Journalist to be next surgeon general?

January 6, 2009 6:03:54 PM PST
President-elect Barack Obama has approached CNN's chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, about becoming the country's next surgeon general, the cable network said Tuesday. CNN said it has kept Gupta from reporting on health care policy and other matters involving the incoming Obama administration since learning he was under consideration for the post.

Two Democrats with knowledge of the discussions over the surgeon general spot said Gupta was under consideration but cautioned there was not yet a final decision on who would fill the post. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media on the matter.

Obama's transition office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Gupta hosts "House Call" on CNN, contributes reports to CBS News, and writes a column for Time magazine. He is a neurosurgeon and is on the faculty at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. During the Clinton administration, he was a White House fellow and special adviser to then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

The surgeon general has a tiny staff, must rely on other agencies for a budget and holds little power. The surgeon general typically isn't heavily involved in shaping an administration's policy, but the position has proven over the years to be a powerful bully pulpit for disseminating public health information. Past surgeons general have proved instrumental in battling tobacco and AIDS.

Having such a well-known TV personality could bring the surgeon general attention not seen since C. Everett Koop help the position under President Ronald Reagan. Koop is best known for pushing to make AIDS a public health issue rather than a moral issue, and Reagan faced pressure to fire him. Koop has said Reagan never interfered.

CNN said Gupta would not comment on the discussions and released a statement that said, "Since first learning that Dr. Gupta was under consideration for the surgeon general position, CNN has made sure that his on-air reporting has been on health and wellness matters and not on health care policy or any matters involving the new administration."

Gupta declined to speak to an Associated Press reporter who visited his home in an Atlanta suburb. He did not return phone calls.

The Office of the Surgeon General, under the direction of the surgeon general, oversees the operations of the 6,000-member Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service. The office is part of the Health and Human Services Department.

The surgeon general is appointed by the president to a four-year term, subject to Senate confirmation. Dr. Richard Carmona was the most recent surgeon general; his term expired in 2006.

Rear Adm. Steven K. Galson is acting surgeon general.

CBS News is a unit of CBS Corp.; CNN is owned by Time Warner Inc.


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