Raelian-connected Clonaid group had "the capacity to clone," and, "We are certainly going to be anxiously awaiting to see some of the proof from these independent scientists next week." Despite the fact that Clonaid was providing no evidence of the purported "Eve" whatsoever, not even a photo.

- Despite the widespread evidence of harm from phthalates, Gupta soft pedals and downplays the risks:

"As we've been talking about, it's really hard to quantify just how much of a risk these phthalates are. Most of the studies have been done on animals. There's not human trials that actually show that they might be harmful, but a lot of people worried about it nonetheless."

Actually, a number of human studies have shown harm. For example, a recent study conducted by the University of Rochester Medical Center and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that exposure to phthalates not only causes reproductive problems in men (as suggested by a previous study) but is also linked to abdominal obesity and insulin resistance in adult males.

Later, Gupta does concede: "So, you know, the likelihood of them being in combination possibly causing some detrimental effect is something that hasn't been studied as well."

- In a strange article for Time, Gupta criticized support of marijuana decriminalization for small possession, saying supporters of the law are just interested in getting stoned, not providing valuable medicine to those in pain. Gupta admits that marijuana can have benefits for some patients, but then he seems to fall on the favor of draconian control laws, instead of the rights of patients and doctors to best decide their own health care.

This is what he wrote: "But I'm here to tell you, as a doctor, that despite all the talk about the medical benefits of marijuana, smoking the stuff is not going to do your health any good." But what about those in pain and with glaucoma, whom he just wrote could be helped?

- Counterpunch argues that Gupta oversold Merck's Gardasil vaccine for young girls, starting back in 2006, before the FDA had approved the drug, but after the manufacturer had started a PR and marketing blitz, including targeting of journos. According to Counterpunch, the clinical trials of Gardasil never tested for preventing cervical cancer, despite the fact that Gupta hyped the product for that use. The site argues that Gupta failed to mention that medical experts warn that the jury is still out on what impact this vaccine might actually have on cervical cancer rates. (Gupta also did not disclose that Gardasil was not tested on young girls before being approved, who may respond differently than adult subjects).

- Then there's Vioxx, Merck's disgraced, canceled drug pulled off the market in 2004 after an increased risk of heart disease surfaced among users. There were thousands of lawsuits (settled for just under $5 billion), which faulted Merck for hiding dangers of the drug. But Gupta told Miles O'Brien on CNN's "American Morning" on October 30, 2003:

"Miles O'Brien: Let's talk about Vioxx. Some indication it might increase the risk of heart attack?

"Gupta: This stat has been around since August of 2001. They talked about the increase of heart attack with Vioxx. The numbers are very small. Perhaps a small percentage increase in the overall risk of heart attacks with Vioxx. They say 37 percent to 39 percent but that's of a very small number. After 90 days, no increased risk."

Bizarre words from Gupta, who later told reporters that he got that information from Merck, the drug's maker.

Counterpunch points out that Gupta benefited from a lucrative "integrated marketing" arrangement, whereby his work with Accent Health (which makes TV programs for doctor waiting offices) received substantial support from Merck -- something Gupta did not disclose in his reports.

- The most infamous report by Dr. Sanjay Gupta was his scathing attack of Sicko, in which he accused the filmmaker of "fudging" facts. However, a detailed review by Moore's team pokes massive trauma-sized holes in the doctor's attacks. For example, Gupta said Moore falsely claimed the U.S. spends $7,000 per person on healthcare -- when the Bush administration's own report from 2006 bore this out (Gupta based his charge on an outdated report, but did not disclose this to viewers). In contrast, Cuba spent $251 per person (not $25, as Gupta first claimed, then retracted), despite being ranked only two slots lower in overall coverage by the World Health Organization (something the movie points out, but which Gupta bizarrely implied Moore was trying to hide).

Gupta said Moore falsely claimed Cubans live longer than Americans, while the most current data available at that time demonstrated Sicko's accuracy. The 2006 United Nations Human Development Report put U.S. life expectancy at 77.5 years, while Cuba's was listed as 77.6 years by the United Nations Development Program in that year.

Gupta also featured Moore critic Paul Keckley, whom he identified as affiliated only with Vanderbilt University, when in actuality Keckely has deep ties to the insurance industry and private sector. The list of other factual problems with Gupta's attack goes on and on. One would hope the Surgeon General would be more accurate on such an important issue. (To many viewers, the worst part of this wasn't so much the quibbling over facts, but Gupta's hostile, dismissive attitude, and his resorting to childish defense of the American system, which many Americans are very unhappy with -- especially the 45 million or so with no insurance whatsoever.)

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