“The clinical trials for Gardasil showed no such thing,” Martens wrote. “Even Merck is not making this wild and unsupported claim.” She went on to point out that Merck was the sponsor of AccentHealth, a health-related television program produced by CNN and co-hosted by Gupta, beamed into physician waiting rooms and reaching millions of people. Martens wondered whether Gupta should have disclosed to CNN viewers that while he was “extolling of the virtues of Gardasil,” its manufacturer, Merck, was a “financial sponsor” of AccentHealth.
I have written about Gupta’s work twice for CJR. In a 2001 story about covering new medical technology, I noted that Gupta had offered his viewers a more balanced presentation of scanning machines than did Dr. Bob Arnot, the chief medical correspondent for NBC, which belonged to the same corporate family as GE Medical Systems, a scanner manufacturer.* Those entanglements again! This fall, I noted that Gupta had botched a description of John McCain’s health plan, giving CNN viewers a confusing and ultimately misleading explanation of both McCain’s proposal and the individual insurance market, where many uninsured people must turn for coverage.
It seems the President-elect wants a communicator-general to help shore up America’s dismal health statistics. But, in our money-driven health system filled with conflicts of interests, there’s a difference between being a communicator/health educator and a pitchman. Gupta has shown himself adept at both roles. We hope our colleagues continue to keep their eyes focused on Gupta, whether he becomes surgeon general or stays on at CNN.
Correction: The original version of this piece stated that Robert Hager was the NBC medical correspondent whose report on scanning machines compared disfavorably to Sanjay Gupta’s. In fact, the correspondent was Dr. Bob Arnot. Click here to return to the corrected sentence.